You may not have heard of Cipriana Salazar just yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Here’s why. By Gillian Drummond.Here is what excites Cipriana Salazar: tools, problem-solving, inventing, designing, and sometimes inventing tools to solve said problem or to come up with said design. Also: Apple gadgets, powder coating and thrift shops.
Here is what does not excite her: too much of the same thing, college classes, sleep, and photographs. Yes, the photographs are a biggie. She detests having her image captured, and has never owned a camera herself.
If you’re starting to conjure up a picture of a workaholic engineer with a bent for the arts, you’re just about there. But not quite. There is so much more to this 35-year-old than meets the eye. And because she dislikes self-promotion, it’s easy to ignore her talents altogether.
You may have come across her fixing up a house (her handywoman business), or remodeling (she does that too). You may have crossed paths with her at a Tucson thrift store; she frequents them often, particularly Casa de los Ninos. Or maybe she helped you out at Originate, the natural building materials showroom she has worked at, selling you on some sustainable and eco-friendly looks for your home. Soon (she hopes) you will know her for something she has invented called TiLt connect. More of that in a minute.
But although Cipriana dreams large, she lives small. She’s quiet to the point of shy, and almost avoids self-marketing altogether. It’s only when you start admiring some of the contents of her house that she admits she made them – just about all of them – or at least had a part in re-purposing or redesigning them.
Nothing, it seems, is outside of her realm. She has made bamboo and leather switch plates, she has created a slick wooden dog bowl stand and a domino set, she has powder-coated secondhand and new furniture – a salvaged medicine cabinet, for example, and an IKEA dining set. She has re-covered the fabric of chairs, and created the TiLt connect (the patent is pending), a small plastic widget that makes modular shelving a cinch. It allows the shelves to be snapped together both vertically and horizontally.
But it’s when Cipriana steps outside, over the yard, and into a large work studio that she becomes animated. “This has been my dream since I was a little kid,” she says, grinning, of a space that’s part-DIY shed and part manufacturing plant. A powder coating station has been created in one corner. Next to that is an oven she uses to cure the powder-coated items.
There is a mixture of both bought tools and manufactured ones: a band, miter and table saw; a clamp rack she made herself; a drill press, ceramic kilns, a router table, and her own computer numeric-controlled router. Why would one go to the bother of making a computer-controlled router? “Because I like to know how thing works. It’s pretty important to me to understand how things go together,” she says.
So what’s the story behind this genius, beautiful mind? It would appear Cipriana inherited many of her father’s characteristics and talents. “He was a welder, a contractor, a ceramicist. He had a masters in sociology, a minor in labor law, and spoke six languages,” she says of her dad.
Growing up in San Pablo, California, Cipriana shared a room with her dad’s ceramics equipment. He died when she was ten years old, not before Cipriana had developed a love for tools, creating, LEGO… and making money. Her mother Georgette reports that she was doing puzzles before the age of one. At a young age she was making jewelry and hair barrettes and selling them to her classmates. Aged eight she had learned Photoshop. At eleven she had her first tool, a jigsaw. You could say Cipriana took up her dad’s baton and kept his memory, and talents, alive, and throughout it, Georgette has barely left her side (they now share a house in Tucson).
Liberal coastal California proved to be too easy for Cipriana. At one point she threw herself down a challenge: to make the biggest change to her living situation that she could think of, to live in a place opposite to Berkeley. She chose North Carolina. “I wanted to put myself in the most difficult situation I could think of, and living in the bible belt in the south versus liberal California was about the biggest change I could think of,” she says. Just to add to the challenge, she became a body piercer.
Her undergraduate degree is in interior design, although her studies – which continue now – run the gamut, from graphic design to interiors and furniture design, to web design. Although school “never moved as fast as I wanted it to”, she can’t stop studying, she says. “I’m constantly learning.”
She does not sleep much. Her mind is thinking of designs and objects and, all too often, the equipment that might help her with her inventions. “A lot of the things I make are because I need to fix some problem I’m having,” she says, adding: “I need to make things. If I’m not making things I’m not doing anything. Everything is a problem to solve. I enjoy sitting down and figuring out how to make something more than completing it.”
Joan Wike, an installer in the construction industry, has worked closely with Cipriana for a number of years. Asked what sets Cipriana apart, Joan says: “It’s quality of work. There is good work and there is great work. There is good art and there is great art. There is good architecture and there is great architecture. The difference between them is attention to detail and creativity. There’s a balance there [with Cipriana] of creativity and a sense of style. It’s hard to put into words.”
Her mother, as well as being a companion and best friend (they say they never fight), keeps that brilliant mind on track. “She’s my sounding board and the person to help me stay focused. I have a tendency to go off in different directions and she is the one to roll me back in. And she cleans up after me,” says Cipriana.
Now 35, Cipriana is ready to consolidate her talents under her own business name, Lone Ant Design & Manufacturing. Like everything else she does, the business name was thoughtfully constructed. “I think the ant is my support animal. They’re individuals and I like the idea that the ant is constantly moving around and toiling away on whatever they’re doing and nobody even notices they’re burrowing around,” says Cipriana.
Georgette sums up the ant metaphor more simply: “It defines her.”
Cipriana may be loaded with talent but a lot of the time, self-confidence eludes her. “I’m plagued by self-doubt but I work very hard to not let other people see it,” she says. Just like the insects she admires, she’s more about the work than being noticed. But she’s taking the plunge; a re-painted Volkswagen van bearing the new company logo sits in her driveway, a sign that this lone ant is finally ready.