They could be mistaken for high fashion gift boxes. Or wood, steel, glass and aluminum sculptures. Or maybe tiny modernist structures.
"Someone wrote to say they wanted to live in one," says Eva Schone of her elegant trophies, some architecturally inspired. "I take that as a compliment."
Naturally, as a former fashion model and practicing architect, Schone, 38, accepts the comparison. After all, the Austinite aims high.
"I want to be the Chanel of award world," she smiles. "Innovative, elegant and timeless with superb quality."
In fact, the arresting awards designed by Schone and hand-crafted locally by artisans such as Michael Yates and Mark Macek have already been adopted by the American Institute of Architects-Austin, Texas Society of Architects, Austin Energy Green Building, Design Within Reach and Hanger, Inc., among other groups.
The idea to concoct high-end trophies came to Schone — born in the Saxon city of Chemnitz in what was then East Germany — while she was living in Florida.
"Why isn’t anyone doing this?" she asked. "I felt like there was a lot of room for improvement."
Later, she received a picture frame as an honor.
"I was very proud of the recognition," she says. "But I saw it as a design opportunity. I was also intrigued by working with artisans and materials on a much more intimate level than seemed possible in architecture."
The daughter of engineers — her surviving father is a sculptor in Berlin — she grew up next to a forest and spent much her youth outdoors. She also gobbled up Greek mythology and detective stories. Her deceased mother taught her sewing, knitting, crocheting and other hand skills.
In high school, she was distracted from classes by the nearby presence of a superior state theater with set designs and costumes during a period when Germany — East and West — dazzled the world with its minimalist stage masterpieces.
At 15, she was approached to model clothing that she would also make. That launched her first career, based in Paris, but inviting travel around the European high-fashion circuit. In the houses of Chanel, Armani and others, she picked up a sense of what might be considered universally beautiful.
"You know it when you see it," she says. "The sense of quality, of care, of dedication. I still watch every Chanel fashion show on TV. Those are works of art."
Her memories of great European buildings helped in her next career phase as a designer, as did her acquisition of English, the lingua franca of the fashion world. After she followed a man to Tampa, Fla., she studied architecture at the University of South Florida.
"I was permanently overdressed for about two years," she half-kids.
There, she fell under the influence of the late Samuel Mockbee, whose Auburn University Rural Studio promoted social responsibility as well as blending everyday elements with modernist sensibilities.
One studio exercise she still practices: Drawing Zen lines of objects in one stroke.
"It makes you think about the essence of anything," she says. "I love what Leonardo da Vinci said: ‘Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication."
Her first job out of college was at the Sarasota, Fla. offices of Carl Abbott, a student of leading American architect Paul Rudolph.
After that, came Austin, after a brief flirtation with colder, tougher New York.
"Someone said to me: ‘If you could stand the thought of living in Texas, you might like Austin,’" she recalls. "And I did. I fell in love with the people here."
She joined the firm of Tom Hurt — brother of cartoonist Sam Hurt and husband to Austin City Council Member Kathie Tovo — who had worked in Germany and spoke fluent German. Schone worked on large mixed-use projects and private residences. She’s perhaps most proud of her work on the Creative Action Project center slated for an East Austin complex of affordable homes and nonprofit headquarters.
Schone borrows from the discipline of architecture when she works on trophies.
"I ask: Who is this client? What is their mission?" she says. "Then I consider a design direction that fits the group before researching and exploring."
Schone sticks to clean yet expressive materials such as pecan, walnut and long-leaf pine as well as brushed steel and brushed aluminum. Unlike the typical certificates that are sometimes stashed in closets or the nearest trash can, her sculptures are likely to end up in a place of honor.
Schone: "I want it to be a very special moment for someone to receive one of my awards."