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Rugged Art Personalizes Favorite Stomping Grounds

July 27, 1991|PATRICK MOTT

There are only two types of truly functional carpet: the kind you can putt on and the kind you can roll around on in front of a roaring fire while rain drums on the roof and the "Ellington Indigos" CD wafts out of the stereo. The two, naturally, are mutually exclusive.

The latter is the sort of carpet Joe Namath used to have all over his New York apartment when he was single and crazy. It was, supposedly, made from llama fur and cushioned his battered knees nicely, but you couldn't knock a golf ball out of it if you used a backhoe.

The former is the sort of stuff that ingloriously lines the floor of the pro shop yet allows for accurate judgment when trying to decide between one of those Japanese putters that look like Long John Silver's crutch and a plain vanilla Bullseye. Any other use results in rug burn.

All other types of carpet are, for practical purposes, mostly useless. You can't hit a decent chip shot off the average rug (they don't release a divot well), and cavorting on them for too long can squash the nap.

Mostly, you end up looking at them.

If you buy your carpets from Volker Bauerle, though, looking just might be enough. Bauerle and his wife, Gina, run a business in Brea called the Carpet Sculpture Gallery and produce rugs that can make you think of the usual wall-to-wall as nothing so much as a blank canvas.

Or, perhaps, a chunk of marble.

Because Bauerle and his staff actually cut into the nap of dense-pile carpet, shaving here and inlaying there, until the final result is anything from a deep-relief corporate logo to a Lamborghini Countach to a montage of San Francisco landmarks.

"Whatever you can visualize, whatever you can put on paper, you can create on a carpet," said Bauerle. "This kind of thing has been done for 500 years in Europe, and you can see it in castles if you go there, but we're bringing it down to the middle class. People like the idea that they can have something very personal that used to be available only to the Donald Trumps."

(Don't jump too fast. You're not going to be able to get a reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry in DuPont Stainmaster for the price of a doormat. You can, however, go home with a dense 4-by-6-foot rug with a simple inlaid and sculpted floral pattern for about $5,000, which Bauerle said is about the same price as a fine Oriental rug of the same size.)

Bauerle, who began carpet sculpting about six years ago after 21 years of selling "plain old wall-to-wall stuff," doesn't deal in standard, reproducible designs. He said his customers aren't interested in having a carpet that is almost unique. They come to him with wallpaper swatches, floral apothecary jars and other items and ask him to reproduce the designs in a carpet that will match the paper or the jars color for color, petal for petal.

The Bauerles took their first steps toward carpet sculpting expertise six years ago when they visited a craftsman in Sacramento whom Bauerle refers to only as "Mr. B." The techniques, he said, have always been closely kept by those who know.

When the couple returned home with their new skill, they began "by trial and error" to learn how to inlay designs into carpet. Combined, the two skills produce a carpet that is not only tapestry-like in its combination of colors, shadings and designs, but that also has actual depth, texture and relief.

And, said Bauerle, he and his workers occasionally develop a new wrinkle. One striking example of carpet imagination unleashed is a large carpet (actually a tapestry) hanging on the wall of Bauerle's conference room. It is a montage of San Francisco scenes, including parts of the downtown skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge--all lighted with glittering pinpoints of fiber-optic light woven into the carpet. Bauerle estimated the sale price as about $25,000.

Selling their wares to homeowners with a taste for furnishings that are absolutely personalized has provided the Bauerle's with a fine income, but they aren't being as secretive about it as the mysterious Mr. B.

In March, they began teaching classes in carpet sculpting to independent-minded would-be carpet artisans who in turn go off and start their own carpet-sculpting businesses. Bauerle said he thinks of his students not as competitors but as fellow networkers who go forth to spread the word that homeowners need not settle for monochromatic, flat rugs.

It isn't all altruistic. The Bauerles get around $15,000 from each student for three days of intensive instruction, all the tools they need to start their own businesses, follow-up support, an advertising plan--everything, said Bauerle, that's needed to set up shop.

The students will have to provide their own imagination, however, and their own imperviousness to strange requests. For instance, Bauerle said that he was once asked by an El Toro woman, "Can you do rats?"

"She had some tile in her kitchen with little rats painted on them and she wanted carpets for the living room and the dining room with rats on them," said Bauerle. "They weren't really ugly. At first we didn't have anybody who could draw a rat, but we finally got it right. Someone came in and looked at it and said, 'I hate to tell you, but that looks like a rat.'

"And we said, 'Thank you, thank you.' "

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