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Piece Work

An exuberantly tiled bungalow in Santa Monica shows off a couple's mosaic madness

June 10, 2007|Barbara Thornburg

Louise Farnam's obsession started quite by accident. Her son Ryan's fourth-grade class was doing a mosaic project to help raise money for school, and his teacher asked parents to volunteer. After learning the basics of the art form, which involves making pictures or designs by setting small bits of colored stone, glass or tile in mortar, she helped to finish the class vase. Ten days later she bought 20 plates at a secondhand store, a pair of Glas-Snappers (scissors for cutting ceramic and glass) and some Flexall and began tiling an old lamp.

Today the table lamp, covered in miniature roses and faux pearls, sits in a place of honor in the living room chockablock with coffee tables, consoles, vases, bowls, mirror frames, floor lamps and a fireplace all embellished with her tile work. "Anything I could cover with tile I did," says Louise, who claims she can't stop herself once she begins a project. Now she controls her mosaic addiction by doing projects for others in her Custom Mosaic Art business, which she started in 2005.

Not to be left behind was her husband Aziz, a self-professed home handyman. When their older son asked his father to build a small wall along the sidewalk as a backdrop for a rose garden, he urged him to "add a little mosaic, Pop." Aziz took up the challenge: He grabbed some tile, cutters and glue--"How hard could it be after all?"--and began to cover the wall.

Passing neighbors commented on how lovely it looked. He continued by tiling the walkway to the front door. Strangers stopped their cars to take a closer look. Further inspired, he worked on, eventually covering almost the entire house. Six years and 15 million pieces of ceramic plates, tile, glass, beads and faux gems later, he admits, "I got hooked too."

Today the modest 1930s Santa Monica bungalow where the couple raised six children has been transformed into a brightly colored folk-art showcase that slows traffic on busy 26th Street. No wonder: Walls covered with small bits of colorful tile are enlivened with a tree of life, sun and moon, birds and boats, a dolphin, an octopus, turtles, seashells and--after Aziz visited SeaWorld--a breaching Shamu. Even the home's back wall, facing an alley, is covered. "I re-created the Hollywood sign in tile," says Aziz, "so my neighbor would have something nice to look at."

The couple, who came to the United States from Iran more than 25 years ago, have never paid a visit to Simon Rodia's Watts Towers. Created by the Italian immigrant construction worker over three decades (1921-1954), the historic landmark is composed of steel pipes, colored glass, thousands of inlaid seashells and broken tiles. "Everyone tells us we must go see the towers," says Louise, "but we're so busy tiling, we don't have time."

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