Bath with a touch of Arabia Oasis has camels ready to sip from the tub

Dream Home

January 25, 1998|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Karen Newman soaks in her Jacuzzi she escapes into the world of "Lawrence of Arabia," one of her favorite movies. With the touch of a remote control, she starts the movie's soundtrack and dims the lights. Setting the ultimate mood is a tiled mural depicting a desert scene and spanning 120 square feet behind the Jacuzzi.

Three-dimensional camels cross the dune; a mother and baby camel rest in the shade of a palm tree. Shades of rose, light brown and peach blend the mural into the Italian marble throughout the rest of the bathroom.

"When I saw what you could create from clay, I thought only moguls could afford such a work of art, but my designer knew it was doable and affordable," Newman said.

The mural is the highlight of a renovation of her 1954 rancher in Northwest Washington that she bought in 1995 for $575,000.

Working with Belinda McClure Interiors Inc. of Severna Park, Newman took the modest home, spent thousands of dollars and ultimately created a dream home, which is handicapped-accessible. Lighting throughout the home is on motion detectors.

If Newman stands in front of the opened closet door, for example, lights snap on. Her husband, Jack, no longer fumbles for his clothes in the dark as he gets ready to leave before sunrise for his law practice.

Light filters into every room from skylights and bay windows; wall and counter-top corners are curved, giving them a soft effect. The house has that contemporary feel without the sharply defined edges.

McClure heard Newman's dreams about her ultimate bathroom. They shopped at various tile centers throughout Maryland, but the closest they came to her vision was a palm tree kit. For $100 per foot, they could build a palm tree from 2 feet to 12 feet tall.

McClure knew there was more. She had seen custom tiles created by the Westminster-based Gooseneck Designs. As she listened to Newman talking about camels sandblasted onto the clear shower door, palm trees, and sand dunes, she knew Gooseneck Designs could make Newman's vision a reality.

That company could match odd tile colors and create scenes beyond even Newman's movie-fed imagination.

Gooseneck Designs produced tile counter tops adorned with rockfish, red snapper, crawling crabs and sole for the owner of a seafood market in Potomac. In turn, the back wall of a West Virginia casino was decorated with hands pressed in clay -- another Gooseneck Designs creation.

Soon McClure and Newman were handing tile samples, dimensions and their dreams to Jackie Smith, owner of and master architectural ceramist for Gooseneck Designs.

"Karen Newman even lent me her copy of 'Lawrence of Arabia' so I could get a feel for the scene she wanted depicted. It was a great project to work on," Smith said.

From design to completion, the huge mural took approximately eight months and 1,500 pounds of clay to finish. Newman and McClure went to Smith's studio at various stages of the mural's creation to check on the design and color.

"Once I saw the mama and baby camel sculpted, I knew I had made the right decision," Newman said. "When you see the tiles in gray, without the glazes, it's hard to picture the colors you hope for. But I put my trust in Jackie. I didn't know anything about the process; she is the artist."

"This is the biggest project I have tackled in one piece," Smith said. "Matching the glazes was tough; it took at least 100 tests to get 20 colors just right.

"But the biggest joy was when Karen sat beside me after the mural was up and said, 'You never realize how wonderful it is to have a work created just for you until you have one. Then you can't imagine how you lived without one.' "

To celebrate the completion of her dream home, Newman invited over for a big party everyone who was involved in the transformation -- architects, builders, subcontractors, everyone. There was a lot of talk about what went wrong and what went right during the renovation. Newman floated from room to room hugging people while her husband snapped pictures.

At one point during the celebration, there was a 45-minute wait to get into the bathroom to gawk at the mural.

"The party was a great way to say thanks for doing a great job," Smith said. "We all felt like it was our home."

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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