Imagination on every wall

November 26, 2006|By Mary Beth Breckenridge | Mary Beth Breckenridge,McClatchy-Tribune

When Louise and Ed Udovich had their house built 16 years ago, all the walls were white. They even repainted them later - white.

Now they're anything but.

Louise Udovich is on a campaign to transform her New Franklin, Ohio, home with colorful wall paintings and imitation stained glass, an antidote to what she came to regard as a bunch of boring rooms. Nearly every room bears the stamp of her creativity, and her mind reels with plans for more.

"I can't stop now," she said. "I found something I really, really like."

Udovich said she's always enjoyed drawing, but her confidence in her artistic abilities has been slow to unfold. She started by painting a grapevine-covered trellis in the front entry, then moved on to a cloud-strewn sky in the dining room's tray ceiling.

Since then, she's hit her stride with big, bold murals, faux stone walls and even some trompe l'oeil effects, a tricky technique intended to be realistic enough to fool the eye.

One of her creations is her basement stairway, which she's turned into a nautical scene inspired by her home's location on West Turkeyfoot Channel in the Portage Lakes.

She designed it so that a person descending the steps moves from an above-water view, complete with a painted lighthouse and her husband's collection of model ships, to an underwater world where two- and three-dimensional fish swim across the walls and crabs and starfish inhabit the sea floor.

Stained-glass effect

Udovich carried the theme through to the mermaid design she created on a faux-stained-glass window in the basement bathroom, using translucent craft paints made to imitate stained glass and applying them to plastic glass. She found a number of pictures of mermaids for inspiration, then combined various parts into a design she liked.

The same technique was used to decorate the panes of the French doors that lead to a playroom used by her 11-year-old son, Andy, and to fill an open space above her kitchen cupboards. She incorporated real glass elements to enhance the illusion, and the results are so realistic that a stained-glass artist teasingly begged her not to sell them.

Her most ambitious undertaking, however, is an unusual place for a big decorating project - her laundry room.

It started with a fake leopard-fur phone cover, she said. She was so taken by the playful accessory that she decided to paint the walls in a jungle mural that wraps all the way around the room.

Lemurs perch on a backsplash, and a tiger pounces over the sink. A giraffe stretches its neck over the top of a door frame, while a parrot flies overhead on the ceiling. Even the phone cord is part of the design, disguised as a jungle vine.

Udovich expanded on the theme by topping the cabinets and refrigerator with ceramic animal figures she'd painted and by creating more faux-stained-glass panels for the windows, this time depicting a leopard and a zebra.

Beach and castle

Steps away from the jungle is the beach - at least the one Udovich painted to look like a scene from a shuttered window in her hallway wall. Because the painting was mounted with screws, she painted additional screws on the shutters so they'd blend into the illusion.

Udovich's artistic skills got a boost from her son's imagination when she took on the decoration of his bathroom. Andy wanted the room to look like a castle, so she aged the plain walls by painting on vine-covered stones, flanked the window with rich trompe-l'oeil draperies to match the real valance and painted the vertical blinds with the image of a dragon, a surprise that appears when the blinds are closed.

She couldn't resist a joke, too: She painted an ornate chair frame around the toilet to turn it into a tongue-in-cheek throne, complete with a purple cover on the tank and seat cover.

Udovich has come so far in her work that she created two 7-foot depictions of Jesus and Mary, accompanied by children, for her son's school, St. Francis de Sales in Coventry Township, Ohio. Her friends suggested the project, "and people wouldn't leave me alone," she said with a laugh.

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