Adam and I lived in Santa Monica — a half-hour’s walk from the Pacific Ocean in westside Los Angeles — for five years. By the time we left in 1999, nothing weird had ever really happened in our neighborhood.
A mere three years later, this madcap creation was devised just seven blocks away from our old house. For several decades, it had been a plain old 1930s Bungalow, a common sight in this sprawling beachside town.
But then Louise Farnam discovered art.
Not long ago, I climbed out of my car outside this drop-dead entirely mosaic-crusted home (at the corner of California Avenue & 26th Street) to find a man on the sidewalk, smiling at me. Despite my spontaneous visit, homeowner Aziz Farnam seemed to be greeting me and my camera with an air of expectation.
Apparently, people often stop by like this.
In fact, he had just finished entertaining a couple of tourists from St. Louis who’d come to this stretch of Santa Monica to see the angular home of famous local architect Frank Gehry (at the corner 22nd Street & Washington Avenue), but been distracted by Farnam’s. Turns out this house has been written up in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and is hotly contested in the neighborhood as either a work of naïve genius or a tremendous eyesore.
Within a few minutes I’d learned that Aziz was an expatriate Iranian Jew who’d lived in L.A. for 30 years, that he and his wife, Louise, had raised six children, and that in 2002, Louise’s newfound passion for mosaics transitioned from a hobby to the family business, Custom Mosaic Art.
That same year, Louise and Aziz began to cover their home with their handiwork — inside and out.
The face of the house, the chimney, the yard, the walkway and the entryway are all laden with mosaic imagery of trees and birds (their favorite subjects). Still, I wasn’t prepared for the living room.
The fireplace, covered floor-to-ceiling with mirrored tile, would have made Liberace weep. It’s surrounded on all sides by mosaic plates, table lamps, floor lamps, vases, and picture frames, many of which sit on elaborate mosaic tables of all shapes and sizes. Several of the tables rest on intricate Persian rugs, as though there somehow isn’t quite enough to see.
Their back courtyard is just as packed with friezes, vases, bowls, and to boot, several colorful birds in cages. They have a beloved African gray parrot, a bevy of lovebirds and more, but asked that I not photograph the birds. You’ll have to take my word for it.
They urged me to also visit the alley behind their house, as Aziz considers it his piece d’resistance. The wall that encompasses their courtyard is covered, bottom to top, with a tiled mural that celebrates the Hollywood hills.
Gotta love L.A. Here, you can make up your past, your present, your future and your house from tiny pieces of truth — and pottery.
*For more of my photos of the Farnam house, please click here.