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Mosaic manor: Los Altos tile artist pieces together whimsical creations


Photo By: Photos By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Photos By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Los Altos artist Kathy Richardson uses vibrant colors in her tile work to liven up her Spanish Colonial. She worked her tile creations into her kitchen countertops, bathroom mirror accents and her art displays to add color to any decor.

Artist Kathy Richardson likes vibrant colors and things with drama and a little sparkle.

“Glass has an intensity that appeals to me,” said Richardson, who was in her backyard studio in Los Altos creating a glass floral mosaic that eventually will cover a wall of the studio.

A vintage six-door refrigerator from a Mountain View coffee shop is a novel dustproof receptacle for her art supplies and shares space with a large worktable and two kilns.

A cement walkway with colorful mosaic inlays – she poured the cement and created the mosaics – meanders between the studio and the back door of the house, where a mosaic Etruscan horse, one of her many “critters,” greets visitors.

The house itself is a showcase for her architectural mosaic and glasswork – and her creativity.

“I did all the artsy parts,” she said of the Spanish Colonial Revival house, which she built with her husband, Steve, a research professor in computer architecture at Stanford University.

“I’ve always created functional art,” said Richardson, who grew up in New Mexico and had no choice but to be creative – she made gifts for family and friends, clothes, jewelry and elaborate appetizers and desserts.

“For a first career, I chose to create computer hardware and software,” she said. “Engineering and art are quite similar disciplines. They require creativity, vision, a command of implementation details, the ability to coalesce ideas into a simple and elegant solution, a dedication to quality and the ability to see the work through to the end.”

A second career

When her job at a startup ended, the computer engineer with a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford devoted the next 14 months to the house she and her husband were building, which in turn set her on the path to a second career.

“The house is a rendition of the Spanish Colonial homes built from the ’20s to the ’40s in Southern California,” Richardson said. “We have arched doorways and 6-inch walls with 4-inch windows to create the same look.”

Exterior and interior walls are painted white (Swiss Coffee is the shade) – a perfect foil for the vibrant accent colors and her collection of alebrijes, hand-painted Oaxacan wood animals that have inspired some of her glasswork (for example, the fused-glass fox on the stairwell leading to the downstairs game room and patio).

Richardson has used a four-color palette: goldenrod, rust, teal and black.

The roof is rust-colored; the window frames are teal. Each of the 22 doors was hand-stained by Richardson in one of the four colors.

A teal door opens to her office, a goldenrod door to the guest bathroom. Black doors in the master suite “tie it together,” she said.

In the master bath is a black tub with a tile surround that includes fused-glass tiles of her design. All other surfaces are one-piece.

“Although I’m a tile artist, I don’t like cleaning grout,” she said.

At the entrance to the master suite is a nearly life-size donkey made of shattered tempered glass. Richardson describes the donkey as “piñata-esque” but a little difficult to hang from the ceiling.

Urban crows, crafted from glass tiles by Richardson, take flight on one wall of an intimate sitting area to the right of the entryway. Two comfy chairs, with a mosaic-topped table between them, face the fireplace.

Down the hall is the kitchen, where the pièce de résistance is the hand-fabricated black concrete island created by Richardson. And, of course, it has tile inlays. Countertops also are hand-fabricated black concrete.

No matter where one looks, there is something special to see, like the whimsical teal bookshelf by the stairs or the great room cupboard that Robertson calls her “thesis avoidance.” It took a while to complete, but she could measure her productivity.

Dozens of clients have discovered Richardson’s installations and fine-art pieces through the annual Silicon Valley Open Studios event held three weekends in May. She has had 15 commissioned projects ranging in size from 20 to 2,000 square feet. And she has sold 75-plus studio pieces.

“My most satisfying projects are collaborations with clients that incorporate their lifestyles into the finished piece, making it truly an expression of them,” she said.

When she’s not in her studio, she’s doing projects for the nonprofit Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and writing and evaluating iPad apps that help people with brain injuries.

Richardson hosts fused-glass and mosaic workshops in her studio. To register, visit www.meetup.com/fun-wth-mosaics.

For more information, visit www.krtile.com.

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