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Magic mural: Los Altos house manifests family’s love of nature

Jonathan Minshull” width=
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Jeremy Minshull’s brother, Jonathan Minshull, above, painted an elaborate mural on the façade of Jeremy and Caroline Horn’s Los Altos home.

The neighbors call it a magic house. And, in a way, it is. A recently painted mural on the facade of this Los Altos home makes it virtually disappear.

Trees painted in the section surrounding the garage door create the illusion of being part of the front yard.

When homeowners Caroline Horn and Jeremy Min- shull remodeled last year, they eliminated the front porch and "pushed out the house." The new exterior was the perfect "canvas" for a mural, created by Jeremy’s brother Jonathan - an English artist and muralist.

They call the mural a manifestation of their love of nature. The pair are biologists. He is CEO of ATUM in Newark and she is a lab manager and molecular biologist at Stanford University.

Jonathan Minshull - Jeremy’s brother - took his cue from the couple’s lifestyle when asked to paint the mural.

When he arrived, Caroline and Jeremy took him on hikes around the area. Then he blocked out the mural and sketched. Once he had his basic plan, he began painting. He used house paint rather than his customary oils, so the colors will withstand the elements.

"It took him about five weeks," Jeremy said of Jonathan’s handiwork. "He would take a break, sit and look at it for a while and then continue."

The mural extends the width of the front of the house. Starting from the right, as you face the house, a river flows through a woodland to the sea, on the left. The woodland is populated with critters the family loves such as a raccoon standing close to the front door - perhaps to welcome visitors. If you look closely, you will see a mockingbird (one sings around midnight every night), a house finch by the doorbell (a nest is nearby) and the family’s cats.

A tree in the mural has roots that appear to be octopus tentacles and, indeed, the tree itself is an octopus.

As the river moves toward the sea, there are flying manta rays on the horizon.

"In nature, they appear to be flying, and it would be hard to depict them in the ocean," Jeremy said.

One enters the house between woodland and seascape. The front door is an aluminum art piece by Gregory Clark, which the couple bought at the Kings Mountain Art Fair in Woodside. Clark enjoys working with aluminum and carves intricate designs.

Although it was meant to be hung on a wall, its measurements matched a standard front door, so that’s what it is. The couple's contractor, Jeff Leaver, then designed and made a burnished aluminum backsplash for their remodeled kitchen, inspired by Clark's door. They had planned to use ceramic tiles and had driven to Santa Cruz to get them. But the "door" changed their minds.

Instead, the family used the tiles to create four wall mosaics for their lanai.

Pre-mural, a colorful garage door painted by Jeremy and the kids (Alexander, now 17, and Rachel, now 13) defined the facade of the house. At the bottom of the garage door is a row of dinosaurs. At the corner of the mural, Jonathan painted a couple of dinosaurs that lead the way into the woodland landscape.

Nature and family

Caroline and Jeremy bought their ranch-style home because of "the good schools, parklike backyard and 12-foot wall in the living room," she said.

The wall was the perfect place to hang an Aboriginal acrylic painting, "Rainbow Serpent Dreaming," one of the many treasures they have collected on their travels.

Each journeyed to California decades ago. He came to study as a post-doctoral researcher at UC San Francisco and she came to do her master’s at UC Berkeley. They met at a biotech company and eventually married.

"We’re both transplants from foreign countries. Jeremy’s from England and I’m from Alabama," Horn said. "We came here for a short term 30 years ago."

"We fell in love with the diversity of people and the beauty of the natural landscapes," Jeremy said. "It wasn’t long before the views flying into SFO triggered feelings of homecoming."

The home that welcomes them today is a riot of color. And it all started with a chair.

"I gave Jeremy an unfinished chair and he painted it in a kaleidoscope of colors he loved," Caroline said.

One chair led to six, and then to bookcases and to the multicolored beams sheltering the lanai.

Flamboyant Viscosity glass flowers, reminiscent of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, bloom in the backyard - perhaps attracting bees to the garden’s two hives.

The pièce de résistance of the remodel is the glass-fronted room divider between the living area and hallway. Jeremy calls it a "cabinet of curiosities" - all of which reveal their passions.

In addition to family photographs and art highlights from their children’s days at Almond School, there are animal bones (squirrels, rats, even a possum and a deer), "because anatomy is amazing"; gourds they grew, dried and painted; papier mache dragons from Oaxaca, Mexico; a plaster octopus ("very intelligent creatures but so different from us"); a mug full of porcupine quills ("beautiful natural engineering"); seashells; wood pockmarked with holes drilled by sea creatures; and Venetian glass.

The eclectic collection speaks to the couple’s love of nature and family - all of which can be found in the mural. 

Correction: The initial version of this article misstated who created the burnished aluminum backslash. Contractor Jeff Leaver designed and made the backslash, inspired by the front door Gregory Clark created.

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