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Home is where the art is : Old World craftsmanship meets new materials

Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos residents Rana and Art Davis’ home boasts an array of fine art that tastefully blends into the home’s decor.

Rana and Art Davis are at home with art.

The exterior of their Craftsman-style home in Los Altos belies the interior, which is a showcase for modern art.

However, the word “Craftsman” does pertain to what they collect. Every piece of art, be it furniture or sculpture or wall art, exemplifies Old World craftsmanship meeting new materials.

“I love the process almost more than the visual effect,” said Rana, a designer whose specialty is color, pointing out a vibrant polychromatic wood relief piece by art professor Michael Peter Cain that hangs above the living room fireplace.

It represents painstaking hours by the artist. The three-dimensional piece, purchased by Rana 35 years ago in New York, embodies her passion for color and sets the tone for her collecting.

“I like something on the wall that’s more than two-dimensional,” she said.

The couple’s home provides the perfect foil for their art because of its openness, well-lighted spaces and high ceilings.

“I’m slowly morphing it into a modern environment,” Rana said.

It’s unlike their previous Los Altos residence, a traditionally furnished ranch-style home with low ceilings.

“It wasn’t conducive for showing art,” Rana said. “Here, we can let the pieces shine.”

The Davises have lived in Los Altos for 26 years. They met in New York, where she worked with jewelry designer Aldo Cipullo, perhaps best known for the Love Bracelet he designed for Cartier. She was fresh from studying at the Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design in San Francisco and jokes that she married Art, an investment banker, because of his name.

Eye-catching art

A souvenir of New York is the Art Deco bar in the great room. On the wall next to it is a multicolored tactile work by German-born Markus Linnenbrink entitled “Tuneinturnupdrownout.” It is composed of 12 layers of resin with holes drilled in different sizes and depths revealing layers of color. (The Davises’ 9-month-old grandson, Davis, is captivated by the colors and likes touching it.)

Its colors are echoed throughout the room, from the pillows on the cream Italian leather settee beneath it to the cobalt blue area rug and the glass-topped coffee table’s red metal base.

The blue Mylar threads in the rug make it sparkle in certain light. It took Rana three to four months to find the deep, rich, vibrant color for the 20-by-15-foot, custom-made rug. Her husband wanted a plain rug, and it is – sort of.

Speaking of sparkle, in the living room above the sofa is a painting titled “Sirens #2” by Jamie Vasta of San Francisco, who used 200 colors of glitter brushed on with her fingertips to create a work of art that changes mood as the light shifts. (There’s another pair of “sirens” in the house – a colored pencil portrait by Keith Gaspari titled “Siren Song in B-Flat,” displayed in the guest suite.)

An eye-catching area rug with splashes of “ink” directs attention to the living room from the entryway.

“I like organic movement,” said Rana, whose brother Jeff teased her with the comment, “I think you spilled something on your carpet.”

The pièce de résistance in the living room is a sculpture by Lluis Cera of Barcelona called “Conviction.” Although it resembles foam rubber tied with a rope, it’s 200 pounds of marble and bronze with words carved in every surface.

“I’ll need to use a Spanish dictionary to translate them all,” she said. “I’m amazed at the labor intensiveness.”

“Shadow” and “Midnight,” wall-mounted horse sculptures, beckon from the dining room. These black beauties, created by Indiana artist Sayaka Ganz from reclaimed plastic household objects, appear alive and in motion.

Nearby on a pedestal is a bold, colorful cube made from fragments of old signage by Pittsburgh artist Ron Copeland. And, surprise, it lights up – just like the theater marquee it came from.

“I like things that are surprising and functional – and amusing,” Rana said.

On either side of the glass dining table from Italy are custom-made striped runners in 48 colors. The choice of runners as opposed to an area rug was a practical decision. Because the table had been assembled on the spot, it would have had to be disassembled, then moved, so that a rug could be placed beneath it.

Functional whimsy

Iconic items are easy to spot – a Platner table with Charles Eames chairs in the great room, a Noguchi table in the living room, a Frank Gehry teapot on the stove and Alessi accessories.

In the entry hall is Rana’s favorite piece – a credenza made of reclaimed wood by Piet Hein Eek. It resembles a lacquered patchwork quilt, yet it weighs more than 600 pounds and took five people to move.

“It is one of the largest, most dramatic pieces of functioning art I’ve seen,” she said.

Atop the credenza is a flower-filled ceramic vase made by daughter Caylan in a beginner’s class at Mountain View High School.

“There has to be an interaction with art. You want to feel something when you look at it,” Rana said. “A piece has to sing to me.”

On the whimsical side, a palm-up hand is affixed to the wall in the passageway between dining room and kitchen.

“It’s for the cover charge,” Art said.

Finding the right art

How and where does a collector find just the right piece of art?

Rana Davis, who attends as many local fine-arts exhibitions as she can, shares some advice.

• Sign up online for email exhibition announcements from galleries both here and abroad.

• If you’re planning a trip, research the area beforehand for out-of-the-way galleries to visit.

• Young artists tend to congregate in urban areas, so make sure to tour annual “open studios” when they come along.

• Check out the annual artMRKT in San Francisco and ArtPadSF, cutting-edge shows with world participation.

• Understanding pricing requires homework. A few online sites offer general information on particular artists and their sales histories. After viewing lots and lots of art, you get an idea of the trends in pricing. It’s like shopping for anything else. But, it’s also a matter of what something is worth to you, the buyer. Many galleries are open to negotiation.

Los Altos Art Home - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

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