By BARBARA BOWERS Special to The Citizen
Sometimes the moon, stars and all the planets align when you least expect it.
"I've been thinking about this project for 20 years," Risha Golby Frerer said, "but I imagined it in a Carolinas beach shack, not in a contemporary Keys home."
Turns out 763 East Shore Drive is "the perfect palette" for Frerer's hand-painted ocean floor, a work of art that transforms the treads of the three-story stairwell and the entire master-suite floor into a trompe l'oeil of ocean motion.
"I used pre-mixed squeeze bottles of water-based paints with acrylic gel in 12 colors," said Frerer, the artist, designer and project manager. "This brought me to my knees for five days straight."
Overall, the project took 10 days, beginning with the sanding and sealing of white-oak floors that were originally painted in rainbow colors, when the four-bed/four-bath house was built in the 1990s. Frerer says the wood's natural wavy grain was a godsend that reduced her knee time to just five days: "I didn't have to create the water ripple; luckily, the wood came with its own water stain. My job was to apply the transparent coloring."
By skillfully blending colors that range from silver to cobalt blue, the stairs wash up from deep blue at the formal ground-level entry like a wave that flows ashore to the primary living space on the second floor. Here, the great room's fossil-stone floors were another heavenly gift that Frerer hadn't counted on.
"The fossil really captured my imagination," she said. "It's a beach, can you believe it? It's a ready-made beach with sea fans and brain coral already embedded in the main floor."
The artistic trick was capturing this sandy-shore look with painted shells beneath the turquoise surf of stairs approaching and leaving "the beach."
Also in the great room, a fossilized coral column in the center continues the beach effect into the kitchen, where a massive V-shaped glass tile window creates its own underwater blur.
White leather furniture on the sand-colored floors, beige walls and an unusual valance treatment of board-and-foam atop the two glass walls neutrally accent and bring indoors the real thing: Blue sky and a sandy beach outside give way to a long dock fading into an Atlantic Ocean cove.
From the great room's covered second-floor balcony, the pool's coral wall is visible below, and the balcony's stamped-concrete floor adds one more dimension to the indoor-outdoor nature of the house and its intriguing floor show.
"When homeowners Tom and Carol Herfort bought the property eight years ago, they appropriately named the house Oceana, which is also what I call the floor mural," said Frerer. "At the time, architect Glenn Gray redesigned the existing house -- or maybe there were two separate buildings; I don't recall -- into one of his signature shapes."
Gray designed Frerer's Mexican-Colonial style home on Cudjoe Key. She says she's a fan of his because "he designs outside the box" with multi-level rooflines, irregular angles and in this case, small side balconies that connect the three-bedroom guest wing to the great room, above which sits the owner's bedroom suite. Accessed through the stairwell, this bedroom, bathroom with fossil-stone floors representing yet another beach, and a walk-in closet make up the entire third floor.
Up here, a wall of sliding glass doors opens to the house-wide balcony overlooking the same fabulous ocean and sky view as seen from the balcony below. Up here, though, Frerer had 1,000 square feet of floor on which to create a "deep ocean" of unbroken space that even she didn't envision in the 20 years it has taken to find the perfect palette.
"Aside from the impact on my knees, blending and working with so much wet paint created a technical challenge," said the artist, who has frescoed her own house's walls and ceilings in Spanish motif (featured in Keys Homes on Aug. 14, 2011). "This room had to be done in one, long day, and because acrylics dry so fast, I had to build in a break under the bed that wouldn't show the dry-color line."
The only thing that breaks the flow of deep blue on blue is the light-colored bamboo bedroom furniture. The king-sized four-poster bed beckons soothingly, like an island of respite, from the deep blue. And these days, when moonshine meets high tide and Tom and Carol Herfort want to call it a night, they have to walk on water.