Friday, July 3, 2009

A Touch of Tuscany

For decades, the lot beside the old house on East Capitol Street was the neighborhood basketball court, straggly with weeds and resounding with whoops and thumps from kids tossing balls into the hoop affixed to the neighbor's side wall.

Then Connie and E. Linwood "Tip" Tipton arrived and restored the decaying circa-1902 beaux-arts home with its terra cotta tiled roof and impressive array of gables, bays, keystones, brackets and pediments. They also restored the broad porch, set Charleston-style on the side of the house. Down came the hoop, and out came the weeds. In went a new aggregate-edged flagstone patio and big raised garden beds.

The only eyesore was that brick wall. "We finally decided on some sort of trompe l'oeil, maybe a garden," said Connie Tipton, chief executive of the International Dairy Foods Association. "But how do you paint a garden on a wall and make it look natural?"

She clipped a stack of magazine photos of gardens and gave them to Andre Kouznetsov of Buon Fresco Wall Artistry in Alexandria, "and he went from there."

What emerged was a lush Tuscan garden that carries the eye past shrubs, statuary and flower borders to a vista of mountains under a hazy blue sky with sunset-tinged clouds.

Sitting on a garden bench are Nicholas and Lena, the next-door neighbor's children, added as sweet payback for letting the Tiptons use their wall.

To make the 16-by-45-foot mural work with the house, "the architectural design was incorporated into the painting," said Tip Tipton, a former chief executive of the dairy association and the man behind the milk-mustache campaign.

"The artist picked up the stonework and keystones over the front windows and the dentil moldings at the roofline," he said.

Kouznetsov even incorporated the aggregate edging along the patio, extending it into the mural's winding pathways. Then he daubed in bits of whimsy, such as the wine bottle tossed behind a bush.

"He told us it would last 100 years," Connie Tipton said. "But we'll never be here," she added, clinking wine glasses with her husband and envisioning, perhaps, a real Tuscan retirement.

This story originally appeared in the Washington Post

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