Monday, June 12, 2006

I found my dream house...

Fossils make a splash
Fish create dramatic tile walls, murals for this home
By Elena Acoba


Every day at home, a Northwest Side couple see life as it probably played out some 50 million years ago. In Tina Monaghan and Steve Johnson's kitchen, a school of about 25 knightia — actually, the fossils of the Eocene-era fish the size of herring — swim along a river of tiles on two walls. In the master bathroom, a fossil of a bass-size mioplosus chases knightia in one mural, while fossils of more underwater creatures create a scene straight out of the Green River formation in Wyoming where they were found.

"It's really nice, shaving in the morning and looking at these 50-million-year-old fish swimming in front of you," says Johnson, a former paleontologist whose collection provided the bathroom murals. "I guess that looks cool." Monaghan, who owned the 1970s home before she met Johnson, planned to remodel and redecorate it in a Southwestern style, she says. After Johnson moved in with his boxes of fossils, they visited the annual winter Gem and Mineral Showcase. She decided she liked the fossil murals she saw there, she says.

The couple bought limestone tiles with fossils embedded in them from Fossil Lake Fishing Co., which exhibited at the show. They paid $9 to $10 each at a bulk, wholesale rate, Monaghan recalls. She believes they run about $25 each at retail. After using lots of sealant, Monaghan says, the tiles were applied on the kitchen walls using common methods.

After that installation, Monaghan began picking through Johnson's 20-year-old fossil collection and created the murals for the bathroom. Johnson estimates he has between $2,000 and $5,000 worth of fossils in there. Dealers sell plant and animal fossils starting at $10. Pretty much anything can be grouted into walls for an unusual décor. Says Johnson, "You're only limited by your imagination and your bank account."

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