Arts and Entertainment

Freeland tile artist designs spaces even Gandalf himself could love

Carol Rose Dean of Dean Tile & Design made this fountain out of a client
Carol Rose Dean of Dean Tile & Design made this fountain out of a client's tea set.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Carol Rose Dean

Carol Rose Dean is an artist who does her own thing.

Her Freeland shop, Dean Tile & Design, has been turning out unique handmade tiles and designs for almost 20 years, and the artist has established herself as a creator of unusual things.

Having recently completed a colorful floor mandala for Unity of Whidbey’s new church in Langley, Dean said she is willing and able to execute customer-designed projects such as the church’s inlaid floor design, but that her real talent as an artist comes out of her own designs.

Dean’s tile studio specializes in the creation of unusual handmade tiles, mirror frames, sinks, bathroom and kitchen designs, fireplaces, floors, wall murals, fountains, and just about any type of tile installation imagined.

Although the mandala project was fun to complete, Dean spoke of other projects that have engaged her artistic sensibility; projects that allow her the freedom to just do her own thing.

She described a bathroom that she designed in collaboration with the building contractor which gave her the ability to create from scratch.

“This was a group project in that the contractor designed the space and installed the threshold-less shower pan. Marsha [the client] picked the glass,

I designed the forms, and installed the whole thing,” Dean said.

These sort of projects become a personal statement for Dean. She must combine her abilities as a tile creator and installer with her artist’s eye — it’s a meeting of the practical craft and the emotional and whimsical side of art.

One job required using a series of family tiles a client had and didn’t quite know how to use.

“He hired me to design an installation using ant tiles his father had made for him, and had given to him and his wife years ago,” Dean said.

“His father is a children’s book author, and professor of children’s literature at Berkeley. So, they were very personal and unique. So, we ended up making a pseudo ant farm design with those,” she added.

A visit to Dean’s studio reveals a cozy shop and studio chock full of handmade tiles of various shapes and colors, designed with a menagerie of animals, mythological creatures, plant life and swirling graphics. The tiles are strewn everywhere on tables, on the floor in myriad boxes or lining the walls. The shop gives one the feeling of things being imagined daily, of an artist’s lair of productivity and untidy artistic abandon. It is a place where objects of one particular imagination are created and remain unique under the single hand that makes them.

Dean designs a lot of bathrooms that go beyond what one expects from the room. In one Coupeville bathroom, there is a copper shower into which Dean created a shelf inlaid with a handmade tree wrapped in Brazilian green slate. It looks like a place Gandalf himself would shower.

Dean also creates public art, murals and fountains. One fountain was made as a wedding gift from a grandmother’s tea and china set. A teacup tops a pyramid from which water pours down into another cup, onto a saucer, then yet down to another and then another, and finally to the larger plates below. It’s very clever and the bride and groom for which it was made will probably remember it as their most unique gift of the day.

Many of Dean’s pieces and designs are available for viewing — click here. Dean Tile & Design is at 1660 Roberta Ave. in Freeland.

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