Simply serene |

Simply serene

Courtney Ferguson
Special to The Union

Expect the unexpected. That's how I'd describe Rick and Michelle Morrall's stunning Lake Wildwood home.

It's a satisfying medley of the unexpected; sometimes the seemingly unrelated, yet it all comes together like good jazz, a patchwork quilt or a tasty sauce.

Built in the early 1980s, the 4,000 square foot home has been extensively remodeled. My challenge is to paint a picture, using words as my colors and paper as my canvas. Let's start with the landscape. The one-acre property occupies both a hillside and lakeside location — with direct views of lake and sky.

The three-story floor plan features huge windows and abundant light, with decks, a private beach and dock. (Rick and Michelle got married on the lawn.) The top floor, with its three bedrooms, two bathrooms and large landing, is perfect for leisurely family visits.

The main floor is largely open with a contemporary kitchen, great room and dining room — as well as the master bedroom and bath, plus a half bathroom. Downstairs — well, let's keep that as a surprise for now.

Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald and a 7 1/2-foot tap dancer?

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A major ingredient in this home's interior is art. Since Rick is a dedicated, acclaimed artist, much of the wall space is used to showcase his versatility — including a massive double portrait of Michael Jackson. The image on the left recaptures his "Thriller" days, while the other highlights his later life. The contrast is as stark as it is honest.

"I learned of Jackson's death when I was on a flight from Croatia," Rick explained. "Newspaper photos of these two life stages appeared on the front page, and I found them so arresting that I was compelled to paint them."

Nearby hangs another, very different portrait. This one measures 7 1/2 feet tall and 4 feet wide.

"It came from the City of Winters' historic Buckeye Saloon and it features a tap dancer in her 1920s' costume," Michelle said.

The art you'll find throughout the house is an adventure in size, subject, and origin. The top-floor landing features a portrait of Ella Fitzgerald Rick found at a flea market many years ago. It shares space with an unusual grouping of religious artifacts collected from worldwide travels and markets. A tall, live cactus stands next to a landscape of snow-covered white birch trees. A colorful clock with a fish motif comes from Grass Valley's Neighborhood Center of the Arts. As I said earlier, expect the unexpected.

There's plenty of breathing space between surprises. Well-chosen colors for accent walls and tasteful lighting provide a gallery feel, combining drama with reflection and relaxation.

Warmth and comfort are consistent throughout — as well as a sense of humor. There's also practical style. Rick's professional skills include architectural design and publishing, including many years with Sunset Magazine.

"Simplicity and north facing light were key ingredients we wanted to maximize," Rick said.

He did most of the remodeling himself.

"We've added attractive, practical shelving and lots of storage, plantation shutters, a window seat, dove-gray quartz kitchen counter tops and maple cabinets, Brazilian cherry wood floors (reputed to be harder than oak), and slate tiles in the kitchen and hearth areas. The deck railings are unusual. They are old steel pickets from another flea market. I welded them and put them in a jig to form a unique pattern. Some of the large, red area rugs come from Thailand, while others have simply been in the family for years," he said.

Yes, there's a lot to look at in this house, yet it flows gently and tastefully. Copper sinks from Mexico, a fu dog statue, and an old Regulator wall clock live in harmony. Even the choice of wall paints is imaginative, often brave — but never jarring.

"While Rick's the fine artist," Michelle laughed, "I'm happy to work with rollers on ladders and color the walls."

Michelle is the assistant superintendent at Sutter County Office of Education.

Now for the surprise

Let's go down the stairs to the lowest level. Turn the corner, and here's the studio where Rick paints daily. It's huge and filled with north facing light that artists prefer. Here's where he creates his popular themed series featuring trucks, barns and palm trees. Perhaps most colorful and quirky of all is his fire hydrant series. There's even a pet totem pole painting, depicting their friendly two dogs and two orange cats. Rick also designs and crafts his own frames.

As the sun began its descent on the lake, I was aware of the serenity, the originality and the variety of shapes, textures and endless creativity that make this home unique. I can tell you this, from now on, I will look at fire hydrants with a completely new perspective!

Courtney Ferguson has written home-and-lifestyle articles for many years, both in Nevada County and in England. Contact her at

Rick Morrall’s art will be on exhibit at South Pine Café in Grass Valley beginning Monday. Approximately 15 large scale oil paintings will hang in the restaurant. The show runs through May 30.

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