SAFETY HARBOR -
A quirky, colorful local landmark that serves as both a home and a work of art will open its doors to the public Sunday to celebrate the holiday season and a new children's book about the Whimzey House.
"We're not putting in a big installation or anything elaborate this year because we've had a lot of things going on, but we are opening up the inside to the public," says artist Todd Ramquist, who along with his longtime partner Kiaralinda turned the old, faded cottage into a dazzling spectacle.
Over the past 20 years, their Whimzey House has attracted thousands of visitors from throughout the world. It's been featured in travel books, movies and TV shows.
Last year, an estimated 20,000 people visited the couple's Holidazzle display, which was open for more than a week in December outside their Whimzey home/studio at 1206 Third St. in Safety Harbor.
This year, they will host artist Katie Bush from Atlanta, a 23-year-old recent graduate of the University of Georgia art school whose master's thesis about the Whimzey House has been turned into a children's book.
Bush will be signing copies of "1206 Third Street" at the house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. On Saturday, she will be at the Safety Harbor Library from 11 a.m. to noon to make a presentation and sign books. Bush, who is the education director at the Marietta Cobb Art Museum in Georgia, also will show children how to make a bowling craft.
The Whimzey House often is called "The Bowling Ball House" because hand-decorated bowling balls adorn the yard. It all started in the mid-1980s, when Kiaralinda brought home 40 bowling balls from a flea market.
Before long, the house was transformed from dull brown to bright pink and turquoise. Every inch, inside and out, became a canvas — Ramquist and Kiaralinda's "phantasmagorical" wonderland.
In addition to the bowling balls, amusing animal yard sculptures form the "Whimzoo." Mosaic walkways lead to a gazebo that was salvaged from the former Kapok Tree Inn.
Bottle caps, Pez dispensers and lunch boxes are part of the interior work. "The inside is just as amazing as the outside," says Bush. "I've been inspired to do something to my own house."
Over the years, the couple purchased other houses in the neighborhood and began transforming them, as well. Casa Loco, directly across the street from Whimzey, has a Mexican theme, while Tiki-Tiki is Hawaiian and Cabana Bay has Caribbean décor.
Bush, an Atlanta native, says she had heard about the Whimzey House and was fascinated by the concept. "Every room is a work of art," she says. "It's so fantastic, and the artists are self-taught. It shows what you can do when you dare to express yourself."
Bush visited Safety Harbor last spring to interview Ramquist and Kiaralinda and take a lot of photographs. Not only did she earn a master's degree, she turned her work into a 30 page book that she hopes will inspire children to be creative.
Meanwhile, the house continues to generate interest. Last summer, the Casa Loco guest house was used by a Hollywood film crew making a romantic comedy, "Chu and Blossom," featuring Alan Cumming and Annie Potts in the cast.
This fall, HGTV visited the Whimzey House for "Home Strange Home," a series that will debut in January.
Ramquist and Kiaralinda, sometimes known as the Whimzey Twinz, also are developing the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, which will be housed in another aging cottage that is being transformed into a performance/educational venue.
'Whimzey' book signing
When/Where: 11 a.m. to noon Saturday, Safety Harbor Library, 101 Second St. N., Safety Harbor; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, the Whimzey House, 1206 Third St., Safety Harbor