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Fun -- from the ground up

Special to The Times

Elizabeth KUEHNE had this crazy idea. She was restoring her 1903 Queen Anne-Craftsman cottage in Long Beach, and she wanted to install a kitchen floor that looked as if someone had strewn forget-me-nots and buttercups across it -- mimicking the design of the backsplash tiles.

So Kuehne called Laurie Crogan, sometime Hollywood set designer, gold and jewelry artist and rebel clothes designer who had turned to an obscure art form: linoleum floors.

“I gave her some enlarged photographs of what the design was,” Kuehne says. “She took that and created minuscule, tiny flowers.... People go, ‘Oh! Did you paint that?’ You tell them that it’s linoleum, but most just don’t believe it’s possible.”

Heather McLarty and her husband, actor Troy Evans (he plays Frank on “ER”), were also in the throes of restoring their house, a 1922 Craftsman in Highland Park. They too discovered Crogan. The result: a kitchen floor with chartreuse Tennyson seedless grapes and deep blue Concorde grapes inlaid in a corner.

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It’s not all Old World. Ruth Scovill, who is involved in a movie-cataloging project for the Library of Congress, wanted something different for the breakfast nook of her Mediterranean Spanish revival in Hancock Park. Crogan gave her an abstract pattern with slashes and dots that would make Mondrian proud.

Or take the 1933 Dutch Colonial home in Los Feliz that Liza-Mae and Mark Carlin moved into last year. Reflecting the quirkiness of their yellow-wood and stainless-steel kitchen with a lighted “Pharmacy” sign over the sink, Crogan created “these amazing beakers with a little circle and what to me looks like antennae coming out of it,” Liza-Mae Carlin says.

Crogan also did the house’s two bathrooms, including one that features a Dr. Seuss-like fish and seaweed. “Luckily,” Carlin adds, “we don’t want to move for a long time. When we do, we’ll have to figure out how to take the floors with us.”

The praise hasn’t spoiled Crogan. “I’ve been doing it 14, 15 years, and I have had the most amazing clients,” says the 48-year-old mother of two. Though Crogan’s business (www.inlayfloors.com) has taken her overseas -- Richard Branson, head of Virgin Atlantic, had her put art on 3,000 square feet of flooring in his V2 London headquarters -- L.A. is where she has always been plugged in.

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“When I was growing up in Bel-Air, our neighbor was Peter Guber,” she says of the producer. “He said, ‘I can get you into the film industry,’ and he did.” She became a set designer on three movies: “Thank God It’s Friday,” “The Deep” and “I can’t remember the other one. I was bored. So much waiting around.” She had a clothing company, became a jeweler, did textile design, painted murals.

But when her marriage broke up and she needed money, she turned to the building skills her engineer father had taught her to help restore a Rudolf Schindler house. That included bringing back linoleum floors.

When friends saw the work, a career was born. “It was the kind of art that paid money,” she says, “and I had kids to educate.”

It coincided with linoleum’s return, after 50 years of being eclipsed by cheaper vinyl flooring. Environmental awareness is part of it, because vinyl has toxic elements. But oleum lino -- “oil of flax” -- is a 19th century invention, a solidified mixture of linseed oil and ground cork laid on a backing of canvas or burlap. It is forgiving, tough, anti-static and naturally antibacterial.

(The material’s comeback is documented in the recent book “Linoleum” by Jane Powell [Gibbs Smith, $29.95], which includes care and repair tips as well as some of Crogan’s work.)

What’s the cost of a Crogan floor? For 250 square feet, think $3,000 using vinyl composition tile; $6,000 using real linoleum; and if you choose cork, $9,000. If you just want a rose or two, she can carve those off-site for as low as $150.

The pieces she likes doing most are abstract and bold, such as the one she did for Scovill. Scovill, who recently transferred to Washington, says she’s going to fly Crogan in to help her with her new digs. “I’m renovating a house here right now, and when I get to the kitchen, I want her to do my floor. This time I’ve been thinking perhaps M.C. Escher and his endless steps.”


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