‘LIZARD HOUSE’ Folly Beach home captures spirit of island

Artist Jane Word created this 12-foot lizard for her Folly Beach home. Now her house is nicknamed the “The Lizard House.”

What has a weathered purple gate, a 12-foot-long lizard ascending its chimney and character in spades? A home on the Edge of America, Folly Beach, where its design elements reflect a kind of independent spirit long associated with its residents.

“The lizard house,” as it is known locally because of the chimney creature, a Carolina anole, captures the lighthearted spirit of a design its owners spotted on a building they saw in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The Folly Beach structure attracts and holds your attention the moment you spot its purple gate, sitting back from the street, partially hidden by lush vegetation.

Its owners, Jane and Doyle Word, say more than a few passersby have been moved to stop and inquire about the home’s features or request an impromptu tour.

Friends and neighbors are impressed as well.

“I met Jane about seven years ago,” says friend and neighbor Mary Anne Camp. “I walked into that house and I could not believe my eyes. It is a living piece of art! She takes the ordinary and makes it spectacular. I just love it. She’s a genius. Sometimes I just go there to see the house. I just love the lamps she makes and the (banana) tree for the shower. It’s amazing; everything that she makes is amazing.”

In room after room are numerous pieces that deserve further attention. Still, the home has a bit of an Asian vibe, something frequently associated with minimal decor.

To call the house unique would be an understatement. Words such as “cool” or “amazing” might be better choices.

In it are high-relief plaster vines on walls, artistically complex lamps on tables, wood sub-flooring painted to resemble tile and 1950s counters skim-coated to look like stone.

The kitchen island she refashioned now includes a tank she made and Chinese goldfish call home. The constant sound of trickling water from the tank, with an opening that sits slightly above the island’s counter, invites you to linger.

Not too far away, antique hand-carved Russian chairs keep company with an antique French stand built to hold sheet music and with other furnishings in a range of styles. Doors brought back from visits to China also are at home in the house.

It’s all part of the ever-unfolding vision of artist Jane Word, who enjoys living in the home with her husband. Doyle Word says he appreciates his wife’s adventurous spirit and the living environment she has created.

“I just like being in here where I can create my own world and where everywhere I look there is something I like,” she says. “I really do have a good time. I just play all of the time. When it’s your house and it’s filled with what you love, it all goes together.”

She moved into the house during the summer about 10 years ago and lived there without air-conditioning in sweltering heat to supervise its redesign. During the project, she personally redesigned cabinets and moldings. Her husband, retired as head of a medical education consortium, and previously as head of international textiles and steel and manufacturing companies, chose the house.

He was preparing to relocate here from Chicago while she oversaw the redesign.

“For about a year, he was invisible,” she says laughing.

Jane, who also paints and produces fashions in leather and fiber, grew up in a small town in Tennessee where she loved constructing things but never envisioned having an art career.

She studied science, not art, at the University of Tennessee.

“I’m a zoologist by training — everything we saw under the microscope, everything we examined, we drew,” she says, explaining where she practiced creating images.

One of many paintings in the 2,800-square-foot home is gold-leaf with color. One depicts her children and grandchildren. She painted it on folding cabinet doors that conceal a television.

After becoming a zoologist, running her own awning business and assisting an interior designer in Toronto, Word started to focus more on creating things.

In the home’s master bedroom a curtain rod made to look like a live oak branch appears to grow out of one wall and into another. Drawers in the master bath are outfitted with pulls that she made from copper tubing. Slats attached to finished studs in its closet hold her shoes.

The toilet in the master bath suite is enclosed in faux-finished wood with a lily pad lid, contributing to the complex pond image that Word painted on adjacent walls. In another bath is a colorful tropical scene with a banana tree she sculpted to complement the shower area and provide a place for towels to hang.

In the laundry room, Word’s painting of laundry drying on a line incorporates the high-relief plaster that is one of her artistic trademarks. It is a conversation piece in a room that in many homes would be strictly utilitarian.

On an upstairs deck at the back of the house, succulents grow in shutters filled with sphagnum moss and help to complete an outdoor kitchen and living area, Doyle Word’s favorite space.

Finials on railing posts there are actually four copper frogs she sculpted, striking different poses that add a whimsical touch to a home that is taking serious vision and talent to create.

“She did strange things and great things in every house we had,” Doyle Word says half-joking. “But every time we bought a house before, I wanted to keep it a little conventional and not go wild because you still have to sell a house.”

When they moved to the house on Folly and retirement, things were different, said Doyle, who is originally from Scottsboro, Ala.

“She said: ‘This is our forever house. Can I do anything I want to?’ I said, ‘Darlin’, you can do anything you want to. She has developed her own style. You won’t see this style anywhere else. I don’t think anybody comes in here and does not go: ‘Wow! It’s different.’

“I get a few ideas but I have no ideas like she does. I wish I had the vision. Living with her, I have developed a lot better taste. She made me get rid of all my polyester,” he says laughing.

“It’s a great retirement home, a great entertaining home. But it’s a good living home, too. It just feels so good to be in it.”

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.