As consultants in health care and the chemical industries, respectively, Tobi Zion and Ted Goldman understand deadlines. If a client wants a study next Tuesday, it needs to be ready next Tuesday, or someone needs to have a good reason why it isn't.
But in the solitude and shelter of the remarkable home they've built together in West Chester, there are no deadlines - not when it comes to finding the right pillow, the right color for a wall, the right objet d'art.
Though Zion, 57, and Goldman, 63, make a living using their brains' left hemispheres - the language, math, and logic part - they revel in the right side, where their creativity flourishes. She is a trained painter; he is a photographer and trained musician.
From the look of things, not an inch of their home's decor went without considerable thought.
"For me," Zion says, "a room has to look like a painting. It needs composition, color, and texture. [Ted and I] are the same that way."
Their carriage condominium is full of paintings, from the enclosed courtyard onward. The view through the front door tells you this is an unusual home, unless you collect art. And once you step inside, you get the sensation that if you were to move anything out its place, a fine balance would be disturbed.
The couple - this is the second marriage for both - bought the condo newly built in 2004. They lived in Bala Cynwyd for two years before migrating to West Chester.
"When we moved here, it looked like vanilla ice cream," Goldman says. The house in Bala Cynwyd was old and dark, Zion says.
The couple planned on making their art the new condo's main decorative theme. "When I got here, I matted and reframed them," Zion says. "I was so excited."
She wasn't worried about filling the house's 3,100 square feet: "I paint one after another."
The pictures, mainly of faces, are often of family, but not just relatives. One is a replica of a photo of Zion's in-laws, obviously from years ago. But surrounding the couple are items they loved, like the husband's collection of Alice in Wonderland memorabilia and the wife's needlepoint.
Zion is proud of her husband's photographs and points them out to her visitors. One especially catches the eye: It's a photo of a bronze doorknob on a black background, taken at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that just invites touching.
Not all the artwork in Zion and Goldman's home was produced by them - they also collect others' work.
And not all the art, or craftsmanship, is on the walls. Goldman loves working in wood, and he has built furniture such as a Shaker-style dining room table and chairs. It's from a kit, he readily admits. But unless you're Norm Abram, you probably wouldn't know - or care.
Goldman also has refinished antiques, mostly found during his postdoctoral days at the University of Wisconsin. In the kitchen is an oak icebox; a huge breakfront is in the dining area, near the Shaker table.
Artists differ, and Zion and Goldman talk openly about their disagreements. One lively discussion has been over where to hang pictures in their bedroom.
Another difference has been over wall color. "We needed a neutral-enough color not to fight with the art, and to work with the furniture," Zion says.
They spent lots of time buying paint, stroking some on walls behind pictures, stepping back, and seeing how it looked. A couple of years went by before the house was painted. And this was a new place - no spackle or caulk necessary.
Then again, Goldman says, it took his wife lots of time to pick out pillows for a window seat (minus the window) along the second-floor hallway. Of course, those pillows pick up virtually every color in the pictures hung above them.
But if anything took time, it was the painting that graces the open courtyard - start to finish, the project took more than two years.
The courtyard is what drew the couple to the house, Zion says: It's private, but the view of the sky is unimpeded.
Goldman built a five-feet-high-by-eight-feet-wide frame there, then Zion went to work. She considers the painting more than a painting; she calls it a design.
Before she could decide what it would be, she had to decide on the materials. The painting is exposed to the elements year round.
"I spent a long time investigating" what to use so it wouldn't get ruined, she says.
She apparently found the right sealants - her work withstood last winter's snow. The image of an Italian cottage is done in paint that glows, so that at night the sun turns into the moon.
On her easel right now is a just-finished portrait of her father. Zion paints in the basement - probably one of the cleanest in the Northern Hemisphere.
"I love it here," she says. "I have all this space. . . . It's my little place."
She adds: "This is my real passion in my life, telling people's stories."
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