The transformation started simply enough, with a molded ceramic tile of a flower framed by Celtic tracery.

Neither Aziz nor Louise Farnam can recall now where they found this periwinkle-colored square, but at the urging of their son, Amiel, they fastened it to the upper left corner of a low concrete retaining wall in front of their 1930s bungalow in Santa Monica.

Both had seen the elaborately tiled mosques and mausoleums in their native Isfahan, Iran. It didn't take long before they were scrounging in secondhand stores in L.A., boutiques in Catalina and casino shops in Las Vegas for more tiles, plates and figurines to display on their home's exterior walls.

Louise and Aziz Farnam have spent the past dozen years or so applying various tiles, plates and glass to their home in Santa Monica.
Louise and Aziz Farnam have spent the past dozen years or so applying various tiles, plates and glass to their home in Santa Monica. (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

They collected pieces of cobalt blue, aqua, plum and yellows from pale to sunny. They broke or cut them with nippers into irregular shapes and applied those to the walls, letting them radiate out, in no particular pattern, from the original piece.

They finished that wall, then tiled the walkway to the front door.

From there, things escalated -- to a traffic-stopping degree. Motorists regularly slam on their brakes to marvel at the eccentric artistry.

"Everyone knows my house," says Louise Farnam, 58. "Just say 'mosaic tile house in Santa Monica.' "

About 13 years have passed since the couple set that first tile, and now the entire house (on California Avenue at 26th Street) is a shimmering montage that beckons the curious.

One morning earlier this year, Aziz, 65, fitted bits of plates, floor tiles and orange hearts on the last remnant of bare wall near the two-car garage. A school of whimsical ceramic fish -- each planted in the center of a tile adorned with circles of blue, green, tan, white and red glass beads -- swim through the section.

Aziz pointed above the fish, to a colorful bird plate. Atop it, he had stationed a turkey. Both objects were treasures from Santa Catalina Island, saved for this crowning moment and placed high for their protection.

"Most of my family and friends, especially my father-in-law, say, 'You're crazy, you're stupid,' but people stop and say, 'I love it,' " Aziz says.

There has been no grand scheme, and Aziz's style and tastes have evolved. "Every hour you change the mind," he says. "There's always a new idea."

He was impatient to get this job done. At some point, he hired a helper who would fill in the grout. How many pieces did he use to cover the house? "Twenty million," he says. Who's going to argue?

Steve Mount, who lives next door, has watched the venture from the beginning. He even advised Aziz on the grape motif for the Farnams' picture window, next to the mosaic apple tree worthy of the biblical book of Genesis. "I'll be out gardening, and people will screech to a halt," Mount says. "It's a wonderful conversation-starter."

Louise and Aziz Farnam have spent the past dozen years or so applying various tiles, plates and glass to their home in Santa Monica.
Louise and Aziz Farnam have spent the past dozen years or so applying various tiles, plates and glass to their home in Santa Monica. (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Out back by the alley behind their houses, Aziz installed a psychedelic version of the Hollywood sign, with small plates for the O's, to give Mount something fun to look at. It's just around a corner from a stylized synagogue with symmetrical doors.

Mount describes the home's exterior as a —‰'Where's Waldo?' event."

Look closely in the upper left corner of the front wall. That's a tiled depiction of Princess, Amiel's green-winged macaw.

Walk along the side wall, and behold plates with peacocks, lighthouses, palm trees and a kitten drowsing in a basket of yarn. A Delft-style tile with windmills stands out, as do mosaics of Shamu the orca, a unicorn, mountains, rivers and menorahs to honor the family's Jewish faith. Some tiles signify the ocean: a seashell, a puffy fish, the scutes of a turtle's shell.

A coiled rattlesnake pops out. Aziz points to a $37 duck (a rare extravagance) and, for the children, a "Hey! diddle, diddle" Mother Goose tile, with the cat and the fiddle and the dish running away with the spoon.

Amiel, now 28, acknowledges that the visual stimulation can sometimes overwhelm. But he says he has enjoyed seeing his parents "work together and design something that everyone seems to love and adore."

The Farnams estimate that one-fifth of what's on their house was supplied by friends, family and neighbors.

"I love that in Los Angeles everyone can express themselves," says Karen Kushi, whose home across California Avenue reflects a much more Zen-like aesthetic.

Angela Contreras, an accountant who lives in Inglewood, recently parked illegally to take smartphone photos of the plaster angel on the front door and the sea creatures floating throughout. "It stopped me in my tracks," she says. "This is the coolest house in L.A."

In 2005, Louise started a business to make custom mosaic items. By that time, she had turned over the home's exterior to Aziz, who had put aside all of his reservations.

On weekends, Amiel says, Aziz would eat breakfast and then create mosaics until the sun went down, stopping only for lunch. The work became therapeutic as the recession tamped down his import business.

The Farnams say they would love a bigger house because four of the children still live at home. But they agree that it would be tough to leave their one-of-a-kind creation behind. Louise considers it a showcase for her art -- a new take on the ancient tile work of her homeland.