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Oddities & Wonders: Ashland hostel covered by colorful designs

Have you seen the wondrous decoration on the building at 437 Williamson Way? Since 2011, Rob and Linda Joseph, who now own the building, have been gradually adorning the outside walls with fabulous, colorful designs. Much of the building is used as the Ashland Commons, a hostel that houses student groups and others who seek a less expensive option while visiting Ashland.

Rob and Linda used to run the hostel, but sold it over a year ago to Kim McAlear. The rest of the building is a mixture of commercial and residential space.

Rob, who worked for 35 years as a potter but recently retired, does the mosaics, which is the primary decoration. Linda does the painting, inside and outside, and applied the decoration to the custom-fired tiles that constitute the large name plaque for the commons.

It’s a continual work in progress. The tiles are found or purchased at bargain rates. Rob prefers using tiles that start with no two- or three-dimensional patterns so that only the application constitutes the pattern.

He rarely plans details in advance: the designs just grow organically. Only on rare occasions has he had to pry tiles off and start again when he has been unsatisfied with the results.

The work on the lower floor of the building is easier because the tiles can be applied direct to the concrete block walls. On the balcony, Rob uses backer boards made of thin concrete between the wood walls and the tiles, so more effort is involved.

In the rare areas that are unadorned, he meticulously paints the negative spaces. And where tiled areas end, he bull-noses the grout to give it a finished look.

Rob guesses that the building has been covered about 75 percent in the seven years they have been working on it. He doesn’t want to hazard a guess how many pieces have been applied or how many hours he has devoted, although both are in the many thousands. The work is slowing now because so much of the building is done and only smaller areas remain, but he still enjoys the process.

Rob and Linda began the project because the plain building was rather boring. And now it is anything but boring.

This is the fifth in an occasional series on Oddities & Wonders in the Ashland landscape. Ruth Sloan writes about the Ashland Garden Club’s Garden of the Month from April through September. Send suggestions about great gardens or Oddities & Wonders to aogardenclub@gmail.com.

Rob and Linda Joseph’s Ashland Commons building on Williamson Way. (Photo by Larry Rosengren)
Rob and Linda Joseph’s Ashland Commons building on Williamson Way. (Photo by Larry Rosengren)