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She's so versatile

By Caitlin Kiernan-Ingrassia
Times Herald-Record
Sunday November 7, 2004

Sally Hope is a modern Michelangelo. With a stroke of her paintbrush, she creates visual masterpieces on floors, walls, sinks and fireplaces.
A bathroom becomes an underwater aquarium, a kitchen backsplash turns into a wide open sea, a wooden armoire takes on a heavenly vision of baroque cherubs dancing amidst fluffy clouds.
Sally specializes in custom-designed tile work and hand-painted murals. Her business, based in Wappingers Falls, is aptly named Versatile.
Sally's craftsmanship is fueled by passion – a passion that has gained her a "must-hire" reputation among the who's-who of homeowners in the Northeast. People who want to personalize, individualize and upgrade their homes commission her to create one-of-a-kind artwork.
"We built this house – it's a custom house," says Denise Rattner, who hired Sally to enhance the kitchen in her Westchester home. "I did a lot of (decorating) research, and everything else (like wallpaper, faux finishing) paled in comparison."
Denise wanted to cozy up the kitchen's vast wall space while creating a visual focal point. Together, the women came up with an idea that provided the perfect solution.
Using Botticcino tumbled-marble tiles, Sally designed two corresponding fruit-and-wine murals on opposite walls of the kitchen tied together with a decorative grapevine. Between the murals, Sally created a backsplash featuring a bench on a stone patio surrounded by colorful shrubs and flowers.
"It adds color and warms up the kitchen," Denise says. "Your eyes are drawn to it instantly. We've gotten so many compliments on it."
While years have gone by since the murals were installed, Denise admits that she never tires of them. In fact, she wanted a similar design installed in a home they are building on the same street.
"I wanted to duplicate it, but I felt funny about having the same thing," says Denise. "But I didn't want to let go of what she did."
She rehired Sally to decorate the new kitchen and her 2-year-old daughter's bathroom. This time around, the kitchen backsplash will feature an outdoor scene flanked by sunflowers, tulips and a connecting vine. In the bathroom, the wall behind the Jacuzzi tub will feature a host of Disney animals including Bambi, The Arisocats and 101 Dalmatians.
Surprisingly, Sally's couture designs don't cost couture cash. The total cost for the 60-inch-by-40-inch murals in the kitchen and 17-foot-by-8-inch murals in the bathroom: $3,630.
"It's so worth it," says Denise. "She does beautiful work."
Ironically, Sally didn't set out to do this type of work. After studying graphics in England, she moved to the United States and answered an ad for an apprentice position with Dee Dee Lifgrin, the original owner of Versatile. At that time, Versatile was strictly a decorative tile business.
"She taught me how to fire ceramic in the kiln," says Sally. "It was interesting and I've always loved painting and drawing. Making tiles was something I could do and that I really enjoyed."
When Dee Dee decided to sell the business, Sally decided to buy it. She expanded Versatile's offerings with tumbled marble/stone tiles and different glazing techniques.
She brought the company to a whole new level with her hand-painted murals and her uncanny ability to match tiles and murals to a client's existing decor.
It's been 12 years since Sally purchased Versatile. In that time, her business has grown with the "nesting trend." She has seen decorating tile themes come and go: chickens and roosters, all-white kitchens, Tuscan scenes. But one thing that stands the test of time: her intricately beautiful designs.
"They come from somewhere in my imagination," Sally says. "And I'm very lucky because when I lay them out, my clients always love them."

The cost factor

Her prices are not set in stone. Each project varies and so do costs – based on size, design, complexity and detail. Sally is able to work within budgets and encourages would-be clients to contact her regarding pricing and estimates. Below is a rough price-point.
Tile: $80-250 per square foot.
Bathrooms and backsplashes: start from $500-$1,200 (The average is $700 but can increase depending on the size and complexity of the job).
Murals: start at $500.
Installation: Homeowners must arrange their own tile installation. Sally provides the installer with the decorated tiles (each with a number on the back) that corresponds with a numbered installation plan to follow.