You enter the home of Alain and Louise Huin through a welcoming courtyard with a soothing fountain and a door framed by bougainvillea. So far, it may sound like a typical enough
But once you step across the threshold of the couple’s Rosemary District loft-style home/studio, you’ve arrived at another destination altogether. It could be France, where Huin grew up and where he and Louise studied art and design. It could be New York City, where artists’ lofts have always represented a sort of bohemian freedom. One thing is clear: This is a clean-lined, almost industrial-feeling contemporary space designed for creative living, one that perfectly suits the Huins’ artistic lives and partnership.
The two met in Tours in the Loire Valley, where Louise had gone to visit her grandparents and to perfect her French. They quickly became “best friends,” says Alain, a relationship that’s now lasted through 43 years, two grown children, and fulfilling careers tied to the arts. Alain forged a path in furniture design; Louise one in interior architecture.
They’ve lived in a variety of places, including an 80-acre farm near Chapel Hill, N.C., and a home in New York’s Westchester County. When they moved to Sarasota in the late 1990s, they first renovated a home in Sanderling and then built another on Pinecrest. But about 10 years ago, they decided to purchase a spot in the just-emerging Rosemary District near downtown.
At first, they saw the historic building they acquired mainly as an investment and a larger studio space for Alain, but they began spending more and more of their time there. “First it was the studio and a bathroom, then we needed the kitchen, and finally, we knew we needed to live here,” says Alain. “It just evolved.”
Alain, whose work has been showcased by Ethan Allen, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel, among others, hired Sarasota builder Pat Ball to carry out their vision. The 1920s-era building that contains the couple’s 4,000-square-foot work/living space, which includes a pottery wheel and kiln for Louise (and also affords two art gallery rentals on the ground level), originally housed a theater and had later been converted to a church and a car showroom. You can still see the garage doors for that showroom in the Huins’ living room, which also features clerestory windows and skylights, concrete floors covered with kilims, exposed beams and a twig chair Huin built as a sculpture but swears is more comfortable than most conventional seating.
Huin’s two-level studio is packed with works completed and has nearly 20-foot-high ceilings and plenty of light, both natural and artificial. His art, ranging from large woodcuts with swirling lines to pen or pencil sketches in a small book that depict his reaction to the Gulf oil spill’s effect on wildlife, serves as much to fulfill his own creative needs as to find a public outlet, although he did display some pieces at a recent show at Art Center Manatee.
It’s all meant to be both simple and bold, Huin says. “Even if I’m doing something small, like a maquette for a sculpture, I visualize it big,” he explains. That art center show’s title, In Your Face, says it best.
Huin doesn’t do furniture design anymore; he prefers to concentrate on his more personal art. Dwelling in a comfortable cityscape that includes hip restaurants, yoga studios and retailers all within convenient walking distance, he says he’s found an environment in which to thrive. “This is the type of area where a lot of artists choose to live,” he says, “sort of on the borderline. We’re close to everything. We feel like we are downtown.”