February 24, 2016

Inside the Home of Susan Hable Smith

Art Notes

Susan Hable Smith

Showcasing the high concentration of professional visual artists in Athens while raising funds for its own programming, public radio station WUGA’s monthly series Artists in Residence offers rare opportunities to tour the private homes and studios of some of our town’s most creative inhabitants. Back in full swing for its third year of open houses, Artists in Residence will drop in to the exquisitely decorated home of textile designer and color specialist Susan Hable Smith on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Smith is the artist and designer behind Hable Construction, a New York City-based textiles company she co-founded with her sister Katherine Hable Sweeney in 1999. Combining inspirations of natural patterns, textures and lighting as well as travels through Italy, Asia and South America, Susan translates her everyday experiences and explorations into large watercolor, ink wash and dye paintings on paper. Many of these boldly colored and abstracted, nature-inspired graphics appear on the contemporary, utilitarian items produced by Hable Construction. Home accents like hand-printed pillows, totes, floor coverings, rugs, by-the-yard fabrics and fine art are all created by skilled artisans and distributed internationally. 

Hable and her family relocated from the Big Apple to the Classic City on a bit of a whim in 2009. She and her husband were looking for places outside of New York to live or visit, and Lucy Allen Gillis, who worked in Hable’s studio, would frequently rave about how interesting Athens was. 

“Long story short, [Gillis] introduced me to her sister, Rinne Allen, to try her out photographing our work for Hable Construction. Our team traveled down for a shoot along with my five-month-old at the time, and we were welcomed with such open arms,” says Hable. “Several trips to Athens later, my husband came to see what I had been talking about—and all of the special people that lived in Athens—and bought a house! I thought he was crazy at the time, but I am so grateful he could see farther down the road than me!”

The lucky house was a Victorian cottage built in the early 1900s. Following a lengthy, top-to-bottom renovation, the home is now full of painted and patterned walls, antique and unique furnishings—often upholstered in Hable’s own fabrics—interesting vintage shop and flea market finds, a tremendous collection of artwork and small details in every corner you look. By juxtaposing the old with the new, and the busy with the understated, Hable maintains a certain level of balance within each artfully designed room. 

“My house is a very personal expression of myself. Luckily, my family likes it too,” says Hable. “I stick with only one rule, and that is to love anything that comes to live in my house. Somehow meeting that criteria is the only thing necessary to make it work in there.” 

During Artists in Residence, visitors will have an opportunity to see inside the family’s newly built guest house as well as the studio where Hable Construction operates. Originally part of an uninhabited mill house community in Eatonton dating from the early 1900s, the studio building was purchased, refurbished and finally relocated to the family’s backyard in 2014. 

“There are many projects going on at any one time there, which makes it an energizing environment to be in,” says Hable. “I’m lucky to have other artistic professionals that work with me throughout the week. I always say that it feels like art school for grownups!”

Local photographer Rinne Allen, who captured the vibrant interior shots for A Colorful Home, Hable’s book on discovering dynamic palettes published last spring, will provide insights into the designer’s career through a brief lecture during the open house. Allen will also host the next Artists in Residence event at her own space on Mar. 26. The series continues with visits to the homes and studios of illustrator and tattoo artist David Hale on Apr. 16; painter Yvonne Studevan on Aug. 20; Sons of Sawdust furniture makers Ben and Matt Hobbs on Oct. 8; and cartoonist Joey Weiser and painter Michele Chidester on Nov. 5.

Entry to Artists in Residence open houses, which are held 3–5 p.m. and include snacks from Marti’s at Midday and wine from Shiraz, are $10 for Friends of WUGA ($30 annual membership) and $15 for the general public. Reservations are required and can be made by contacting Abbie Thaxton at 706-542-9842 or 

“I love opening my home to people who are art lovers, as we have a fun collection from all kinds of places and people,” says Hable. “I also really enjoy having the energy of people in my home… I think it’s healthy to have that movement and excitement.”