The brass fox knocker on the azure blue door hints at the surprises that lie within the Cobbham home of designer Susan Hable Smith. Inside, Moroccan textiles, bold wallpapers, pairs of diminutive chairs, assorted opera props, funky photographs and quirky ceramic eyes are arranged artfully in a visual feast.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think all of these things would live happily together, but they really do,” docent Mary Miller said as she led me through a pink sitting room.
On one of those sunny, warm surprise Saturdays in February, the artist was sharing her home with supporters of WUGA. The back door was wide open, welcoming the breeze and revealing camellias in full bloom and tea olives beginning to flower. The large kitchen table offered up heaps of pimiento cheese and other specialties by Marti’s at Midday.
It was plain to see that this Texas to New York City to Athens transplant has mastered the Southern hospitality thing.
I knew from looking at the artist’s book, A Colorful Home, that the house would be beautiful, but I didn’t expect to be seduced. Despite ceilings that are at least 12 feet high and expansive rooms, there is a surprising intimacy here. While the old house is grand in that small town Southern way, the home is relaxed and, well, rather homey.
The artist is much like her domestic space: tall, pretty, friendly and outgoing.
Rinne Allen is the photographer behind A Colorful Home. Also a dear friend of the designer, she introduced Smith and described meeting the artist in New York and her part in helping to gradually lure Smith and her family to Athens. “Moving to Athens, what it gave her is space,” she said, “literal space and head space.”
Framed by the back door open to the sunny breezeway beyond, Smith stood in her home and smiled welcomingly at her audience; it was clear the artist enjoys having one. Deeply at ease, she joked as she took over the microphone, “Thanks, Rinne, now you need to go to the bar.”
Talking about the transition from life in the city to Athens, she said, “I have a lot of friends from New York who questioned the move. They always want to come back,” after visiting Athens.
The artist has short blonde hair and an easy smile, and on this day she wore a long dress with an art nouveau-like pattern in taupe, grey and black. Pattern is a joy and an obsession for her. She continues to design fabrics for Hable Construction, the company she started with her sister in New York years ago. Now she also designs fabrics and furnishings for Hickory Chair and has a line of rugs with Garnet Hill.
Her mother sends her dried botanicals that Smith translates into bold drawings in ink, many of which were on display in her studio. Housed in a separate building on the back of the property, one of the rooms is divided by media: ink on one side and oils, which the artist recently started painting with, on the other. Bulletin boards provide inspiration, with color samples, photographs and quotes like “To create one’s own world takes courage” from Georgia O’Keefe.
The world Susan Hable Smith has created in Cobbham is inspiring to many, especially now that it is featured in her book. Much of that beauty can be attributed to the designer’s great eye, but much of it should be credited to her great energy. As she herself said that day, “I’m a worker bee. Rinne and I have a lot of that in common.”
The “Artist in Residence” series is a fundraiser for WUGA. The next event will feature the home of photographer Rinne Allen and will take place on Saturday, Mar. 26 at 3 p.m. Spaces are limited and must be reserved. For more information, go to wuga.org.