Sacred Space

This story appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Eidé Magazine. Read it here, or click to read it in the issue below. 

Story by Jessica Hough | Photography by Brett Falcon 

In the last 10 years Atlanta’s food scene has without a doubt blossomed into one of the most unique in the country, with new inspirations, techniques and tastes. Two of its unsung heroes are the designer-artist-entrepreneur duo Alisa Barry and Smith Hanes. Barry is an author, visual artist and the owner and creative director of Bella Cucina, where she creates simple yet sophisticated artisan foods concepted with an eye for presentation and refinement. Her husband, Hanes, is the interior designer who created the ambiance of restaurants such as JCT Kitchen & Bar, No. 246 and The Optimist (ranked No. 7 on Bon Appetit’s list of America’s Best New Restaurants for 2013) with two more — a French-Indonesian bistro and a Chinese restaurant for Guy Wong — on the way. It is safe to say that if Atlanta cuisine were to have two champions for its aesthetics, they would be this power couple.

I came to know Hanes and Barry somewhat accidentally, and in the course of our odd friendship, have seen that what is most salient in their art and design work is their love of sharing their experience and unique point of view with others. The first time my partner and I were invited to dinner at their house, we nearly missed the quiet home built in 1911 nestled inconspicuously on the side of one of the busiest midtown thoroughfares in Atlanta. We were told not to come to the front door (because, as I would later discover, the porch is so old that they didn’t want us to fall through), but rather through their petite modern garden in the back. Inside their home, where the noise of the city mysteriously disappears, the ambiance reflects the blending of one of Atlanta’s best interior designers and the European sophistication that inspires Barry’s creations. And yet, it is warm, inviting and entirely lived-in. The color palette is soft and muted, and the textures and furnishings are organic — a unique blending of modern, minimalist and rustic.

Each object has a history and personality — from the original finish on the foyer walls to pantry doors Barry brought back from a trip to Italy — and helps create a space brimming with character and curiosity. Built into these objects are also the couple’s memories and shared stories: Barry would later tell me that her kitchen, all white and featuring salvaged subway tile from Berkeley, was Hanes’ greatest gift to her. Reflecting the way that the couple both lives and shares their creativity, we dined upstairs in Barry’s studio at a farm table next to her inspiration board and among her latest artistic explorations. For both Hanes and Barry, art and space are inseparable, and beauty exists through presentation.

Before leaving, Barry gave me a set of contemplation cards that are part of her latest work with inspirational, creative words and ensōs (in Zen Buddhism, hand-drawn circles expressing a moment when the mind is enlightened and free to create). Near the top of the deck was one that simply states, “Find your sacred space.” Hanes and Barry’s home, as they would later tell me when I visited again for the interview, is exactly this: “To me, it’s our own special oasis,” Barry says. Everything in the space breathes a unique kind of collaboration of tastes and histories. The two artists are deeply connected, but their work is also very separate. Rather than explicit collaboration, which has only happened with Bella Cucina and not with their individual projects, Hanes and Barry have the luxury of using each other’s artistic mind to bounce off ideas.

When I arrived at their home, the couple was already excitedly discussing website layout and potential collaborators for Hanes’ upcoming furniture line, Bethlehem Black. “Alisa has always been that one that I go to whenever I need someone to really check me or tell me what’s working or not working because she has seen all of my work. I don’t work with anyone who has seen everything like Alisa has,” Hanes tells me. Meanwhile, Barry describes how appreciative she is of Hanes’ special ability to creatively consult through conversation. They are both beautifully humble in the face of the other’s work, despite each of their impressive portfolios.

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The creative process for Hanes and Barry is divergent, but also weaves together at these points of inspiration. For both, the process is also highly visual. Hanes tells me that the pin boards in his studio (located at the industrial-chic Atlanta arts center, King Plow) are just like Barry’s pin board in her upstairs studio at the home. The visual journey of creative discovery is, for Barry, the thrill: “The adventure is finding out what wants to be expressed. Whether it’s for a project at work or in life, it’s about either starting with an idea and letting it be expressed or seeing the expression and what it turns into.” Hanes chimes in to explain that with design, you never know the end result and often, it’s better than you ever could have imagined. “It’s all about the alchemy of collaboration,” Barry adds. And that collaboration is in each other and with their colleagues, but also with the Atlanta community. Hanes and Barry have lived in the city for over 20 years now, and have watched its creative communities be born and then come of age. Despite their healthy dose of international travel and projects in New York and California, they hold a deep love for their city and the innovation it fosters, such as young, local artists. Their work has grown and changed as Atlanta has, Hanes says.

The couple somehow manages to be the perfect blend of global and local, constantly changing and innovating while staying true to each of their individual aesthetics. Hanes and Barry are extraordinarily generous with their knowledge, resources and input, pushing their own and others’ creative boundaries. They are partners in design-crime whose adventure is their art, is their love, is their life.