Made in Sarasota

By staff November 1, 2006

Rosemary District’s quiet alleyways is a modern marvel. Make that two modern marvels: Alain Huin, a furniture designer whose work has been carried by some of the country’s trendiest retailers, and his and wife Louise’s home, which is the complete antithesis of anything old-fashioned, cutesy or conventional.

Downstairs, clerestory windows beam sunlight onto concrete floors covered with kilims, an expansive stainless steel table, a wooden cockerel pointing to Huin’s French origins, a white twig chair Huin built himself and a pair of Le Corbusier chairs. Upstairs are glossy honey-colored wooden floors, a La Chaise by Charles Eames in a tiny library area, and a steel, glass and aluminum cube coffee table on wheels that Huin designed himself. When reading in their bedroom, the Huins lounge on their Charles Eames chair, and can glance over the balustrade to the living room below. Dozens of Huin’s large canvases and sculptures, lively concoctions of metal and paint, are on display.

And then there are the plans: dozens and dozens of rolls of blueprints, sketches and photocopies that Huin has created over the nearly four decades since he graduated from the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts and, later, the Ecole National Superieure des Arts Decoratifs, where he earned a degree in industrial design. He has worked with industry greats such as Raymond Lowey and Charles Eames and has been chosen by the French government as one of the designers whose work represents the best in French furniture during the Pompidou administration. For the past 20 years, Huin has had his own firm, designing furniture for Ethan Allen, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Macy’s, Bloomingdale, Eddie Bauer, Harden Furniture and Crate and Barrel.

That Huin has a modern design sensibility takes no guesswork: His clean-lined sofas and bed frames are spared from austerity by subtle swoops and glides; a line of unexpectedly playful chairs. Even his more traditional pieces are infused with a contemporary spin—a seemingly old-fashioned armoire turns out to be made of leather, for example.

Though Huin makes painstaking architectural sketches of each piece, he’s not as careful with his portfolio.

“I’ve never looked for clients,” he says as he rifles through a folder stuffed with random clips and pages from catalogues, eyes crinkling with amusement when he comes across a 1970s-era photograph of himself, Louise (looking like Scarlett Johanssen in black and white) and their young son, now a Sarasota physician.

Louise Huin, who met her husband of 39 years while she was an art student in Paris, describes him as a perfectionist who returns from every show exhausted, claiming he’ll never do it again, only to collect himself and churn out more and more designs.

“He never ran out of ideas,” she says in a low voice, while her husband mutters to himself as he rummages upstairs, trying to find an up-to-date resume. “He liked the idea of mentoring someone, but he’s such a perfectionist, he had to do it all himself. When he’s with clients, he’ll get down on the floor with big sheets of paper and just draw.”

Huin travels all around the world to see his designs through to their final stages at the manufacturer. Travel for work and pleasure is one of a diverse range of interests—he used to hunt in Europe and has owned, variously, a French farmhouse, a 70-acre farm in North Carolina, a home in New York’s Westchester County and a Siesta Key home the couple designed themselves. He’s now completing the final training he needs to sail across the Atlantic. Now that he’s turned 60, he’s turning his focus more toward his fine art and away from furniture design, although he continues to design pieces for Crate and Barrel/CB2.

For more information, contact Huin at (941) 812-3550 or [email protected]

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