BY ANYA SEBASTIAN | PHOTOS BY KATE RUSSELL
PHOTOGRAPHER: KATE RUSSELL
STYLIST AND PLANT DESIGN: JEANNA GIENKE
INTERIOR DESIGNER: JENNY BELANGER, JAE FORM STUDIO
MODEL: NICOLE CUDZILO
When artist Joel Hobbie first walked through the door of the place that was to become his home, it was the potential that fired his imagination. The house itself was unassuming, typical Santa Fe style, and, as he recalls, “You could tell it was built in the ’90s. The countertops were covered with bluebirds; there were ceramic tiles with grapes on them, Saltillo tiles on the floors.” But the location and views—high on a hill overlooking a Santa Fe dog park—were stunning, and he liked the open space of the layout, even though the finishes and details weren’t even close to what he wanted. “Those were things that could be changed, after all,” he says.
Hobbie is no stranger to reconfiguring shapes and spaces, nor to partnering with other artists to achieve his vision. A creator of futuristic sculptures made from recycled metals and machine parts, Hobbie is also a go-to guy for movie special effects, a natural segue from his work as the former director of fabrication for the Meow Wolf artists’ collective. When it came to his own space, he envisioned an updated and contemporary vibe, which in turn was refined by the collaboration among the various artists involved.
Hobbie bought the three-bedroom, two-bath, 2300-square-foot house in 2013, which, as it happened, was also the year he met Jenny Belanger at the Burning Man festival in Nevada. A Canadian interior designer with her own company (Jae Form Studio) and a background in construction and engineering, she was the perfect person to organize and oversee his home renovation when, several years later, the time finally came for a makeover.
Belanger had never worked with a client who was also an artist. “Joel has a particular taste,” Belanger says, “and his color palette is basically black, gray, and white. He also has a big art collection, including a piece by the video and multimedia artist Peter Sarkisian, which had to be incorporated as well, so these were challenges I had never had to deal with before.”
Belanger put together the design ideas and purchased all the materials, making a point of supporting local businesses in the process, whenever possible. “I had no idea what she was really capable of doing,” Hobbie recalls. “She was able to see things that I wasn’t and she really transformed the place. Jenny’s insight and ideas were absolutely essential to the success of this project.”
Although Belanger’s renovation created a decidedly contemporary space, she did retain some original architectural touches, like the vigas in the living room ceiling and large wooden beams over archways. “Knowing the homeowner’s interest in art, technology, and space, along with his being a world traveler, it was important that I capture those different facets and infuse them into his living space,” she says. “I wanted to make sure I selected the perfect wall color that would showcase his art collection, and I hand-picked furniture and lighting to reflect his liking for minimalist and futuristic design.”
The basic colors of black, gray, and white, seen throughout the house, are broken up by brilliant splashes of color—multicolored cushions, a bright red dining table, colorful art, dramatic green walls in the second bathroom, and a striking arrangement of plants.
It was Kate Russell who introduced the inspired botanical artistry of Jeanna Gienke to Belanger, who immediately recognized Gienke’s work as the perfect way to further customize the home. The unusual, visually captivating selection of plants, together with their specially chosen containers, are like natural sculptures that enrich and add warmth to the sleek interior. “I love working with minimal, clean lines,” Gienke says. “The absence of clutter really makes it possible for the plants to stand out as interior design features that complement the home environment.”
Another unique feature of the home is the “sky hammock,” which stretches across a specially constructed tall metal frame on a deck outside the living room window. “That was my idea,” Belanger says. “Joel then sourced the materials and put it all together.” Reached by climbing a fixed metal ladder, it is intended as a perfect spot for sunbathing and to take full advantage of the expansive views.
One of the things Hobbie loved about the house was its location perched on the side of a hill, which offers a grandstand view of Santa Fe’s legendary sunsets. The original house had an uninviting back deck with an unused sunroom, which obstructed that view. Both are now gone, opening up the space to facilitate the enjoyment of uninterrupted sunsets from inside the house year-round.
A few of Hobbie’s own distinctive creations are prominent both inside and outside the house, but most of the art on display inside the home is the work of other artists. Some pieces were picked up during his extensive travels around the world, but many were acquired while he was working on past projects, visual reminders of the many years he has spent joining forces with other artists.
The teamwork that went into this particular project made Belanger, in turn, realize how much she loved collaborating with people who were experts in their field and could add to what she already knew. Even though they are all distinctive artists with unique talents, they found they worked well together, feeding off each other and benefitting the project as a whole.
“We sometimes butted heads on this and that, little things here and there,” Hobbie says, “but it was the collaboration of everybody involved that delivered the potential I saw—and even more—when I first walked in the door.”
At no time did Hobbie say that he wanted the house to reflect his art, but that is how it ended up—an organic structure combined with futuristic elements, reflective of his own sculptural creations, but at the same time a warm and comfortable space.
“Jenny was able to take the things that inspire me and work them into a design that just took the project to a whole other level.” he says. “Jeanna’s organic plant sculptures add warmth, and they blend perfectly with the work I do as an artist, and having Kate as a fine art photographer shooting such a sculptural project really brings it full circle. I don’t think it could have been any better. Now that it’s done, I really love it.”