TOUR THIS HOUSE!
Sunday, June 27 at 1 p.m.
R.S.V.P. to firstname.lastname@example.org .
The living area still has the original trapdoor that was used to bring heavy equipment to the upper floors of the warehouse.
Artist Aimee Joyaux and her scholar/craftsman husband, Alain, have paid the ultimate compliment to a town. Anticipating a departure from their academic lives in Indiana, they dreamed of a home large enough to support their passions. Their requirements were simple: proximity to an international airport for easy access to their house in France, a large quantity of inexpensive space so that they could live and work under one roof (Aimee wanted a big studio, and Alain wanted a shop) and a moderate climate so that heating a large space wouldn't break the bank. They chose Petersburg.
The couple bought a pre-Civil War warehouse that was on the verge of collapse in the downtown area. "It's really Alain who has the vision," says Aimee. When they first toured the building, Alain saw potential while she saw a disaster. They took detailed measurements of the building back to Indiana and spent another year planning and consulting with building experts. They scoured scratch-and-dent stores and salvage yards for inexpensive materials and fixtures. They collected old chalkboards for flooring, discarded limestone architectural elements, Victorian-era salt-glazed paving bricks, laboratory counters, doors, sinks and anything else they thought they could use. It took two semitrailers to move everything to Virginia.
Two oil-on-canvas paintings from Aimee's "Burning Bridge" series hang above the bed in the third-floor guest room.
For nearly six years they lived in a small house close by while Alain, a museum director-turned-builder, labored mostly alone on the three-story, 11,000-square-foot building on North Sycamore Street. Tending to all aspects of the renovation, he started by stripping the building to its shell, discovering layer upon layer of materials added during its 150-year existence. Eventually, he uncovered enough heart pine flooring for the second- and third-floor living spaces, as well as a portion of the cast-iron storefront trim at the exterior street entrance. Ever the student of history, Alain used such original architectural elements to inform subsequent construction decisions.
In architectural rehabs, unexpected conditions often end up shaping the character of a new space. When Alain removed crumbling plaster from existing walls, he found whitewashed brick that had been deliberately chipped with chisels so that plaster would adhere to it. Rather than hide the chips with drywall, the pair opted to live with the textured surface. Now the wall works as another layer of art in this art-filled home.
Alain based other design decisions on necessity. Concerned that spilled liquids in Aimee's studio could reach electrical wiring, he covered the entire studio floor with rubbery battleship insulation. The material not only resists moisture but also looks like stone planking and is soft underfoot.
Despite the many conditions that challenge visual harmony in this space — the size of the building, the assortment of materials, the contrasts between old and new — a unifying honesty and depth of thoughtfulness floods every corner. Alain's attention to craftsmanship, from the massive wall of bookshelves in their living area to his custom cabinetry throughout the building, speaks to an elevated level of care and intention.
Wall Street skyscraper sculptures by Aimee Joyaux
Plentiful space is an added bonus for two people who like collecting. Alain, who has already amassed an impressive art and book collection, is acquiring large power tools, while Aimee, whose silver-print collection lines walls throughout the house, is in the process of adding printing presses to her bevy of specialized equipment. With a darkroom and various print- and book-making tools and machines, Aimee's studio is an artist's fantasy. In fact, the setup (which is larger than some houses) rivals those of many college art departments. Aimee says that the size of her studio offers advantages. "The scale of my painting has been affected by the space — I can have four big paintings going at one time."
As for inspiration, Aimee need not travel far to find it. Alain's art collection, which includes prints by Goya, Matisse and Berthe Morisot, fuels her creativity. Aimee adds, "I walk my dog a lot and we go through all the alleys and backstreets. The city of Petersburg, the patchwork of old buildings, remnants of buildings that have been torn down, roof pitches, the topography of the city, is inspiring to me."
Stories are still to come; they want to see an antiques store in their street-level space (they have already imported enough French furniture to start a business), and Alain is planning a summer kitchen and an outdoor courtyard where he will plant a tree and use a salvaged tree grate to protect it. "I love narratives," says Aimee. "Life is full of stories."