Style in its many forms—gorgeous décor, a smart outfit, original art, inspired architecture, even stage presence—brightens our lives. But some look to the deeper impact of creative expression, taking it from good looks to good deeds. Here are six locals whose aesthetics come with a greater purpose.
Theater veteran Chall Gray is giving new playwrights a big break
Awriter and successful theater promoter, Chall Gray lives with production value in mind—from his vintage wardrobe to his work advancing the area’s performing arts scene. When he and Lucia Del Vecchio married in March, the couple held their ceremony and reception—which
included an original play featuring a cast of more than 20 friends and a Bollywood-style dance number—at Diana Wortham Theatre. In his next role, Gray is a cofounder of The Magnetic Field, a restaurant that will include a 70-seat theater. His plan is to make dinner and live entertainment as accessible and affordable as dinner and a movie. The bistro/bar opens this fall in The Glen Rock Hotel Depot in Asheville, and he and Artistic Director Steven Samuels are working on shows. Chall says, “This will be the only performance house in the South that focuses solely on developing the works of new playwrights.”
The Magnetic Field
372 Depot St., Asheville
Susan Pyatt connects community and
the arts in McDowell County
When Marion hosts concerts on the main square, Susan Pyatt and volunteers lay pieces of chalk on the sidewalk outside the McDowell Arts Council Association, extending an invitation to burgeoning young artists to find their way to creative pursuits. It’s a simple exercise, but Pyatt, executive director of MACA, has seen it reach kids, and draw in adults who might not see themselves as gallery patrons. It’s just one of the many ways Pyatt is keeping art alive in a county that’s seen hardships due to disappearing manufacturing jobs.
When she took the position nearly three years ago, there were 11 member artists. The number has since grown to 50, thanks to a revamp of MACA’s downtown storefront and the addition of a gift shop, which both feature artists’ works. This past summer, MACA began offering children’s art classes. “So many kids in our area don’t get exposure to the arts. In that one class, they might find what they love to do for their lives,” she says.
McDowell Arts Council Association
20 S. Main St., Marion
Kip Veno and Franzi Charen unite locally owned businesses
with a hometown allegiance
”You can pull off any look as long as you rock it with confidence,” says Kip Veno. He and his girlfriend, Franzi Charen, own Asheville vintage shop Hip Replacements, a hot spot for retro looks and locally made duds and jewelry. The store reflects the couple’s affinity for style and individuality, and it’s also home for another of their passions: Asheville Grown.
Posters and T-shirts that read “Asheville Grown: Buy Local” are part of a branding campaign Charen envisioned last holiday season. “I saw a need to bring awareness to the uniqueness of this community,” she says. “We have so many amazing artists and businesses in this town, and they’re not going to last if we don’t support them.” The idea developed into a nonprofit organization, Asheville Grown Business Alliance, with more than 200 independently owned businesses participating.
—Melissa Cain Smith
72 N. Lexington Ave., Asheville
Traci Kearns’ eco-approach to interior design blends beauty and conscience
As a child observing her grandfather work in his woodshop, Traci Kearns learned about quality, integrity, and craft, but the bigger lesson she found was the freedom to be creative with no judgment. Today, she puts those virtues to work as founder and principle designer of Alchemy Design Studio. “It’s a beautiful process to create your own space,” notes Kearns, who combines her love of modern Scandinavian and Asian designs with inspiration from natural surroundings for an eco-modern aesthetic. She believes that using environmentally friendly materials and educating the client is part of the designer’s role. “When you design with sustainable principles you can’t help but recognize the interdependence between us as humans and the bigger picture.”
Alchemy Design Studio
60 Biltmore Ave., Asheville
Tammy and Michelle Goni keep charitable giving en vogue
Custom Boutique in West Asheville is the go-to spot for fashionistas. It offers affordable, stylish clothing and colorful home accessories, but the business also has a philanthropic mission. Since the shop opened in 2008, owners Tammy and Michelle Goni have been hosting fund-raising events and committing a monthly percentage of sales to women’s charities. The popular biannual clothing swap benefiting Steadfast House, a shelter for women and families, is held every fall and spring (the next event is in October). “We wanted to create a place where women help other women within the community,” notes Tammy (above left). Growing up in a close-knit family in Mexico City, the sisters were taught that you grow as a person when you help others. Michelle explains, “Blessings are given to you to see what you are going to do with them.”
Custom: Hers and Home Boutique
415 Haywood Rd., Asheville
Design is a language of collaboration for Ken Gaylord
Ken Gaylord likes to joke that he isn’t good at building strip malls. (Thank goodness.) What he excels at are challenging assignments, including the Pisgah House on the campus of UNC Asheville, completed last fall. When the Hendersonville-based architect signed on, the project came with unique requirements, namely to create elegant and welcoming spaces for entertaining alums and benefactors, as well as a private residence for the current and future chancellors. Gaylord also knew this building must serve as an architectural ambassador for the region and embody, what his friend, Becky Anderson, former director of HandMade in America, termed New Blue Ridge style. By welcoming local artisans into the design process—from fine woodworkers and metal workers to stained-glass artists—he created a place that will forever stand for our region’s commitment to craft.
“A style of architecture has to look forward as much as it looks back,” Gaylord says. “What’s going to be unique about architecture in the area in the 21st century?
I think that question points to a process. The forms may look very different, but a process of incorporating the work of fine craft artisans is the thing that distinguishes us.”
Ken Gaylord Architecture
109 S. Main St., Hendersonville