Oh, to be cute, creative and in love.
If you don’t know Dale Rieke and Jenny Acheson, be prepared to develop a crush.
If you do know them, you might be surprised to learn that they recently adopted a kitten, a black-and-white stray named Jimmy Cat.
It’s a big commitment for a couple whose favorite pastime is traveling to remote beach communities to surf big waves and photograph people.
“We just had her spayed,” Acheson says, shooing the cat away from a drinking glass. “I can’t believe how quickly she healed. The vet told us to make sure she takes it easy for a few days, but all she wants to do is play.”
Apparently, the kitten takes after its owners.
Newly engaged, artistic and adventurous, Rieke, 47, and Acheson, 50, are an emerging Sarasota power couple — that is, if power couples are crazy about surfing in Portugal, camping at Burning Man and dancing with nomads in Timbuktu.
When they’re not globetrotting, they’re holed up in their Wood Street Studio, the joint photography/woodworking shop they opened two years ago in a converted warehouse north of the Rosemary District.
Named after their street in Sarasota’s Alta Vista neighborhood, the studio has become a hangout for local artists and photographers, in addition to a fabrication plant for Rieke’s high-end furniture.
Located way off the beaten path in a neighborhood on the fringes of downtown Sarasota, the studio, like its owners, is a mix of charm and grit.
There’s a purple bicycle in the parking lot, a pit bull in the yard across the street, abandoned railroad tracks behind the building and furniture inside the studio upholstered in West African fabric.
There’s Acheson, an English-born photographer, dressed in a floral dress and wedge sandals, sitting at an uncluttered table, spreading jam on a French baguette.
And then there’s Rieke in jeans and a T-shirt making coffee in the kitchen.
“We’re actually quite lackadaisical here,” Acheson says. “We’re lucky. As nasty and viscous as that pit bull across the street sounds, he keeps people moving. I don’t even chain up my bike.”
The studio, which Rieke equipped with a kitchen and sleeping quarters, is exactly what the self-taught woodworker, artist and surfer, had always wanted for his fabrication shop.
A graduate of Sarasota High School, he has been working as a furniture maker and artist in Sarasota for 30 years. His high-end commissions and functional art can be found in homes from Florida to New York.
At 3,500 square feet, the facility was big enough to accommodate his equipment and Acheson’s whitewashed photography studio, which she uses to shoot portrait, commercial and lifestyle photography.
The space also doubles as an event venue and art gallery.
“Dale and I love combining our creative spirits,” says Acheson, who this year shot all the designs for Art Center Sarasota’s iconcept runway show. “I suppose we could do a little better to get the word out about the place, but, then again, there’s no hurry.”
The couple is well matched despite having spent the first half of their careers living in two alternate universes: Acheson as a beauty and lifestyle photographer in New York City and Rieke as a carpenter in Sarasota.
They met in 2006 at a surf retreat in Costa Rica. Four years later, Acheson moved to Sarasota, where Rieke’s business was already well established.
She’s thrilled with the move. It’s brought her closer to Miami, where in February, she shot all the covers for the summer issues of First magazine, the second of which is on newsstands now.
And, of course, it’s brought her closer to Rieke, with whom she’s about to head to Nicaragua on another surfing adventure.
“Dale needs a good break,” she says. “He’s worked really hard this season.”
Despite a fledging economy, Rieke had the busiest year of his career. Last week he just finished renovating a Longboat Key condo, a project that took more than eight months to complete.
To unwind, he’ll surf the waves in Central America.
Acheson, as usual, will document the experience in photographs. When they return to Sarasota, she’ll design and publish a glossy paperback book filled with photos of Rieke hanging 10 in Nicaragua.
The book will join a series of self-published paperbacks filled with Acheson’s inspiring photojournalism and serve as a testament to the couple’s wild sojourns.
“It gives us something to do when we’re traveling,” Acheson says. “You bumble around long enough with your camera you’re bound to get some good shots.”
The series, titled “Just Back From,” includes pictures of everything from half-naked revelers at American music festivals to Islamic men praying to Allah.
A major publishing house has expressed interest in publishing some of the work, except that it fears surfers won’t shell out money for a coffee table book.
“There’s always this stereotype that surfers are bums,” Rieke says. “That’s so not the case. I’m out there with CEOs and bankers.”
Acheson nods her head in agreement. Surfing, she says, is as much an art as photography or furniture making.
She reaches for a book of photographs taken in Mali.
“Look,” she says pointing to a picture of West Africans dancing in the desert. “This is Timbuktu. It’s like, who goes to Timbuktu? I used to think it was a place that didn’t exist.”
It seems the couple has made a habit of exploring the unknown. As Acheson picks up a book titled “Just Back from Burning Man,” Rieke intervenes.
“Make sure there’s no naked pictures of me in there, babe,” he says.
At first the comment sounds like a joke, and then Acheson turns the page and blushes.
“Ah, there’s one,” she says in her soft English accent. “You’ve got to look really close though. It’s tasteful. Nothing is showing.”