Hunter Wimmer lives Mid-Century Modern design. Not only is he the Associate Director of Graphic Design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, he wakes up every morning in one of the coolest Eichler Homes we’ve ever seen. It didn’t always deserve that title, though. In fact when Hunter bought it, the place was a dump with a giant beehive inside the walls.
Hunter and his wife Casie renovated the place from scratch, got rid of those pesky bees, and documented the entire process on their blog, Redneck Modern. 5 years later the house looks amazing and Redneck Modern has a serious following of Mid-Century Modern fanatics. We got together with Hunter to talk Eichler, living without a kitchen sink, and essential home repair advice.
Your house has come a long way! What drew you to the space, even in its original state of disrepair?
We’ve always been drawn to modern architecture and have some friends that have lived in Eichler-built homes — but living in San Francisco, the idea of a bucolic inside/outside modern experience always seemed out of reach monetarily.
When we first visited our current house, we came out to look at a listing on the next street, but we persuaded the agent to let us in. Since it was in such disrepair, we guess he thought it a good opportunity to showcase the move-in-readiness of his own listing, however, when my wife walked into the overgrown atrium, her face lit up in a way I’ll never forget. She mouthed “It’s perfect!” Considering the work that needed to be done, this was quite a bit of insight.
Looking back, the thing that drew us to our current space was its originality — and its affordability. Although it had a decade of deferred maintenance, all of the important bits were still there: the globe lights, the original aluminum sliders, the large windows.
The house had no working kitchen and the floor had been stripped back to the gooey mastic on the floors, but these were things that were all fixable. Little did we know, we’d live without a functioning kitchen for the next 18-months.
Eichler homes belong to a very specific time period in American life. Now that we’re in a new century, how has the design held up?
I remember a student once commenting that she didn’t like Mid-Century design. My response was: “You don’t necessarily have to like it, but you should at least respect it.” These designers were looking at all design – interior design, architecture, communication design, industrial design – in a whole new way. They forever changed the game.
Like in all design disciplines, the true icons stand the test of time. Eichler‘s architects were part of a movement that sought to change the way we looked at living within a space. By reversing the front-facing elements and focusing on the interior and back yard space, they created a sort of personal haven that was very unique to the era. Joseph Eichler found a way to combine demand (the post-war era was in much need of housing), new materials, new structural techniques and a mass-market business model to bring these designs to a more mainstream audience.
Of course, a house that’s 50 years old does need some updating. We’ve added a mini-split AC/heater to complement the working-but-slow radiant heat; modern data wiring in each room; solar safety film on the windows, a foam roof; an on-demand hot-water heater and a few other bits, but all in all, we’ve tried to stay close to the spirit of the house.
Did you have any background in home renovation when you first started this project, or did you just jump in out of necessity?
Home renovation is a lot like car repair, computer diagnostics or cooking in that you can either do it or you can’t. In my case, that gene is active and has been most of my life. When looking at door jambs or plumbing, there’s just something that seems to make sense. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a lot of talented contractors to tackle the stuff that requires permits or specialty knowledge.
That’s not to say that we haven’t made a lot of mistakes along the way. Fortunately, nothing’s blown up. The mantra “measure twice, cut once” is definitely a handy one to keep in mind when tackling something like this. You can also learn a lot by watching PBS, HGTV and DIYnetwork… if nothing else, what not to do. Mike Holmes is my hero.
If you had to each give just two cardinal rules for renovating a house, what would they be?
(1) Always use the right tool for the job – even if it’s a telephone and a checkbook.
(2) Always read the instructions… but don’t be a slave to them.
As a graphic designer, how did you approach this project differently?
Design principles of balance, harmony, contrast and hierarchy are present across disciplines. I use cooking as an analogy to my students in class. You’d never have chicken and turkey and ham for dinner, so why would you use all three of the same type of elements on a page… or in a house?
One of my old instructors, John Malinoski, used to joke: “I’m a designer — I line stuff up.” The idea of lining stuff up — either conceptually or physically — is something that has helped in a house with so many angles and corners.
Images: Hunter Wimmer