There's no denying that Francis Mill, cofounder of art atelier Hackett Mill in SoMa, has a profound understanding of design; his home takes it a step further displaying a personal connection. Art is his everyday life.
Mill has become renowned in the industry for his eclectic taste as seen in the gallery—which is just a stone's throw from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art—and his personal style reflects his curious interests. Just take a look at his vivid collection of eyewear—vintage, round, geek-chic, and modern, thick-rimmed frames—exhibited on shelves built into his closet door.
But what's most fascinating about Mill is his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the art world. It's possible for him to speak at hours on end about a single piece of art or about Louise Nevelson, one of his favorite American sculptors; and his history in the industry runs deep. As a former architect with a BFA and a MFA in fine art, he started to exhibit his own art work in San Francisco in the 1980s, before becoming, in the '90s, the first professor and dean of graduate studies at the Academy of Art University. In 2000, with Micheal Hackett, he cofounded Hackett Mill, which has become a Bay Area nesting ground for rare works from the 1950s and 60s by notable American, European, and Asian artists. Such artists include Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney, Kenzo Okada, Louise Nevelson and Joan Brown, who was a central figure amongst Post-War Bay Area painters.
Now, after more than 15 years in Union Square, Hacket Mill has a new location on Natoma Street in a former warehouse built in 1937. The new atelier aims to break the rules of conventional art institutions, where barriers between the installation and the viewer are torn down to create a personal encounter—as if you were experiencing the work in your own home. This approach is no more apparent than in Mill's own 1,200 square foot apartment. Upon entering, it exudes a sense of careful curation, yet feels also deeply intimate.
"I consider this apartment as a big work in progress and I treat it as a living space and an art studio where I can create and be inspired," Mill said.
The residence, located in a 1930s pharmaceutical warehouse on Beale Street, is an homage to Mill's favorite artists and a reflection of his dynamic personality. He's designed the space to be flexible and functional with an industrial-chic vibe. In the center of the living room sits a black steel installation by British sculptor Brian Wall as well as themarble Odalisque 1 sculpture by American artist Manuel Neri. The hallway has been transformed into a creative laboratory with a multitude of drawers teeming with white LEGOs, feathers, pencils, and an array of art tools. In a special drawer, he has installed a small zen garden that he opens when he needs to find a moment of peace. In his transformative setting, anything can become a work of art—his practical need for a ladder becomes inspired with a chiccoat of black paint (a kind of homage to his beloved sculptor Nevelson).
"With all these pieces in my house I was tired of opening the storage to pick up the ladder, so I decided to paint it and place it in the living room. You cannot even see it, it looks like an extension of the book shelves," he explains.
He often opens his home to his clients and collectors, hosting dinner parties and leading architectural and art tours of his space for charitable causes and fundraising—such as the Enterprise for High School Students, a local youth development agency that guides teens to explore career interests, find and retain jobs, and engage in experiential learning.
A standout piece, and one of the largest paintings he owns, is an oil on canvas piece by Emerson Woelffer, suspended above an Eames chair. "The location of the Woelffer painting was inspired by designers Charles and Ray Eames. They hung their Hand Hofmann painting above their Eames Chair at the Eames House in Santa Monica. I had seen that in old photographs of the Eames and Charles in a documentary interview and I decided to replicate it in my house."