Conversations with Art


RECENTLY, AT FRANCIS MILL’S home in a former 1937 warehouse in San Fran - cisco’s SoMa neighborhood, the usually effusive gallerist seemed subdued. The British painter Howard Hodgkin had died just the day before.

Mill’s San Francisco gallery, Hackett-Mill, represents the work of mid-century abstract expressionists like Hodgkin, and a couple of his paintings hang inside Mill’s home. “They will be moved often,” Mill says, “to form new ‘conversations.’ When artists are gone, you can talk to them in this way.”

The 1,300-square-foot one-bedroom loft, remodeled during the 1980s, had Pompeiian red walls, heavy drapes and wrought iron details when Mill acquired it in 2005. That’s gone now.

The board-formed concrete walls troweled ceilings and scored floors are again a brutalist gray and the drywall partitions white, forming a neutral container for art.

The front door opens into an L-shaped living/dining room. Next to it, a room with west-facing windows, previously the building’s elevator shaft, was turned into an art studio and home office. Flanking these spaces are the kitchen on the northeast corner and the northwest-side bedroom, linked by a 3-foot-wide hallway running parallel to built-in closets and a bathroom sandwiched between both rooms.

“There is always a sense of something beyond what’s visible.’”

Mill, who studied architecture and fine arts before becoming the dean of graduate studies at the Academy of Art University, treats the interior like an assemblage sculpture, creating unexpected juxtapositions of art and modernist furnishings.

“My process is spontaneous. Sometimes when I look up from a book I am reading, I get an idea,”

Mill says. That’s how he thought of suspending an Emerson Woelffer canvas from the ceiling above a Corbusier chaise his mother gave him.

In 2007 Mill recruited Oakland metalsmith Chris French to replace an entertainment unit between the living room and the kitchen hallway with new bookshelves. During demolition they realized that with the unit gone, they had better access and sight lines from the living room into the kitchen. So they kept the opening and fitted it with a floor-to-ceiling pivot door of black steel panels riveted together, as a nod to sculptor Louise Nevelson. Next to it, a portal to the original hallway was filled in with Nevel - son-esque black painted stacked wood and steel crates for Mill’s art books.

Craving more storage and display areas, Mill identified unused pockets of space in soffits, around columns and in corners, and in 2013 he asked Los Angeles interior designer Stephan Jones to help him maximize every square inch.

Jones, who also happens to be a collage artist, is Mill’s perfect foil. They are friends and met professionally when Jones and his art-buying clients first visited Mill’s gallery more than 10 years ago.

“We always discuss concepts and aesthetics easily,” Jones says. Together he and Mill made the loft into a truly versatile space.

They ripped out closets, kitchen cabinets, and unwanted doors to free up walls, and they introduced custom millwork from Henrybuilt. With fewer doors, “it is a sequence of semi-enclosed spaces,” Jones says. “There is always a sense of something beyond what’s visible.”

The new storage is more efficient and makes the place, as Mill says, quoting the architect Le Corbusier, “a machine for living in.”