The front door at Brandon Lee’s Phoenix home has something to say. And those who see it have something to say about it.
When Lee laid eyes on that candy-apple door holding a slinking, pistol-wielding, '60s-era temptress two years ago, he knew he was home.
“When I saw that front door,” Lee, evening anchor at Channel 3, said, searching for the right words to describe that moment. “It just said, ‘Brandon, this is your home.’ I knew. I mean, I knew.”
And that spontaneity, that moment, is saying something, since the 1951 ranch home is the first home Lee has ever purchased.
Ralph Haver home
As an occupational hazard, he’s bounced around to just about every corner of the country, absorbing the architectural styles in each region. But, of all of them, Ralph Haver reeled him in.
The style of the architect's iconic mid-century modern homes ignites vivid memories within Lee of childhood visits to see family in Palm Springs, where the homes there expressed the same rooflines, the same layout and featured the same clear-story windows up top.
So, Lee embarked on a herculean restoration and preservation effort on the home that has culminated with a space that evokes a sense of emotional nostalgia and an appreciation for the clean, unique, modern energy inside.
'Like a piece of art'
“I wanted people to enjoy it, like a piece of art,” Lee said of his goal with the restoration, a word he uses with purpose in place of the word renovation. “I wanted it to feel like a time capsule for people who grew up in the '50s.”
And it immediately does, thanks to a custom breeze block wall that takes center stage out front.
The wall, a hallmark of mid-century residential and commercial architecture, isn’t easy to come by anymore. For Lee, it was a deal-breaker, one he had to work hard to find.
Working closely with his landscape architect, Modern Environments, the two of them found a company in California that would cast the blocks. And the legwork was worth it.
“It is the most talked-about piece,” Lee said of the wall, that transports visitors to another era. “I swear I was born in the 1950s. I truly believe my soul lived at one time then.”
Inside the home
Inside the 1,700-square-foot home, Lee’s throwback soul is on display at every turn, starting with the vintage media console just inside the front door, holding a working record player and sitting below one of his original pieces of art, a graffiti canvas of a skull.
Lee painted all of the walls in his home white to create a gallery effect, allowing for him to easily rotate his latest work as it is completed and sold.
A Marilyn Monroe piece, featuring 20,000 hand-placed Swarovski crystals, hangs over the fireplace in the living room.
A pair of love-themed canvas pieces hangs in the hallway, a symmetrical grid of colored circles hangs in the living room, and a black, glossy piece declaring “sexy with a bit of gangster” finishes the master bathroom.
Preserving Haver's style
He’s added art to a home that he believes is a piece of art on its own. And he went to great lengths to ensure that his restoration effort, which included a “cathartic” sandblasting of the exterior, preserved the integrity of the original Haver style.
“People should be able to see a building and know what happened during that time period,” Lee said of the experimental work in Phoenix, left behind by some of the country’s best architectural minds. “If Phoenix doesn’t start preserving mid-century modern architecture … this entire city will have nothing to look back on. And, that’s really sad to me.”
Haver homes are classically known for open living areas and dainty bedrooms. Lee didn’t mess with either, and instead embraced both elements. In the living area, he upgraded the floor-to-ceiling glass with a pair of pivot swing doors that open to a completely symmetrical and expertly manicured backyard. And in the master bedroom, he installed a recessed dresser and designed a simple bathroom to make the most of his modest space.
Here and there are subtle finishes, such as the 75 ficus trees planted along the exterior wall of his yard.
His friends thought he was nuts, but he had a vision of a 14-foot hedge, and it’s almost there. Besides, he said, he has access to a team of meteorologists who can tip him off when a hard freeze is approaching.
Lava rock, sourced from Flagstaff, covers the ground where artificial turf doesn’t in both the back and front yards. And, passersby are so captivated by it, they actually take some from time to time as a souvenir.
Track lighting, supported by wires, swags through the living areas and illuminates Lee’s latest work. While a raw metal fence encloses the backyard, the patina popping against the yard’s greenery. And, one of the home’s three bedrooms has been transformed into his art studio.
Lee’s home is absolutely his home. He made sure of it. He had a head start with that door.
“To think that the first home you ever bought ends up being your childhood dream,” Lee said, pausing. “It’s kind of crazy.”
More Cool Homes: