Block by block in Tempe, Bill Tonnesen is leaving his mark. You may start to notice his work: masonry buildings with sleek lines and crisp, landscaped yards punctuated by eye-catching metal sculptures. Tonnesen - a landscape architect who has turned heads in the art community - and his business partners have snatched up foreclosures near Arizona State University, turning homely homes into hip abodes nearly overnight.
These aren't your ordinary paint-and-flips. Those who know Tonnesen understand he isn't one for small ideas or chintzy projects with average appeal. Where other investors might see a cash cow needing cosmetic fixes, he sees a blank canvas.
There's nothing quite like looking at your neighbors' ugly fences every day, especially if there's six of them in every shape and texture imaginable. Matthew and Alison King, founders of Modern Phoenix.net, came into owning their Haver Home knowing they had a big security and beautification problem: a doublewide urban lot with over 208 linear feet of fencing to replace, and a rustic modern aesthetic that forbade the use of any more cheap cinder block.
We have owned this small office building in Tempe for years but lost our tenant. It was a terrible time with a sea of commercial real estate standing vacant. Our first thought was to get help finding new tenants from a real estate agent. But I had no clue how much they would charge, and more importantly, I was skeptical whether they could do anything anyway. I asked Maurice and Pilar (my wife) to give me a chance to find a tenant and it worked.
Abrasive cleaning is “blasting” with a high pressure air hose and media such as sand or other granules to remove paint and dirt from a variety of surfaces either to prepare it for another opaque coating or (as we use it) to reveal an architectural surface.
Agricultural media, like walnut shells or corncobs, works great on wood, soda removes graffiti and copper slag or sand is commonly used on masonry.
Bill Tonnesen is ecstatic. He can't remember a time when housing prices created such opportunity. The Tempe landscape architect and artist has snapped up a few downtown Tempe homes in foreclosure. And he's turning some plain-Jane - if not downright ugly - properties into cool, contemporary rentals. And it's paying off. So far.
"All our properties are rented, and they're in the midst of 'For Rent' signs," he said. Tonnesen enjoys a challenge, striving to impress using unconventional means. Take paint, a home-improvement staple. Tonnesen hates paint. Where many would add a fresh coat to a masonry home, Tonnesen wields a sandblaster. "It doesn't cost that much more than a good paint job," he said. "The only thing I would like to see painted is drywall, and that would be white. I think of paint as superficial camouflage - the opposite of timeless."
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New Times: You seem torn between saying that the art world is full of shit and wanting to be part of it.
Tonnesen: My goal is to point out that the art industry is a market, like any other. I am a libertarian, laissez faire capitalist. I believe in markets. What I'm interested in doing is studying how the art market works and competing there, but not at a regional level. I have worked now for one year in this regional environment, and now I'm ready to compete on a larger stage.
New Times: The short version is that you became a visual artist, and you're not interested in struggling or starving or spending 20 years in one town. And you're ready to go national.
Tonnesen: No. Not correct. You cannot achieve anything that's worth a darn without a tremendous struggle.
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Eddie Jones’s thing, according to his brother, is to be the “lead designer.” Of himself, he says, 'I’m the guy who wears a coat and tie every day. He’s the guy in the jeans and the sweatshirt.'" ~ Nicholas von Hoffman
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