It was born out of frustration when the owners were remodeling their home. Now Modern House Numbers has orders coming in from all over the world.
When Brandy and Rick McLain began remodeling their 1950 house in Tucson, it wasn’t their intention to spin a business off from it. But when it came time to attach house numbers to the outside, they couldn’t find anything to satisfy their modern and mid-century tastes. So they created their own.
After a few experiments on thin sheets of aluminum, they settled on a thicker sheet and took their design to a firm with a waterjet cutter that could slice through it. Some time later, after numerous comments from friends and visitors, and a few orders from their friends, the couple realized they might be onto something.
Modern House Numbers is a business that grew out of design frustration. Home-based for years and originally Brandy and Rick’s labor of love on evenings and weekends, it has grown so popular that Brandy quit her job for a Tucson planning company. They are about to hire a second full-time employee. The company now operates out of a midtown Tucson office and ships up to a hundred items a week, with orders coming in from all over the world. Apart from the USA, Canada is a significant market for them, and orders also come from Japan, Australia and Europe.
The house numbers come in a package that includes waterjet cut recycled aluminum numbers, peel-and-stick vinyl mailbox numbers and curb stencils, all in the same font. Prices start at $21 for packages and $1.50 for vinyl numbers. They also sell customized plaques (these cost around $150) and hotel room numbers to boutique hotel clients.
Designs, based on Helvetica and Ultra fonts, carry names like Palm Springs, SoCal and SoHo. Colors include brushed aluminum and powder-coated white and black. Red and antique bronze finishes are coming soon. The website has been set up so that clients can preview their order before they buy.
Brandy has a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a masters in urban planning, while Rick, an architect, is a partner in the Tucson firm Repp + McLain Design and Construction. Although he leaves much of the running of Modern House Numbers to Brandy, he is still hands-on after hours and on the weekends. Both of them try to talk on the phone with every customer. Brandy checks and hand-wraps every order that goes out. “Quality control is still our top priority,” she says.
The daughter of ranchers, Brandy grew up in northern Arizona learning sewing from her mother and welding from her father. “My brother and I spent our childhoods outside,” she says. When she decided to pursue architecture and not agriculture at college, her parents were more than a little surprised, she says.
Rick, originally from Boston, moved to Tucson in 1995. He met Brandy at the University of Arizona, and their design tastes seemed as compatible as their personalities. Both share a bent for modern and mid-century lines. The couple now rents out their first home, and have since renovated a 1960s ranch house in midtown Tucson. They have kept the original adobe exterior the same, and left exposed adobe walls in some rooms inside. Also inside are the original wooden beams on the ceilings.
But much has been ripped out and renovated. The kitchen cabinets are a mix of IKEA bases and custom. A deep kitchen island features raw steel. Throughout the house there is a concrete floor overlay. The simple lines, the hints of Atomic Age style and the pops of color show a love for the new and an appreciation of the mid-mod.
Brandy believes that, like her and Rick, Modern House Numbers’ customers are looking for something out of the ordinary when it comes to their home decor. “I would say the majority of our clients have either built their homes from the ground up or have remodeled. They’re looking for something a little bit more than the standard [things] you get at Home Depot.”
Next for Modern House Numbers is its own home. Brandy currently works out of Repp + McLain’s office. Soon she hopes to buy and renovate a separate office building. “This is not where I expected myself to be,” she says of her move from architecture and planning into home decor and e-commerce. “But I always wanted my own business. I’m excited to get up every day.”
* Find Modern House Numbers online at www.modernhousenumbers.com