Jeremy Renner likes to break down walls. This is not a metaphor, although as an actor he certainly smashes expectations in almost every role he plays.
As the maverick army bomb disposal expert in The Hurt Locker, Renner, 45, earned an Academy Award nomination not for his toughness but for his open-hearted tenderness. He is equally surprising in Marvel’s Avengers series as the master archer Hawkeye, a superhero without any real superpowers.
Yet his work in another realm – home design and development – brings a different aspect of Renner’s creative vision to the forefront. With his real estate partner, Kristoffer Winters, Renner has acquired, renovated and sold more than two dozen Southern California homes since the early 2000s. Renner spoke with Robb Report about a mega-successful career that defies convention in Hollywood and beyond.
What’s more challenging: making movies or developing real estate?
With both, to stay at the top of the ladder, you have to be all in. I see them as similar pursuits. Both can be hugely rewarding, creatively and financially. Both take a sense of daring and risk. Whether you’re producing a movie or turning around a property, you’re managing people, you’re putting out fires, you’re problem-solving, you’re working to stay on time and on budget, and you focus on tiny details that add up to greatness.
Your Marvel character, Hawkeye, is known for his precision and infallible vision. Sounds like he would thrive as a developer.
There’s a lot of me in Hawkeye and those qualities do translate to my other career. With the houses we build, I make all the decisions about design, materials, fabrics, furniture, everything. These homes are beyond turnkey; they’re fully loaded. Freshcut flowers, linens, towels, the whole bit. You just bring some clothes and you’re good to go.
How do you personalise a property when you don’t know the people who will come to own it?
My job is to give you an elegant clean slate to make your own. We use a neutral colour palette and don’t go nuts with, say, canary-yellow baths. One of the gals who bought a home of ours came in and painted the kitchen pink. That’s awesome, but it was her choice. I err on the side of masculine and richness. I’ll take a charcoal mohair sofa over a purple couch any day. The buyer can bring in those things or just add some throw pillows.
Is it true you were sleeping in a house without utilities the year you got your Oscar nomination for best actor for The Hurt Locker?
Dude, in the beginning we lived in almost all the houses we were building. We’d invest all our money and wouldn’t have a cent left. During that Academy Awards push, the house was almost done, but it still didn’t have running water or heat. I was sleeping in a tent on hardwood floors to keep the dust off me. Then I’d throw on a tuxedo, jump in a limo and stop at Starbucks so I could brush my teeth.
How has your approach to California’s high-end real estate market changed since you started in the early 2000s?
Kristoffer and I started on a smaller scale. We spent about US$640,000 (S$868,000) on our first mid-century modern house up in Nichols Canyon in 2002 and sold it a few months later for around US$900,000 (S$1.22 million). That was pretty exciting, but we sensed we could go bigger. Most of our properties have sold between US$3 million (S$4.07 million) and US$5 million (S$6.78 million) and a few for much, much more. We’ve done modern, Spanish style, Greek revival, and we’ve gotten way smarter along the way. You don’t want power lines running through a beautiful view. You never want to set the record for price per square footage in your neighbourhood. Ultimately, you want to turn around the ugly house on a beautiful street. We’ve gotten better at doing that.
Have the concepts of luxury and connoisseurship evolved in the last decade, particularly since the onset of the recession?
Well, we’ve seen different phases. A few years ago, we saw more Russians wanting to park their money in a safer economy here in the US. That was an anything goes period as far as investment. Now there’s more of an emphasis on craftsmanship, on fine finishes. You’re not just buying a house; this is your life. You want the things you see and touch to be exceptional.
What about technology? How are new advances shaping the homes you build?
Look at all the stuff you can control with your phone. It’s phenomenal. Sonos brings music into the home, room by room, with the touch of an iPhone button and without the need for complicated wiring. With Nest, I can control the temperature from my car so my house is nice and toasty when I walk in. August lets you answer your doorbell from work and even unlock your door remotely. It’s like having a personal assistant in your pocket. Lutron gives you the efficiency of LED lighting without the look of a dentist’s office. They’ve gotten it so the glow is similar to incandescent lights, and again, you can turn them on with an app. As long as we look up from our damned screens once in a while, we can use these amazing advances to our advantage.
How are the homes you live in different from the ones you develop to sell?
I split my time between a house in Lake Tahoe and my home in Los Angeles. In both, I spent money on things I wouldn’t have done in a spec home. I installed a massive solar-panel package that’s one of the biggest in LA. You’d never do that on a house you’re going to sell because it takes four or five years to get your money back on the investment. I’m building a house I’m going to live in for the rest of my years. It’s about my taste and my desires.
What do you do with your limited spare time?
I took six months off recently so I could be with my daughter and record a bunch of music. I’m also a motorcycle guy who’s been riding all my life. I have a BMW, two Harleys and a Triumph Speed Triple. The one I’m most proud of is this beautiful Norton Commando. There were only 50 of them made and it’s mostly a garage piece, but it’s gotta be driven. Staying close to home has been deeply satisfying. I’ve spent so much time, energy and money building these houses, but I was never there. Its nice to just sit and enjoy the rewards for a minute.