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Arriverderci, Roma : Home Buyers Are Turning Away From Mediterreanean Styles That Dot Orange County Landscape


Memo to Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren: We know you like them, and it is your company and your land and all that, but the people are speaking, Mr. Bren, and what they are saying is that enough is enough.

The ersatz Mediterranean villas--those pastel stuccoed, tile-roofed homes jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the new towns and villages of Orange County--may be a part of your legacy, but that doesn't keep them from being overdone.

For the money they must pay for a new home in Orange County, people want a little variety--inside and out.

This used to be known as the place to see cutting-edge design in mass-produced housing.

Now it is better known as the home of the $200,000 garage door, thanks to a building style that sticks garage, entry and a tiny strip of lawn out front and orients the living spaces toward the back yard.

You don't have to take my word for it, Mr. Bren. Just listen to the 1,718 California home shoppers who recently viewed five architects' renderings of prototype tract homes and overwhelmingly picked neotraditional, Cape Cod and California bungalow designs for single-family detached homes.

Don't get nervous. Nobody is suggesting that we do away with the venerable Mediterranean style that you made an integral part of the master plan for your vast land holdings.

It was, after all, the shoppers' choice in both the entry-level and luxury attached housing categories. The massed Mediterranean look makes sense when you are packing 'em in at 20 or more to the acre--just look at any tourist poster of the hillside villages of Greece or southern Italy.

But isn't it time the Southland's style-setters provide some relief from the stultifying sameness of the views we get these days when gazing at our mostly developed hills?

The shoppers think so, according to Visions '92--a statewide survey of home shoppers taken during March and April in 85 new housing developments. Although it was conducted at locations throughout the state, the survey has a strong Orange County and Southern California flavor. Nearly 60% of the responses were gathered in the Southland, including 26% of the total from Orange County.

The study was designed to find out what people want in a new house, and what they aren't getting.

And it found that they aren't getting a lot of what they want.

On the outside, shoppers pretty much favored a return to traditional designs that make use of brick, stone and wood siding.

On the inside, they want more room for family and for work. To get it, they said they were willing to give up the wet bars and formal living rooms that personify the yuppie executive entertainment home of the 1980s.

Family and work are keys to the buyer of the '90s.

More than half the shoppers surveyed said they have children living at home, and nearly 30% said they do some or all of their job from a home office.

"So that should tell every builder that there is a need to plan home office spaces into their interiors and provide things like computer desks and access for multiple phone lines," said Robert Mirman, president of Irvine-based National Survey Systems and part of a team of four building industry marketing specialists who designed the survey.

Other team members were John Schleimer, president of Market Perspectives in El Dorado Hills; Jeffrey Meyers, president of the Meyers Group in Newport Beach, and Beverly Trupp, chairman of Color Design Art in Pacific Palisades.

With the recession and the aging of the baby boom generation, people also are spending less time and money on outside entertainment and placing more emphasis on home and family, according to Trupp.

Speaking to several hundred builders at a seminar in San Francisco when the findings were released to the home building industry, Trupp said today's buyers are no longer enamored of a lot of the design tricks of recent years.

Things as simple as rounded, or bull-nosed, corners and as elaborate as ground-floor layouts that offer formal living and dining rooms and family rooms and country kitchens and breakfast nooks still catch home shoppers' fancy. But 48% statewide said they would willingly give up the fancy corners if the $900 per house in extra labor they represent could be used to cut the price or add floor space to a family room. And 60% said they would trade a formal dining room for bigger family rooms and kitchens.

Priorities are a little different in Orange County, where most shoppers are in the higher-priced move-up market, said Mirman.

Only 34% of the shoppers at Orange County developments said they would be willing to give up rounded corners inside the house--the smallest group in the state. But 41% said they would accept a smaller lot, compared to 39% statewide. And to get bigger family rooms, 74% said they would take a smaller formal living room, and 52% said they would give up the formal dining room.

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