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Upwardly mobile homes

Forget what comes to mind when you hear 'trailer park.' At two in Malibu, sweeping ocean views inspire homeowners to create spaces of beauty that match the surroundings.

July 24, 2003|Veronique de Turenne | Special to The Times

"Things would get raucous over there" at Peckinpah's, said contractor Marty King, who grew up in Paradise Cove. "You'd see the liquor store guy drive up there to drop off booze. We kids thought the guy was kind of scary, and we'd pretty much avoid his place."

Today, Paradise Cove, a rustic 60 acres studded with trees, has a small-town feel. Kids ride their bikes through the streets. Neighbors lean from their decks to chat. The surfers gather on the bluff to check the swell. The only loud noise is the crack of a renovator's hammer.

Maggie Bright, a designer whose personal tastes tend toward the modern, has used paint and color to banish the dark and dreary feel of her 1973 trailer. She dog-proofed with a white tile floor that unified the space. Multiple layers of a creamy Ralph Lauren paint gave the brown paneled walls the smooth, silky look of bead board.

Outside, Bright swathed one side of her house in silvery corrugated metal siding, both a nod to architect Frank Gehry and a homage to the Airstream trailer.

"It was an inexpensive material, and I liked the in-joke. I mean, this is a trailer we're living in," Bright said.

Don't tell that to Lorraine Jennings, who has banished the word "trailer" from the family vocabulary when describing their Point Dume Club home. She's not fond of "coach," "unit" or even "mobile home." Manufactured house? Well, maybe.

Jennings and her husband, Mike, were living in a Malibu townhouse when they fell for the trailer's unobstructed ocean views.

"Everything we did -- from adding big windows and sliding glass doors to taking off the heavy roof on the deck -- was about letting the amazing view into the house," Mike said. "We wanted it to have a Mediterranean feel. That's what's great about these places -- you can make them into what you want."

What Tris Imboden and his wife, Kelly, wanted was a home that straddled the line between the Moorish style of Malibu Potteries and the island vibe of Kauai's north shore.

Tris, the drummer for the band Chicago, and Kelly, business manager for Stephen Stills, had been living in a tiny unit in the lower section of Paradise Cove when they happened across a "for sale" sign.

"I walked in the front door and the sun was throwing rainbows through the leaded glass windows in the living room," Kelly Imboden said.

She turned the corner into the kitchen, got a glimpse of the ocean view and she was sold.

"I felt this surge of energy," she said. "I just turned to the Realtor and said, 'This is my house.' "

As soon as escrow closed, the Imbodens started remodeling. They hired Malibu contractor Ken Nilsen to take out the very '80s dropped ceiling in the kitchen and add deep-set skylights to give height and add light to the room.

"The kitchen was awful and the bathroom was just plain scary," Kelly said. "I mean, the toilet was so close to the wall, you had to sit sideways to use it."

She expanded the bathroom, installed a skylight, added a glass shower and tiled the floors and countertops.

"We were lucky because Ken Nilsen's an artist -- his work is in harmony with nature," Kelly said. "Have you seen his place?"

Nilsen's trailer is one of two he has owned in Paradise Cove over the last 19 years. Step inside and you see a craftsman's love of wood and workmanship.

"It was pretty bad when I first saw it -- lime green carpet, brown paneling, acoustical tile on the ceiling," Nilsen said.

He vanquished the "Rockford Files" ambience with drywall, tile and a hardwood floor. An Arts and Crafts palette of greens and browns, stained glass windows and built-in cabinets crafted from a variety of hardwoods gave Nilsen's trailer a Craftsman feel.

Unlike the permit process for a traditional home, which can take months or even years, mobile home permits take a matter of days. Draw up the plans, take them to the department of Housing and Community Development in Riverside and you're in business.

It's a familiar process for Malibu contractor John M. Bell and his wife, Sandy. The couple has remodeled and sold two trailers in Paradise Cove and they're living in and redoing a third.

Bell recommends three major exterior changes -- change the flat roof line by adding a pitched, faux roof, getting rid of the aluminum siding, and swapping out aluminum windows and flimsy doors for higher-end products.

"My first thing is, I put in French doors," Sandy said. "It brings the outside in and changes the whole dynamic of the house."

Although she refuses to call herself a designer, Sandy Bell is known within Paradise Cove renovation circles for her kitchen remodels. Each of the three homes she redid had a different kitchen style. Her current home balances her taste for country with her husband's love of modern.

Glass-fronted wood cabinets and liberal display of her collectibles fill her needs, while the stainless-steel refrigerator gives John Bell the sleek look he craves. Both agree that skimping on appliances is silly.

"I love the commercial appliances -- the big refrigerator, the big stove -- it really makes the kitchen come to life for me."

Sandy estimates she's spent about $50,000 remodeling her new place, a 1973 one-bedroom, one-bath on a small bluff with an ocean view.

"This is it for us -- we're not moving," she said.

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