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Must be mod

The baby boomers' offspring, 'Generation-nesters,' pursue flexible, personalized design and an urban edge with their usual X, Y zeal.

June 26, 2005|Diane Wedner | Times Staff Writer

It looks turn-of-the-20th-century Los Angeles, and was built then too. But step inside Eduardo Santiago's Colonial Craftsman and leave Great-Grandma's world way behind.

"This house is not concerned with convention," said Gloria Fowler, 40, former owner and co-designer of the Angelino Heights contemporary renovation. "We rethought the definition of space and materials."

Whimsy, experimentation and customization define the housing preferences of Generations X and Y, collectively known as Generation-nesters because many of them both work and live in their homes. Born between 1964 and 1994, they make up 40% of the U.S. population, and many over the age of 25 are buying houses.

Gen-nesters are highly educated, ethnically diverse, eco-conscious and consummate consumers, and many of them are entering the housing market with their own ideas about what constitutes domesticity. Don't expect this demographic to embrace what some view as their boomer parents' bigger-is-better, cookie-cutter tastes as they dive into the real estate market.

"This generation is a very sophisticated, marketed-to audience that wants a living space that's personalized and individualized," said Sharon Lee, co-president of Look-Look, a youth-culture research and marketing firm. "The real estate market is way, way behind in serving this huge audience. Builders need to ask this group what they like."

Gen-nesters spend a combined $297 billion annually, according to research compiled by ReadyMade magazine, a publication targeting this do-it-yourself generation. Gen-Xers alone, ages 28 to 39, purchased 49% of all newly built homes in 2003, according to a National Assn. of Home Builders study.

To capture the younger end of this market and reel in their housing dollars, designers say builders will need to create homes that combine the mid-20th century sensibility of hearth and home with contemporary ideals. That means open spaces that rely on movable modular walls, which can be replaced when styles change.

"Interiors must be updatable, like a wardrobe," Look-Look's Lee said.

Planned communities, with their more homogeneous architecture and restrictive residential covenants, do not appeal to this demographic, which generally prefers individuality.

Santiago's three-story home -- renovated 15 years ago by Fowler and Randy Stauffer, 44, after a fire gutted the interior -- has two bedrooms plus two extra sleeping or entertainment "spaces" in 2,800 square feet. Its open floor plan allows rooms to meld into each other, and the bedrooms, bathroom and closets have no doors. Stainless steel, maple plywood and "vintage mid-century-modern" construction materials and furniture are used throughout.

This aesthetic can be created fairly easily in homes concentrated in the region's older, not-yet-gentrified neighborhoods, say architects and agents, and that's where many Gen-nesters are buying. The California Craftsman exteriors of many Angelino Heights, Echo Park, Glassell Park, Eagle Rock and Highland Park homes appeal to this demographic, who then open and update the interiors to accommodate studios or home offices.

These older Los Angeles enclaves also are more moderately priced, according to David Toyama of Coldwell Banker and Eric Toro of Uptown Properties, who serve those neighborhoods. Gen-nesters often are happy to grab vintage homes, no matter the condition.

"They're just trying to get in," Toyama said. "They move fast and make quick decisions."

Finding the perfect house and staying there until retirement is not on Gen-nesters' radar, so buying and fixing homes, then moving a couple of years later, is no big deal, experts say. But high prices have forced some Gen-nesters to move temporarily to the outer suburbs, which is a big deal.

"To someone with an expectation of a living space that's personalized, buying a tract home is like buying a minivan," Lee said. "Gen-nesters view that as the death of self."

Some, such as Brandy Fons, 32, and her husband, Ryan, 27, have avoided that predicament by settling for a temporary condo closer to an urban center. They are watching their equity build, and then will jump into a single-family home more to their liking when they can afford it.

Fons' Hollywood Hills home, like those of many Gen-nesters, doubles as her office. The one-bedroom, 968-square-foot condo the publicist and her husband purchased in 2003 is wired for instant Internet access, TiVo and other state-of-the-art technology. The couple never entertained the idea of settling in the San Fernando Valley or farther suburbs, Fons said. But buying, rather than renting, was imperative.

"Real estate is all people in my age group talk about," she said. "Real estate is to us what stocks were to Gen-Xers."

The desire to own compelled married artists Tamara Cervantes and Aaron Bowen to purchase their 9,700-square-foot warehouse/home in Central L.A. seven years ago for $415,000.

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