Special menu items drop anchor at Fishing with Dynamite in Manhattan Beach, just in time for some celebrating.
If you haven’t already ventured into chef David LeFevre’s fabulous seafood eatery called Fishing with Dynamite, then get there in the next few weeks for some special dining. For they are celebrating Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras with limited-time menus designed to get you drooling.
The Manhattan Beach restaurant is intimate, with seating for only 35 guests, so to get in on the fun we advise luring in a limited reservation via phone or Open Table now.
In celebration of Valentine’s Day, LeFevre has concocted the “Love Boat” seafood platter, filling it with chilled, super-fresh selections: six oysters, two Peruvian scallops, four shrimp cocktail bites and a half-pound King crab—for $48.
Also on the special menu is Steamed Black Cod in Thai Red Curry ($19); Whole Atlantic Lobster with Meyer Lemon Potato Puree and Drawn Butter ($44); and Dark Chocolate Ganache Cake and Raspberries ($9). All is a recipe for a seriously decadent evening at one of the hottest restaurants in the coastal enclave harboring it.
Chef’s got the good times rolling straight through Fat Tuesday (Feb. 17), too, with a hearty Gumbo concocted with shrimp, chicken, linguisa (spicy smoked pork sausage), hot sauce and basmati rice. So don your beads and boas to dinner for an authentic evening out.
And if those specials don’t entice your taste buds, the talked-about toque has (much) more to offer. Don’t miss trying one of his seasonal offerings, especially if you see the whole New Zealand Tai snapper ($48) on the menu. It’s “First Dibbs!” for a reason—and a crunchy delight. The Maryland crab cake is the genuine article, and save room for the pretzel and chocolate bread pudding served with house-made ice cream, a sweet finish to share with your favorite dining partner.
Fishing with Dynamite
1148 Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Recently opened neighborhood pub, Hey 19 Public House, enlivens the South Bay.
When Ortega 120 restaurateur, Demi Stevens, decided to take over the space on Calle Mayor in Torrance that once held Zina’s, she knew she wanted something completely different than her popular Mexican place nearby, paving the way for Hey 19 Public House.
“I wanted it to be a relaxed place where locals can come to eat, drink and dance a little,” Stevens explains, while happily pouring a glass of her #19 concoction, a smooth-as-silk, house-infused orange bourbon mixed with fresh lemon, lime and orange that slides down the throat like butter—dangerous, for certain. “We also make our own ‘LemonAde’ and ‘GingerAle,’” she adds.
Infusions aside, such attention to detail is everywhere in this casually cozy, retro place, its Hey 19 moniker cueing the Steely Dan song of the same name. Along with featuring projections of old television shows on the walls (All in the Family playing the night we’re there) are posters of Farrah Fawcett and Star Wars memorabilia. There’s also Banksy prints, mismatched chairs, wacky light fixtures and even a photo of a loincloth-clad Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. mode adorning the drink menu. The convivial setting really makes you feel like a teenager again—a cool kid hanging out your cool friend’s basement.
Take the food menu—offered up in none other than a Pee-Chee portfolio (raise your hand if old enough to remember those!)—which features dishes made from locally sourced, non-GMO and hormone-free organic products. Try the Eric in a Blanket, house-made sausage in a puff pastry, or the Tabled Tartar, made with perfectly prepared Ahi tuna, avocado and ponzu for starters; then move on to Chrissy’s Night Out, mouth-watering, slow-cooked short ribs, or the tasty Froo Froo Pasta, made with local shrimp, Mayer lemon, kale and goat cheese.
Hey 19 also serves pub fare too, including burgers, fried chicken and waffles, and T-bone steak, and there’s always a friendly crowd at the bar, where live bands play a couple of nights a week. Needless to say, dancing is encouraged—and in a sense expected. Plus, this rollicking public house serves a limited menu until 1:30 a.m., a rarity in the South Bay; and they’re open for lunch, too. Now that word about Hey 19 is spreading, we predict that, soon, locals may not be the only SoCal folks in the House.
Hey 19 Public House
4525 Calle Mayor
Torrance, CA 90505
We recently covered the debut of the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion. It’s specs are impressive, to be sure, but what does this self-navigating car mean for the future of humankind’s relationship with automobiles? Andrew Sinagra, the creative director at Ntropic, gives us a glimpse of the possibilities.
I was in college as the internet rolled in with a trickle and I was too young and short sighted to see the change coming. I believe it was due to the slow modem speeds and limited content. There was no big bang, no shot heard around the world. The internet created a new paradigm for communication and opened our eyes to a vastly connected future, yet it barely caught my attention.
Now in the age of automation I have been looking and waiting for that revolutionary step that will change the way we live forever. I envied the generation that witnessed the invention of the airplane and the roots of commercial aviation. I wondered what it was like to watch as man first set foot on the moon. These events were stamps in time that I only read about in history books. But to my excitement, as Bob Dylan put it, the times they are a changin’ — and the Mercedes-Benz F 015 is leading the way.
The F 015 is a window to our future and a vision of how the world will change around us. Beyond the sculpted design, this automobile is a showcase of possibility. At first glance the lines of this vehicle look like they were ripped from the concept art of a space action blockbuster. It’s sleek, sliver facade is bookended with LED light fields that signal various states of control. The interior is technology laden with touch screens, gestural recognition, and eye tracking sensors. A variable seating system turns the typical vehicle interior into an intimate gathering space. However, once you get past the space-age facade and cool gadgetry you realize this work of art is the beginning of a revolution.
As a commercial director working with a number of automotive manufacturers I am generally up to speed on the latest car tech. My job places me in the middle between the manufacturer and the driver trying to visually explain how it all works, so I have seen the signs coming for some time.. countless sensors at every corner of a vehicle, night vision cameras, GPS, radar! When the first automated parallel parking vehicle was demonstrated, it was cool and interesting to some but it was almost a gimmick. It wasn’t going to change my life, but the writing was on the wall. All of these technologies have been leading up to one thing, self driving cars. Not only self driving, but self navigating cars… the autonomous vehicle!
Yes, the Mercedes-Benz F 015 is a fully autonomous vehicle. When ready, you can sit back, take your hands off the wheel, swing your chair around to face your passengers and relax. In addition to the multitude of sensors keeping you between the lines the car utilizes 3D cameras, highly detailed digital maps, Car-2-Car and Car-2-Object communications technologies to provide a worry free driverless mode of transportation.
At face value this is pretty exciting. The thought of taking my hands off the wheel and letting my car handle the morning commute is exhilarating. I probably wouldn’t mind being in traffic on the 405 if I wasn’t the one stomping on the brake every 5 seconds. My work would love it. The two hours I spend in the car every day could be two more hours on the clock. Think of all the things you could be doing from getting a head start on work to video chatting with friends to crushing that last candy. It would truly be liberating.
Now lets look further down the road to when self driving cars will be prevalent. Traffic patterns will begin to clear as cars will communicate to one another helping to average out congestion. The number of automotive accidents will lower as there will be no distracted or drowsy driver to take their eyes off the road. The roadways will begin to hum with a constant flow of vehicles working in unison to provide the most efficient means of travel possible.
These efficiencies will revolutionize the road trip. Higher operating speeds will be easily achievable as vehicle reaction times are in the milliseconds. The time spent flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco will rival the drive time, if you include not having to arrive an hour early, wait in line at TSA screening, and stare blankly at the carousel waiting for your bags to arrive.
Still, this is only the beginning. Imagine your car has just dropped you off at work and has gone to look for a parking space. Yes, your car can drive around looking for a parking space without you, but lets move past that. Why let such an intelligent piece of machinery sit parked curbside all day. While at work you place an online order with the local grocery store. You receive a notification that your groceries are ready to be picked up and your car heads to the store without you. In line at the grocery store drive thru, an RFID tag in your car identifies your order to the store and they place the bags in your vehicle. The store marks the order as delivered and your ride returns to pick you up. Automated tasks such as these will quickly become commonplace.
When I was old enough to drive, owning a car was a symbol of something special. You took pride in your vehicle and it was an extension of your personality. We named our cars silly things like “Sally” , “Dirty Diana” and “Brad.” We dressed them up with fancy wheels and dashboard tchotchke’s. They were part of us. With two hands on the wheel you could feel the road beneath you. Those of you luckily enough to understand the joys of stomping on the clutch and down shifting into 3rd at 70mph will know why that makes me smile a bit inside.
Now picture the next generation’s relationship to the automobile. No hands on the wheel. No clutch to press. No manual transmission. While I may be nostalgic for these things I don’t see this as a step in the wrong direction. It is merely the progression of time. Our children’s children will have a vastly different connection with the automobile than we did. It will become a utilitarian device where single person ownership may even be questioned. If your vehicle can pick you up and take you to work everyday and then aid other people with their transportation needs then why limit it’s capabilities. Setting luxury comforts aside, would it even matter if it was the same car taking you home? By sharing the burden, vehicles could one day become an on demand service. The overall number of cars on the road may even be lessened as efficiencies in communal transportation rises.
This vision of tomorrow excites me to the core and I want to stand at the forefront of this autonomous revolution. The future is here and I can’t wait to ride in one.
Former Side Door proprietors Lou and Grace Giovannetti bring old world hospitality, bespoke design, and creatively rendered Italian food to Torrance.
Those passing by Hillside Village at the base of the Palos Verdes Peninsula have probably noticed some changes over the past few months. The space that was formerly Il Toscano, a decades-old local hangout that shuttered in the spring of 2013, has transformed into a newly remodeled and re-imagined Italian restaurant aptly named Lou’s on the Hill.
Lou and Grace Giovannetti, former owners of the Side Door in Manhattan Beach, officially opened the doors to their new hilltop restaurant last Thursday, January 22, after soft opening in late November. They were met with capacity crowds who gathered to experience the start of a new chapter in the local dining scene — one that promises artfulness in its atmosphere, cuisine, and hospitality.
“California’s rich seasonal bounty is the inspiration for our food and drink menus,” the restaurant’s namesake explains. “We wanted to present artful Italian food, creatively rendered, touching every corner of the Mediterranean, paired with craft wines and inventive cocktails.”
At the helm in the kitchen is Executive Chef Eric Mickle, a gifted up-and-comer who honed his skills working with world-renowned chefs in various ventures. In his most recent endeavor, Mickle ran the day-to-day operations at Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR in Las Vegas, but ultimately began itching for his own restaurant.
“Lou’s came around at the right moment where Lou needed a chef and I needed a kitchen,” Mickle recalls. “Lou really sold me on it and what they were trying to do here. Once you meet Lou, you’re hooked.”
Since that serendipitous meeting, Lou says that Mickle “has been given the reins to create and interpret modern Italian based on his palate and favorite flavor profiles utilizing the best of what California bounty offers in the Italian tradition of house-made, handmade, fresh ingredients.”
To that end, it is no wonder they refer to their particular offerings as “Cali-Ital,” something Chef Mickle says is more of an approach to the food than a style of cuisine. “I want to take what I can get locally and do what an Italian grandmother does, which is buy the best product as close to home [as possible] and not mess it up,” he explains.
One of the restaurant’s points of pride, the wood fired oven, is used for more than the already-popular pizzas. The wood fired lamb ribs pair flawlessly with pomegranate and citrus agrodolce, while the 14-ounce American kurobuta pork rack brines for 24 hours before being roasted on the bone and selling out nightly. The restaurant also features an array of small plates, charcuterie, and handmade pastas, in addition to housemade desserts, digestivos, and craft wines and cocktails.
The artfulness and care seen in the food and drink is carried beyond the kitchen and bar to every corner of the elegantly revamped establishment. “We want people to feel like honored guests,” Lou says of their promise of Old World hospitality. “We strive to create the best possible experience, to engage guests’ senses and emotions. Everyone who is part of the team has hospitality DNA. It’s a trait we seek when hiring staff.”
Anyone who knows Lou Giovannetti knows that no venture of his would be complete without the celebration of jazz and swing. Former patrons of the Side Door will recall Sundays when Lou would croon crowd favorites — a pastime he says is not over. The musically inclined purveyor plans to introduce a late-night monthly residency at Lou’s, where he will perform, and to host guest artists such as Niki Lindgren of Naughty Niki and the All Nighters, who performed at the grand opening.
“Lou’s is about craft, the hand of the maker, and a well-lived life that engages your senses,” Giovannetti explains. “[It’s about] the camaraderie of a night out with friends and the pleasure of breaking bread and sharing time with loved ones.”
Lou’s on the Hill is located at 24590 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA. Visit them online at www.lousonthehill.com
For 31-year-old Executive Chef Eric Mickle, there was not a single defining moment that propelled him to become a chef. He always enjoyed cooking and appreciated the ability to be self-sufficient from a young age.
“I got into cooking by accident, really,” he explains, recalling when he needed a job and found one cooking at a restaurant in Legoland. “Now, 15 years later, I have never received a paycheck for anything else.”
While 15 years dedicated to honing a craft may sound like a lot, Mickle is the first to point out that he is still a teenager as a professional, saying good-humoredly that there is sometimes a childishness present in his food. “Like our Nutella tart. That came around because I wanted chocolate pie.”
Joking aside, Mickle demonstrates a tremendous amount of experience, wisdom, and humility. He has worked with some of the most prolific chefs in the world, both in the States and abroad, including Michael Mina, Mario Batali, and Gordon Ramsay. When asked who influenced him most professionally, Mickle points to David Varley.
“[Varley] took the time to teach me how to butcher and be a saucier,” Mickle explains. “He gave me his time because I was willing to give him my time. I never learned these things on the clock. I would come in hours before my shift to learn from someone who is a tremendous influence on me as a chef. It is something young chefs are missing. They won’t do it unless they are getting paid to.”
Looking to his food philosophy, Mickle says he is not sure he has developed one yet. Still, one method he stands behind is allowing ingredients to be what they are. Rather than overwhelm a dish, he uses a select few ingredients in creative ways. He points to their salmon dish as an example.
“It’s fennel — a very under-utilized vegetable in my opinion — and blood orange. But I wanted to bring out different characteristics of each.” To do this, the chef constructed a raw salad with blood orange and shaved fennel in addition to roasted fennel and blood orange reduction. The fish is seasoned with a small amount of fennel seed and the plate is garnished with — what else? — fennel fronds.
When asked what his top tips are for aspiring chefs and restaurateurs, Mickle offers few but powerful words: “Hard work, flexibility, love.” As for his own career, the chef displays equal parts gratefulness and contentedness.
“I am lucky. I get up and do exactly what I want to do every day. I wouldn’t do any of it differently.”
Veteran designer Kathy Entessar tackles a ranch house in need of a refresh. The result of her year-long overhaul is a contemporary property that retains the best of its roots while being amply ready for its 21st-century close-up.
Perched on a leafy hilltop in Rolling Hills Estates is a meandering ranch house with a low-pitched roof and rambling facade, not unlike the legions of others that dot the horsey, north side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
This one, however, had changed hands and its new owners felt it was time for a remodel, particularly since the house was riddled with the most tell-tale signs of its 1970’s vintage. Decorative wagon wheels. Copious amounts of knotty pine and faux stone. There was even a clawfoot bathtub inexplicably marooned in a stray outdoor nook.
“It looked like a saloon,” says Kathy Entessar with a laugh. Her interior and architectural firm, EIA & Company, was selected for the job after she showed off her 20-plus-year design chops in the master bathroom, where she smoothed a fussy jumble of veiny travertine into a sleek room of African Wenge wood and softly iridescent tile.
It’s arguably easier to create perfect design from scratch than to go in and surgically reconfigure what already—often stubbornly—exists.
“It can be a challenge to work within a given space, especially when a lot of it doesn’t have a good flow,” notes Entessar. “And you might think, ‘Ah, I wish that corridor wasn’t there’ or ‘I wish such-and-such was here.’ But in the end you have to make it work with whatever is existing.”
A few areas, including a front swath of the house, were born anew. Pre-remodel, guests were greeted by a jumble of stacked stone, stray greenery and competing walkways, along with a dated picture window and tiny, cloistered-in porch. This was replaced by a low wall, smoothly stuccoed, that hems in a fresh-air patio with separate dining and conversation areas.
“The client wanted a front area where he could sit down, drink his morning coffee and read the paper,” explains Entessar. Heat lamps were tucked into the ceiling and slate tiles were arranged in a tidy Versailles pattern. A wall of French doors was created to connect the patio with the house, effectively carving out a spacious indoor/outdoor entertainment area while increasing the stores of natural light streaming through the house.
Worn, stamped-concrete walkways were replaced with neat landscaping and a welcome path of stone pavers. Entessar confesses to directing the workers to lay tiles in specific patterns, owing to the curvy visual flow that comes from a well-orchestrated contrast of shades and angles.
I chuckle, imagining the scene. “The entrance is so important,” she insists with a smile. “It sets the entire tone for the house.”
Stepping through the front door, it’s easy to see her point.
Rich hickory floors—handworked with a chisel and planer—establish a polished, earthy elegance that’s light years away from the generic terra cotta tiles that previously lined the floors. “Hickory is the toughest wood you can get,” Entessar points out. “They make baseball bats with it, and it’s hard to ding or scratch.”
Throughout the house, wood dominates, but carefully. From custom cabinetry to the dining room table—a walnut slab with curved edges sourced from Alabama artist Robin Wade—there’s al-ways an ebb and flow of lines to make it compelling. A chunky rosewood console and triangular floor pattern in the foyer create plenty of eye-pleasing dimension in this pivotal space, as does the starburst ceiling fixture designed by Entessar that casts a golden glow over the entrance, “as if it were a stage.”
“When I entertain, I always see three people over here, four people over there,” says Entessar. “So I’ve created little conversation vignettes, and eating vignettes.” These thematic spaces effectively carve out islands for people to converge on, and are a great idea in today’s Age of the Open Floor Plan.
Another way Entessar distinguishes this ranch house? “Conversation pieces that are slightly unexpected and enhance the integrity of the house,” she says.
Perhaps the most high-profile of these are twin walls of custom art glass perched on opposite ends of the central hallway. Replacing a pair of wagon wheels that look like they may have been snatched off a Ponderosa set, the idea of decorative glass was Entessar’s, who designed the tasteful harmony of vibrant, geometric shapes that subtly correspond to sunrise and sunset.
For Some Things, a Second Life
This remodel not being of the unlimited-budget variety (Entessar recounts a Texas project that had her making multiple trips to Paris), the designer was careful to earmark items that could be refreshed and reused. Among them were over 100 doors that were re-finished to an up-to-date taupe that effectively dialed down the Western knotty pine to the right level of rustic.
“I don’t like waste,” explains Entessar. “If I can reuse, I definitely will.”
In the kitchen, existing wood cabinets were refinished a dusty white, their edges glazed a bit darker to enrich depth. Throughout the room, tone on tone is used to distinguish spaces, create dimension and modernize. The medium-hued wood floor visually plays against a vaulted honey ceiling, and the central island sports a light sage finish that neatly twines together the room’s dominant colors.
When asked about architectural styles she favors, Entessar answers without skipping a beat: “My style is every style.”
Attention to light, lines and balance are fundamentals for any designer, yet Entessar’s training reaches back to a past in classical ballet. This exacting art shares a designer’s focus with visual absolutes, and it’s these she enjoys bringing into perfect harmony above all, no matter the genre.
“Design is like ballet in that there’s no room for error,” remarks Entessar. “There’s no such thing as ‘a little off.’ A ‘little off’ is ‘completely off.’
“When I see a house or a space, immediately in my head I see it complete. Perfect,” she pauses. “It’s a weird thing.”
Her approach makes sense, given that re-writing color and spatial composition figured so centrally in the skillful update of this peaceful hilltop ranch. Where there were wagon wheels and cramped rooms of terra cotta, the designer saw—and subsequently choreographed—a dance of glossy woods, ornamental art and soaring, open spaces.
South Bay DIGS recently had the pleasure of sitting down with long-time South Bay real estate duo Steve and Ceci Watts, who specialize in Peninsula real estate.
First things first. Why did you decide to go into real estate?
Ceci and I started selling about the same time 29 years ago, but I started here in Palos Verdes and Ceci started her real estate career in Texas in 1986. I did a rehab project in Lunada Bay with my brother 1985 and liked the process. Sandra Sanders was our real estate agent so I asked her, “If I get my real estate license will you hire me.” The answer was yes and for 29 years it has been a fantastic relationship and an incredible career. Ceci had wanted to sell real estate since high school so after she graduated from college in Texas she started selling in Dallas.
When and how did you and Ceci team up?
We met on a blind date 22 years ago, were married 9 months later, and decided to do what we both love to do and do it together. Ceci has very strong marketing skills and her background of having a degree in interior design is a tremendous benefit to our working with our buyers. We have been introducing to our sellers the opportunity to update their home for sale which increases their value tremendously with Ceci’s input for design features. We are able increase our clients’ return on investment double and triple what they invest into their home.
The two of you earned your way into the top 1% of agents nationwide. What is your formula for success?
Speak the truth, show up, be creative. I have yet to find a magic formula. The added ingredient to what I previously stated is work hard and know your market
You’ve been in the business for nearly 30 years. What is the most significant change you’ve seen in Palos Verdes real estate during that time?
Technology. Our real estate market is an open book to consumers. We even have our own app now where buyers can be in front of a home on the market and pull up all the MLS data with pictures.
What does life on the Peninsula offer that other parts of Los Angeles do not?
Where do I start? I have lived on the Peninsula for 52 years and 21 of them married. There is no place better to live, whether it is to raise a family or retire, because there is so much to offer an individual. Because there are no party bars or nightlife on the Peninsula, it is quiet. The Peninsula focuses on family life. It provides an atmosphere of living in the country with access to downtown Los Angeles only 30 minutes away. There is a sense of a rural atmosphere but with the benefits of a large metropolitan city right around the corner. The schools, the theatre, one of the world’s largest ports, great sports, high school’s top ratings are just some of what keeps us excited about living on the Peninsula, and now the world-class Terranea Resort and Spa in our backyard.
Let’s switch subjects for a moment. You and Ceci don’t just live and work in Palos Verdes — you’re also active members of the community. Will you tell us more about that?
We truly appreciate this community we live in and the people who live here. We feel more connected when we give back. One event we did, which was driven by our daughter Mariah, was to organize a 100,000 meal packaging event. We raised $25,000 along with FCA from all the local high schools. Is was great because it brought 400 people together, families and children of all ages, with the goal “to help others.” One of our annual events for 13 years was bringing Santa Claus to Palos Verdes. We started this process on a flatbed truck going door to door delivering gifts to children. This became so overwhelming we then set up Santa’s Workshop in Malaga Cove, which was such a blessing for so many people throughout the years. We are currently having a great time with an event at halftime at the Peninsula High School basketball games called SUPERSHOT. These are just fun ways for us to give back to our community.
What are you doing when you’re not selling homes or giving back to the community?
Ceci and I love spending time with our two girls, Mariah and Natalie. We love snow skiing, water skiing, riding bikes, hiking, and jogging as a family. We enjoy opening our home for various events and we are very active in our Church. Ceci and the girls are involved in Las Madrecitas and Ek Kardia, trying to teach serving others before ourselves.
Do you have any predictions for where the housing market is headed in 2015?
We expect the real estate market here in South Bay to be what we refer to as “fair market for all.” For buyers, interest rates are low and prices are starting to level off. For sellers, inventory is low so buyers will be competing for good properties. There will still be strong buyer demand for those buyers who are still in the market. We expect some slight appreciation for 2015.
What about the Super Bowl — any predictions there?
I am a quarterback fan and both these guys are impressive. Not sure you can bet against either Russell Wilson or Tom Brady. I would like to be negotiating Russell Wilson’s contract when his initial 4-year deal is up. Not bad for the Seahawks who signed him in 2012 on a 4-year contract for only 2.99 million…that is a great return on your investment.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We are thankful for all the clients who have worked with us over the years and given us the opportunity to help them find the right home to create memories and raise their families.
California home sales tempered in 2014, falling roughly 8.2 percent behind the previous year. But with positive housing indicators and a strengthening economy, experts are predicting a 2015 marked by increased home sales and a better balance between sellers and traditional home buyers.
According to the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) “2015 California Housing Market Forecast,” economists expect a 5.8% increase in existing home sales in 2015, which translates into 402,5000 total units. They further expect median prices to continue upward, with a forecasted 5.2% increase bringing the median home price up to $478,700.
Last year’s sluggish home sales resulted in large part from dramatic increases in home price coupled with depleted market inventory — an environment that caused many investors to exit. Without traditional consumers stepping in to take their place, 20 months of double-digit year-over-year home price growth finally normalized to single digits in 2014.
“Stringent underwriting guidelines and double-digit home price increases over the past two years have significantly impacted housing affordability in California, forcing some buyers to delay their home purchase,” said C.A.R. President Kevin Brown in a press release. “However, [in 2015], home price gains will slow, allowing would-be buyers who have been saving for a down payment to be in a better financial position to make a home purchase.”
C.A.R. expects 30-year mortgage interest rates, which repeatedly defied forecasts last year, to remain at historically low levels despite a slight increase to a year average of 4.5 percent. This bodes well for potential buyers, who Brown wants to remind that 20 percent down is not always required to buy a home.
“There are numerous programs available that allow consumers to buy a home with less down payment, including FHA loans, which lets buyers put down as little as 3.5 percent,” he said.
Looking to economic recovery, last year was the strongest since the recession hit in 2008 and closed out with a 5.6 percent unemployment rate nationwide. Currently hovering around a 7.9% unemployment rate, Los Angeles is is forecast to return to pre-recession employment numbers in the coming year.
Yet even with job growth, low interest rates, and slowing gains in home prices, affordability remains a key issue, particularly in the state’s luxury markets. According to C.A.R.’s Traditional Housing Affordability Index, just 27 percent of households will be able to purchase a median priced home in California based on traditional assumptions. This forecast is 3 percent lower than 2014 projections, and is down significantly from 56 percent in the first quarter of 2012. Much of this is attributable to the fact that household income declined while home prices swelled.
With affordability where it is, the homeownership rate for 18- to 34-year-olds continues to fall as the number of Millennials renting or living with parents continues to rise. Household formation for this same demographic is remarkably slow, contributing to Census data that shows an addition of just 476,000 new households in the 12-month period ending in March 2014. By contrast, the two periods prior had an average of 1.3 million added households. Even in today’s “renter nation,” the C.A.R. 2014 Millennial survey shows that over half of this group places homeownership as an eight or above on a scale of one to ten, where ten is “extremely important.” Roughly the same percentage expects to purchase a home within five years.
“With the U.S. economy expected to grow more robustly than it has in the past five years and housing inventory continuing to improve, California housing sales and prices will see a modest upward trend in 2015,” concluded C.A.R. Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young.
The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is known for debuting revolutionary products in the field of technology. From the VCR in 1970 to the 3DTV in 2009, CES has been host to the unveiling of endless products that have redefined the world. Last week’s CES in Las Vegas may have set the bar for life-changing tech thanks to Mercedes-Benz.
The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle stunned those on the trade show floor with more than trend-leading technology. This vehicle provided a glimpse into the future with the advent of the autonomous vehicle. It is a self-navigating private luxury space containing a myriad of technological advancements that will not only change people’s relationship to the automobile but also lead the way in restructuring the transportation infrastructure.
Beyond the high-end finish of open-pore walnut wood and ice-white nappa leather, the command center of the F 015 Luxury in Motion is largely comprised of touch-sensitive displays throughout the vehicle which dynamically reconfigure the onscreen controls to the orientation and body position of each passenger in the cabin. Accompanying the interactive interior panels are gestural recognition and eye tracking technologies to make continuous communication with the vehicle an effortless task. In a trend sure to be seen by all autonomous vehicles of the future, the interior of the cabin is evenly spaced with four rotating lounge chairs allowing all passengers to swivel and face each other while the car is in motion. Facilitating the entrance into this reimagined interior are two doors which open in a suicide configuration, which Mercedes-Benz is calling their “saloon-style” doors.
The exterior design goes beyond the expectation of what a futuristic vehicle should be. Carbon fiber, aluminum, and high-strength steel provide smooth, flowing curves that sweep over the low nose and wrap tightly in the tail. LED lighting panels in the front and rear not only signal to the outside environment with varying color but also use pattern and digital text to indicate current operating conditions. A high-precision laser projection system adds an unprecedented level of interaction with the outside world, displaying information directly on the road ahead. Rounding out the vehicle, an F-CELL PLUG-IN HYBRID drive system is powering the drivetrain.
While reviewing any of the futuristic features of this concept car, Mercedes-Benz representatives are quick to point out that the F 015 Luxury in Motion is more than the compilation of its components. It is a glimpse into a redefined society where the automobile is not just a mode of transportation, but an extension of one’s living space.
WHY WE DIG IT:
>> Self-driving car lets you kick back & relax
>> Luxury club-inspired lighting
>> Interior screensaver-style animations
>> HD color touch screen door panels
>> Decent speed for a green car
>> Face-to-face seat configuration
>> Rear saloon-style doors
>> Talks to you like KITT
If you’re addicted to HGTV like we are, you’ve probably seen “home stager to the stars” Meridith Baer on the show, “Selling LA,” and on the network’s documentary series, “Staged to Perfection.” Baer is the namesake behind her company, Meridith Baer Home, the largest home staging company in the country.
Based in Los Angeles, Baer also stages luxury properties in New York City and the Hamptons, Miami and coastal Florida and Connecticut. She and her team also furnish homes in the beach cities and on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Read on to learn how her career as a Hollywood screenwriter led to home staging, and find out which Hollywood celebrity homes have gotten the red carpet treatment from the pioneer of home staging.
South Bay Digs: I hear you have a colorful background.
Meridith Baer: I was born in Los Angeles but weeks later moved to Northern California. My father was associate warden at San Quentin Prison and we lived on the prison grounds. I attended a one-room schoolhouse from 1st through 8th grades. Usually I was the only person in my grade, so I was both the valedictorian and the class dunce!
SBD: Do you think living on prison grounds affected your knack for beautifying interiors?
MB: The drabness of the prison reservation perhaps inspired me to be creative. From a young age my mom let me move the furniture around the house and gave me my own plot of land for my private garden. When I turned 13, my father became the director of Corrections for the state of Iowa and we moved to Des Moines. My mom was an early home flipper, and we moved from style-to-style large homes—English Tudor to Colonial to Modern. Through all of this my mom seemed to like my furnishing ideas and took notice when I suggested which furniture to buy. I still have some of those pieces in our staging inventory!
SBD: I’m told your staging career was preceded by a stint as a writer.
MB: In Des Moines I attended a large school that used a “tracking system.” They called it 1-2-3-4, but it meant dumb, average, smart and talented. Even though the San Quentin school gave me straight A’s, this school put me in the dumb class and I proceeded to do poorly in it. One day my teacher was out sick, and the teacher from the talented class covered for her and [gave us a writing assignment]. When he read my essay, he transferred me to the talented class and I began getting straight A’s.
All of this taught me to not just follow a single path but to be unafraid to take a new road. At the University of Colorado I got a journalism degree. While in college, I also flipped houses; I wasn’t doing construction, just paint and gardening and styling.
SBD: How did the Hollywood connection begin?
MB: The week before graduation I was approached to be in a Pepsi commercial by a total stranger, a young New York City advertising man named Jerry Bruckheimer, now the most successful movie producer in the business. Doing the Pepsi commercials led me to New York, where I was hired to be an assistant to the editor of a magazine. Soon I was being asked to appear in print and television commercials—over 100—and then a movie. I did freelance writing, including writing “Passionate Shopper” pieces for New York Magazine.
Later I moved to Los Angeles and continued to be in commercials, print ads and movies. I also did freelance magazine writing but the money was in the acting, not the writing. Through all of this, my hobbies were gardening and fixing up my various apartments and those of my friends. While reading movie scripts, many of which were poorly written, I thought, ‘I can do this,’ and wrote my first screenplay. I sold it for $250,000.
MB: After years earning a respectable living as a writer, I found myself tired of writing. I was about to turn 50 and the jobs were harder and harder to come by. At this point I was renting a home in Brentwood and found myself spending most of my time gardening. I acquired over 150 pots and filled them with trees, flowers and bushes, and I rearranged them regularly. [I spent my time] searching for treasures and rearranging my furniture, even changing the purpose of each room.
SBD: How did you make the leap into home staging? Was there a defining moment that sparked the idea?
MB: At this point, the owner of my rental home came to town, saw how much time and money I had put into his home—and asked me to leave! He saw that he could make money on what I had done. Not knowing where I could store all of my plants and furnishings, I suggested to a friend who was selling a spec home that I arrange them all at his house to show the lifestyle. It turned out beautifully, in fact photos of my work were published in magazines. But more importantly, the house sold within days for a half million dollars over asking price after multiple offers. My phone started ringing. Other brokers wanted me to move my stuff to homes they had for sale. And the brokers started calling it “staging.” It was fun! I said yes, but they’d have to pay me up front. In the beginning it was pure hustle and 18-hour days.
SBD: How do you think your Hollywood connection has helped your business?
MB: I don’t think it helped me, other than I was so frustrated by the entertainment business—by how hard it was to get anything made [from my screenplays], and even if it got made, it didn’t look anything like what I wrote—that I seized this opportunity to make something happen fast and feel realized.
SBD: That must have been a big shift.
MB: Instead of dealing with show biz agents and producers, I was now dealing with real estate agents and property developers. But there was a connection to my previous career. People pointed out to me that what I was doing was staging. And I realized that as I brought rooms to life, I was imaging who would ultimately be living in those rooms. I’d always been told I had a great eye for design, but what I liked was telling stories. Now I found myself telling stories through design. Interestingly enough, many top show business people bought homes we staged, hired us to stage their homes, or hired us for interior design. We’re even asked to do movie sets.
SBD: As a pioneer in the field, how do you think this niche has evolved? Where do you see it going?
MB: What I did in the beginning and what we continue to do now is create beautiful spaces that tell a story, a story of how the buyer can live in the home seamlessly. For me it was never just “staging.” It was never just filling spaces without attention to the quality of the design and furnishings. The details of what makes a house a home are what matter. Over the years, expectations about the level of design have radically increased. Homes now need to be staged in a particular style according to the architecture, value and location. The design has to be current, what you see in your favorite magazine. Art and rugs have to be geared towards the expectations and/or aspirations of the buyer. It is not uncommon for us to put $400,000-$500,000 of inventory into a luxury home.
SBD: What—if anything—can you tell us about some of your celebrity clients?
MB: We have worked with hundreds of celebrities in music, sports and entertainment, staging their homes, leasing furniture. We also sell them design services and furniture. We’ve worked with Bob Dylan, Beck, Seal, Madonna, Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ricky Martin, Katy Perry,
Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone, Halle Berry, Brad Pitt, Gerard Butler, Mike Myers, Reese Witherspoon, Liv Tyler, Geena Davis, Kevin Spacey, Amy Adams. We also work with movie execs, studio heads and billionaires.
SBD: What are your secrets to success?
MB: Working our tails off, caring about what we do, and loving what we do. Hiring talented, hard-working staff, designers and sales people. Bringing in the best and brightest on an executive level, in fact on every level. Keeping it new, keeping it fresh. Listening to the complaints, as well as the praise!
SBD: How would you describe your business model?
MB: We provide luxury furniture and design services. Our primary business is staging, or installing furnishings to help homeowners and developers sell their real estate assets as fast as possible for the highest possible price. All of the furnishings in our homes are for sale, so the buyer or the neighbor can own a room or the entire home furnished just as it is. We manufacture much of our own furniture and source the rest. In the future, we will be making our furnishings available to the public. We also offer interior design services and lease our high-end furnishings for the specific needs of our clients.
SBD: You switched careers at age 50. What advice would you give women 40-plus who are contemplating a career change?
MB: Follow the trail of what interests you. It’s not written anywhere that you have to spend the rest of your life doing what you have been doing. Pay attention when you find yourself saying, ‘I could do that,’ or ‘this could be better,’ or ‘what the world needs is this!’ Just start doing what you really enjoy and see where it leads.
SBD: What do you like to do when you’re not staging homes?
MB: I am constantly looking through magazines and searching on the web for inspiration. I go to estate sales and flea markets and auctions looking for little treasures to use on shelves. I like to look at historical pieces and dream about how to tweak them into the 21st century. I still love to garden. Cuddle with my cat. Cook. Read. Spend time with friends and family. Laugh. Drink good red wine. And I am addicted to Sudoku—the really evil ones!