When real estate agent Jennifer Hughes moved to Venice 35 years ago, she couldn't even convince her sister to come visit.
The neighborhood was considered sketchy, though Hughes loved the bohemian atmosphere and its architectural charms: the Craftsman homes that were affordable for working-class residents, the artists' bungalows, the cozy cottages occupied by skateboarders.
Then came the boxes.
To maximize square footage, developers in the last 15 years began razing Venice's smaller houses and replacing them with big, blocky cubes, dwellings that would look more like shipping containers. To many longtime residents, the cookie-cutter constructions stripped Venice of its distinctive architectural character, turning parts of the neighborhood into uniform eyesores.
"They're cold," Hughes said. "Two of my clients recently toured a box home, and they both described it as 'soulless.'"
Some architects are pushing back. In recent months, many of the latest homes in the Venice area have been built with an avant-garde, eclectic and whimsical nature.
A blossoming example sits on Tivoli Avenue in Del Rey. Designed by Los Angeles architect Cameron McNall, the newly built four-bedroom home is clad in a facade of metallic flowers.
The exterior provides both privacy and unique lighting effects in the living spaces, which feature high ceilings, walls of glass and an open floor plan.
"It fits in perfectly," said Dan Lackey of Compass, who holds the listing. "It's an artistic expression in a neighborhood known for its artistic expression."
The home, listed for $2.89 million, was a risk to build. Lackey said that as with any art, some will love it and some won't, but that the experimental foray is, hopefully, indicative of a larger trend.
"Over the last year or two specifically, we're seeing more chances being taken and more unique developments going up," Lackey said. "This wave of architecture is great for Venice, which has always been a hub of individuality."
Lackey pointed to Mario Romano's so-called Wave House as another example. A geometric confluence of 300 custom-cut white aluminum pieces, the five-bedroom home resembles a frozen wave.
The dramatic facade pairs the layers of aluminum with stained cedar blocks, and the interior features an open-plan living room with a fireplace and walls of sliding glass. The home, although currently off the market, originally listed for $6.5 million before dropping to $5.7 million.
Architects say they're relieved to see designs moving away from the box.
As luxury-home designer Kim Gordon puts it, the only way to make things interesting in box homes is to see how sexy you can make the windows.
Gordon has made a name for herself in Venice with her modern farmhouse- and resort-style homes. She's worked on six projects this year, with sales prices ranging from $1.8 million to $6.2 million.
In addition to changing architecture styles, Venice's demographics are shifting as well, and Gordon designs her homes to match people's evolving needs and tastes.
"Kids are staying home longer, families are getting bigger and people want more space," Gordon said.
Her latest project in Venice, a five-bedroom custom contemporary filled with natural light and airy interiors, sold to a family over the summer for $5 million. Handmade ironwork and artistic staircases accent 4,684 square feet of living spaces, and parquet oak floors line the living areas.
Through her designs, Gordon is making a purposeful departure from "mathematical procedure" homes — the types of homes people have seen over and over.
"People want experiences," Gordon said. "They want warmth; they want hip. This is a creative place, and we have a responsibility to reflect Venice's diversity."
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