Old World Commute: Stairs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like many people, Vince Crivello complained about his commute to work. But the Laguna Beach restaurateur and his brother, Massimo, did something about it. They moved close to work. Close, as in up a flight of stairs.

Not only do they have more time for family and their business, but the brothers, who moved to Southern California 30 years ago from Italy, feel they've re-created a bit of the Old World.

"In Sicily, the businesses were usually downstairs and people lived upstairs, so even at 11 p.m., you can still get a plate of pasta," said Vince, 44, who lives in a 1,400-square-foot residential villa above Ristorante Rumari with his wife, Danita, and their two daughters, Daniella and Gabrielle.

In their loft home, Italian ceramic tiles complement hardwood floors. Large bay windows invite the ocean breeze inside this two-bedroom space. And a grated ventilation shaft in the hallway serves as a conduit to the restaurant commotions below.

"We get to hear the laughing and the clanking of the kitchen pots and dinnerware through this grate," said Danita. "We always know what's going on."

Their daughters' favorite pastime is to squat by the shaft and eavesdrop on their "papa"--the restaurant's executive chef--while he's working. They also know when their aunt and uncle and grandparents are visiting.

Sharing the second floor of the Mediterranean-style restaurant building is 29-year-old Massimo's bachelor pad. The restaurant manager and wine connoisseur's loft is spartan and contemporary, with Asian-themed designs and art, black cabinets and cupboards, high bar chairs and halogen lamps.

The front entrance to both residences is a spacious, wood-decked outdoor patio used to sunbathe or stargaze.

Their living arrangement is inspired by the time-honored live-work model of an apartment over a shop on Main Street, USA, and elsewhere around the world. Catherine Chang is spokeswoman for the Live/Work Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit that promotes zero-commute housing.

"The immigrant communities, in particular, see a lot of interaction between live-work spaces," said Chang, who is a project manager at Thomas Dolan Architecture.

Chang says that countries such as Italy, Spain, France and Japan, with their solutions to urban density, have informed her research and ideas. "Generally, the live-work spaces help make the cost of living so much lower because you can cut the commute, and your quality of life is better."

Balancing home life with work used to be simple. A landowner could live above his or her shop. But, as cities grew, people moved out to the suburbs and farther from their work. Such moves have spawned draining commutes, some more than two hours each way.

But those days are gone for the Crivellos, whose seaside location was what inspired the restaurant's name, Rumari, which means "by the ocean."

"The town we lived in in Italy looks just like Laguna, with the harbor in the distance and the mountains in the background, except the Italian harbor is filled with fishing boats," says Vince.

The Crivellos immigrated--along with their parents, three brothers and a sister--to the United States in June 1972. They lived in South Gate before they moved to Orange County and settled in Laguna Beach. In 1989, they opened their Italian restaurant with its low arches and dark wood ceiling beams.

Each morning, the Crivellos' father, Antonio, 73, bakes bruschetta and garlic focaccia, and their mother, Bina, 64, comes to the restaurant two to three times a week to make cannoli crust.

"I feel like I'm living as I did in Sicily," Vince says. "This kind of setup is truly like a dream."

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