Building on his love of the avant-garde

Special to The Times

After decades of fascination with avant-garde architecture, and decades of investment in low-end rentals, the parallel passions of East L.A. native Richard Gomez finally intersected when he constructed an ultramodern live-work space in Long Beach's East Village Arts District.

And he built it on the cheap.

"We were trying to design something really cool and yet keep the costs down," Gomez said, recalling his initial meeting with Los Angeles architect John Sofio. They succeeded on both counts. Gomez, 50, is not a deep-pocketed investor, Sofio said, "but he is daring."

The 2,250-square-foot house Gomez built is a three-story stucco box with metallic window frames and rows of metal trim to add interest. Horizontal bars float across second-floor sliding glass doors, opening the living room to the busy street below. A deck on the roof affords expansive views of Signal Hill and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and a ground-floor work space could serve as an office, art studio or gallery.

Although design and construction costs in Southern California typically run $150 to $200 per square foot, Gomez completed his one-bedroom unit for just $80 per square foot, including permits. Even so, the project has what Gomez calls "all the bells and whistles" -- granite counters, bamboo floors and stainless steel appliances.


Early influence

Gomez became infatuated with the avant-garde when he was in high school and would visit the emerging architectural scene in Venice Beach. Over the years, he studied the work of young architects who were gaining fame: Frank Gehry, Steven Ehrlich, Eric Owen Moss, Thom Mayne. Someday, he thought, he'd build his own masterpiece.

Property values in Venice eventually skyrocketed, and Gomez found his own affordable opportunity in the arts district of Long Beach. There he bought a 45-by-50-foot lot in 2001 for $30,000. The district stretches from Ocean Boulevard to 7th Street and from Long Beach Boulevard to Alamitos Avenue. Gomez's lot is on the very edge of the district in an area best described as marginal.

Gomez acted as contractor, and he did much of the work himself, aided by friends, laborers and hired subcontractors. The project took two years to complete, partly because a building boom kept construction workers busy. "Everything took longer to get done," Gomez said.

But once the shell was completed, he was in the familiar territory of drywall, electrical, plumbing and all the other jobs he's tackled on rental properties.

"Once the framing was up, it became a big fixer-upper," he said. "I was surprised how simple it was."


Cutting corners

The home's exterior walls are color-infused plaster. By not having to paint the exterior, Gomez figures he saved thousands of dollars.

The front door is industrial metal with a narrow vertical window. The camera intercom is one example of how Gomez saved money. The intercom systems he saw were too plastic-looking and too expensive (up to $1,500), so he found an industrial-type model on EBay for $40.

Inside the front door is the 500-square-foot work space with a polished concrete floor and exposed cinder-block walls -- another money saver. The small, floor-level windows provide security (they are too small for an intruder to crawl through) and leave the walls open for artwork. Straight ahead is a metal and bamboo staircase to the second floor; behind that is a door to the two-car garage. The staircase railing is wrought iron painted to look like more expensive stainless steel.

The second-floor living room and kitchen, and a third-floor bedroom loft, have bamboo floors. The red enamel kitchen cabinets cost $1,800 at IKEA, a far cry from similar-looking ones Gomez spied at a design center for $1,000 a linear foot. The house is also bathed in natural light from $80 skylights he got at Home Depot.

Gomez also saved money on interior doors, primarily by eliminating most of them, as well as the casings, molding and hardware they would have required. The floor plan is open, with no door to the bedroom or the walk-in closet. There are sliding doors across the openings to the bathroom and various hall closets; for those, Gomez used barn door brackets.

The tubular metal pulls on the doors are a prime example of how Gomez kept expenses down. He knew he wanted pulls that were massive and industrial-looking, but balked at paying $125 each for them at a big-box store. Then he hit upon a solution: $20 grab bars used in bathrooms.

In total, Gomez spent $280,000 on his structural artwork. He believes that in time, this part of Long Beach will evolve into a community as desirable as the one where he first fell in love with architecture.

"When this area changes," he said, "you won't be able to touch it."


Kathy Price-Robinson can be reached at If you would like to have your remodel considered for use in Pardon Our Dust, please send before and after images and a brief description of the project to Real Estate Editor, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.



At a glance

Project: Build a live-work space of 2,250 square feet (plus garage and rooftop deck)

Area: Long Beach's East Village Arts District

Owner-contractor: Richard Gomez

Architect: John Sofio, Built Inc., Silver Lake, (323) 857-0409

Duration: Two years

Cost: $280,000 (including land)

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World