Centre Street Lofts
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Centre Street: Apartment living for a new generation

By David Hay
In San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood, a loft complex challenges the conventions of apartment design -- and assumptions about rental living. In the wake of the popped real estate bubble, architect Lloyd Russell set out to design and develop a loft complex for “young people out there who have had a hard time holding on to their first homes,” he said. “Their expectations about how they wanted to live had expanded, but their ability to pay for them had contracted.” The result is one-bedroom apartments loaded with design features that you normally don’t see in rentals, as well as residents who happily set aside the dream of house ownership for a cool, modern apartment complex. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
“If you want to make an apartment affordable, then you make each apartment small,” said Russell, whose complex is filled with units running from 400 to 1,200 square feet, with monthly rents from about $1,250 to $2,650. “Tenants, on the other hand, want it big. So my solution was to do the California thing: add outdoor space.” One 550-square-foot apartment on the second floor does not have a terrace, so to compensate, Russell (pictured here) installed an 8-by-8-foot window that pivots. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
A wider view of the hinged window. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Keith Weibrecht, an associate architect in Russell’s office, pushes back a glass pocket wall in a top-floor unit at Centre Street. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
All the apartment terraces have sliding glass pocket doors, erasing the barrier between indoor and outdoor living spaces and helping to make the units feel larger than they are. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
More room than square-foot counts might indicate. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Half of Weibrecht’s kitchen, which was based on an IKEA plan. A contractor built the cabinetry, but Russell bought the cabinet doors from IKEA. The counter is a light Caesarstone quartz, and the appliances are black. “All very minimalist,” Weibrecht said. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Weibrecht in his living room, with its free-flowing connections to the outside. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Resident Luca Forcellini, left, chats with Weibrecht on the terrace of his apartment, where roll-up glass separates the terrace from the indoor dining area and kitchen. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Forcellini’s unit, from inside. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Forcellini arranges vases in one of his windows, which also help the apartment to avoid the cookie-cutter look of so many rentals. Each Centre Street apartment has a different layout. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Forcellini’s bedroom. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Christopher Salem, 49, owned a nearby condominium that he bought with a zero down loan and currently has up for a short sale. He now lives in a 400-square-foot loft with his partner and their three dogs. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Salem climbs a ladder toward the sleeping loft. “There was a time when I was proud to be a homeowner,” he said. “The irony is, even though I’m paying a little more, I’m much happier here. I wake up in the morning with light coming in on three sides, and I’m invigorated.” (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
The view looking toward the back of Salem’s unit. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
The view from another apartment looking into the courtyard. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Designing 25 individual loft layouts would not appeal to most developers, who cry out for standardization. For Russell, however, that was the fun part. “I’m an architect, and I got to work on 25 little experiments. You can’t beat that.” Down in the courtyard: a pop of orange and brick set in contrasting directions for an interesting effect when seen from afar. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Wider view from inside the courtyard. Stairs lead to a second-floor unit with an expansive deck connected to its apartment by multiple sets of glass doors. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
A private crossroads inside the complex. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Even the underground parking lot contains a surprise: twin palm trees, whose trunks have to be negotiated on the way in. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Jenny Cohen heads for her car in front of the Centre Street apartments. Behind her are hints of the abundant outdoor spaces worked into the plans. Said Bianca Pettis, an artist from Minnesota who qualified for one of the low-income units (monthly rent: $750): “We couldn’t get anything like this in Minneapolis.”

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