Better Shelter Through Chemistry

by Rebecca Schoenkopf

We were at a party, as is our wont, somewhere between the DJ and the bar, and we had just made ourselves to home in one of the models at 1.7 Ocean. It was a party for the Costa Mesa Mafia—or the “West Side Business Council,” whatever—and the crews from Volcom and Quik and Urban Decay and Paul Frank Industries and everyone’s favorite soul restaurant, Memphis, were on-hand to prove that Costa Mesa really is cooler than you. Really, really cooler than you.

They were also on-hand to provide the requisite ambience to get you to want to live in a party too—it’d be like living in a Shag painting, but with slightly less vampires—and to buy a bitsy home in this little design-savvy development hosting the party, built from the bones of one of those ’50s-style motor-courts with the teeny identical houses on either side of a long drive.

Better Shelter

And the xeriscaping was amazing, and the decorating was amazing, and we sat in the darling and bitsy little model home on offer from Better Shelter and pretended it was ours, and said hello to our friend from the museum who wandered in, and said hello to our other friend from the art center who wandered in, and found ourselves having a mighty nice time getting decorating ideas from people besides the crazy lady on Trading Spaces. She really is crazy, you know.

“If we lived here,” Arrissia said, looking at the crowds massing outside, “we would have to be cool all the time.” Yes, it did sound like work, didn’t it? Luckily I didn’t have $600K.

Better Shelter is probably the savviest design team out there, headed by Steve Jones, who led design for Quiksilver for decades and chairs the board of the avant Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana—bringing down to Orange County folks like Mark Ryden and Camille Rose Garcia and other much-loved art icons of that cusp-of-middle-age generation. Jones certainly knew what he was doing when he stripped those former slum houses (in that impacted neighborhood) to their mid-century modern beams and posts and made them rise again in sparkles and semi-IKEA (but less semi-disposable). His partner, Peter Zehnder, founded one of the top skateboarding manufacturers in the country and then moved into real estate development. These two couldn’t know the Costa Mesa mind any better if they were an EEG.

Better Shelter

And yet: their design philosophy speaks of the need for affordable housing for the young professionals who people Costa Mesa’s bars and parties—and “affordable housing” and “$600 thousand” really don’t belong in the same sentence, or even the same book.

These houses are 800 square feet. Their lots run as small as 1400 square feet (that’s probably the unit at the fire-sale price of $519). The mortgage for these puppies, at 6.5 percent and with more than a hundred thousand down, runs you $3000 a month, for 30 years.

Zehnder and Jones have already sold some units: I can only surmise they’re selling to the aforementioned hipster corporations as crash pads for their top execs, because who else has that kinda money for that kinda space?

I’m a little sour, a little bemused. I get another drink. The xeriscaping really is amazing. I hope Steve Jones doesn’t crash and burn. I like Steve Jones! And, after all, the house across the street is going for $1.2. Maybe $600K really is affordable. And maybe somebody who sleeps eight to a room in a Disney-adjacent welfare motel needs to come down and kick some Costa Mesa young professional ass.

Rebecca Schoenkopf is the former editor-in-chief of LA CityBeat and former senior editor at OC Weekly, where she wrote about art, music, politics and more. She taught political science at UC Irvine and was an Annenberg Fellow at USC, receiving her master's in Specialized Journalism focusing on urban policy in May 2011. She lives with her son in a neighborhood we'll just call Hancock Park-adjacent. Follow her on Twitter at


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