Architecture

PREFAB FABULOUS!

Anders Lasater designs a marvel of modular steel in North Laguna

By Kendric Francis | Photos by Chad Mellon Photography

Tim Kippen and Ileana Frómeta Grillo love living in Laguna Beach. But, after years as locals, the couple didn’t think they’d be able to stay in the seaside city. Buying a house seemed out of reach, so they faced a move inland to find more affordable real estate. Aliso Viejo, maybe?

Then, something unheard of happened: They discovered a hidden gem of a property on PCH in North Laguna. With two apartments above and commercial space on the main floor, it wasn’t listed for sale as residential real estate, so few knew about it. And it was within their budget.

“We made an effort to restore and renovate the structure that was there,” Tim says, citing the sustainability of an adaptive reuse project over new construction. “But the city wouldn’t allow it at all. If you change it one inch, you lose setbacks and all that. So we decided to make it a totally new structure.”

Enter Laguna Beach architect Anders Lasater. “Anders has a collaborative style, and he’s open to new ideas,” Ileana says. “We wanted our home to have a feeling of artistry to it, but not like it was built by a committee. It was a very creative process.”

During an initial meeting with his new clients, Anders briefed them on BONE Structure, a prefabricated construction system from a Canadian company he’d been intrigued about using.

Employing the innovative BONE Structure system, the duplex plan was laid out across a 5 foot by 5 foot grid of prefabricated light-gauge steel columns and beams that are joined with ¼-inch screws.

The architect and the couple did their research, learning more about the steel-based system that is robotically manufactured, cut, and shipped to a building site, where it’s fastened together. Sustainability was again a selling point. It’s made with mostly recycled steel, and uses foam insulation that can reduce energy costs up to 90 percent compared to a traditionally constructed home.

With his clients sold on prefab steel, Anders created plans for an elegantly designed and eminently practical duplex for the duo that they’ve dubbed “Beachitos.” 

To make a duplex work on the irregularly shaped lot, Anders designed the structure as two facing “L” halves, organized around a central, two-story atrium that brings light deep into the center of the building. The owners’ upper floor unit includes a generous master bedroom suite with a gym facing the ocean, a great room living area, storage and utility space, and two guest bedrooms over the garage facing the highway. 

The lower floor includes the entry and art studio for the owners’ unit, as well as the smaller, two-bedroom rental unit and two garages. 

The process went incredibly smoothly, with nary a glitch or delay in the design, approval, and construction of the duplex. Wait, what? This is Laguna Beach we’re talking about, after all.

In fact, there were issues getting the new modular construction method and materials approved by the building department, and with BONE Structure’s adaptability to the realities of construction in the city. To protect a neighbor’s view, the roof line had to be brought down, just an inch or two. But with prefabricated steel of specific dimensions, the change wasn’t that simple, Anders explains. 

“One of the things that’s great about this system is that if you can work within their standards, it’s easy. As soon as you need to customize things, it becomes burdensome.” Still, working with the company’s engineers, Anders and builder Joe Kramer worked through the issues, creating a dream home for Tim and Ileana. Even the initially skeptical city building department official came around: He brought students from a college construction class that he teaches to tour the house and learn about the innovative system.

Ultimately, the process was not less expensive for materials, Anders says. But the actual construction of a BONE System house can be significantly faster, at least 25 percent faster according to company representatives. That affords savings in labor and other economic benefits to a quicker process.

Anders Lasater was recently honored with the People’s Choice Award from the Orange County chapter of American Institute of Architects (AIAOC) for the Beachitos prefab design. “We’re very pleased to see that the AIAOC membership found this project compelling enough to vote it their People’s Choice Award,” Anders says. “The conversation about prefab design and construction is an important part of our world right now, and projects like Beachitos are helping to further that conversation by showing what’s possible with this technology.”

And as for the lucky Laguna Beach couple who are now North Laguna homeowners, they are “still in wonderland,” Tim says. “Throughout the day, I’m struck by the view, the light, the reflection of the ocean, the trees.”

“The house becomes a body of work that melds with the environment,” Ileana adds. And while the energy savings from the steel and foam-insulated structure was a key reason the couple chose the method, there was pleasant surprise that came with it: quiet.

“We’ve had a tenant in there for a few months now, and we don’t know they’re there,” she says, and those who have shared walls or floors/ceilings in beach towns know that’s a rare thing. “We love music and dancing; in our new home we are comfortable and don’t have to limit ourselves.”

The new duplex also gets positive feedback from neighbors. “It makes me happy that a lot of people are interested in these types of structures,” Tim says. “We see ourselves as ambassadors of this new type of building.”   


Anders Lasater Architects | 384 Forest Avenue, Suite 12, Laguna Beach | 949.497.1827 | anderslasaterarchitects.com

Joe Kramer | 949.466.1533 | jkramercorp.com

BONE Structure | bonestructure.ca

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