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Boring, beige Irvine, Ca., getting a color makeover

Forty years into its love affair with beige, earth tones and stucco, Irvine, Calif., a master-planned community not exactly known for its avant-garde architecture is about to witness a significant splash of color.
Forty years into its love affair with earth tones and stucco, Irvine is about to witness a significant splash of color and mixed media.
Forty years into its love affair with earth tones and stucco, Irvine is about to witness a significant splash of color and mixed media. FOCI
/ Source: The Orange County Register

As desirable as Irvine is, it's safe to say the master-planned community isn't exactly known for avant-garde architecture, something that became clear earlier this year in reader responses to stories about the launching of a city motto contest.

"Irvine: We Have 62 Different Words for Beige," one commenter suggested.

"Where Bland is in Demand," another offered.

"Sixteen Zip Codes, Six Floor Plans," a third said.

"Sorry, I Thought This Was My House," yet another reader replied.

You get the idea.

But 40 years into its love affair with earth tones and stucco, Irvine is about to witness a significant splash of color and mixed media.

Nearly 5,000 homes, as well as shops and offices, were approved this month for areas surrounding the Great Park, and developer FivePoint Communities is not proposing much in the way of the Mediterranean traditions that have turned Irvine into a Little Italy of sorts.

Instead, FivePoint is embracing Craftsman, Folk Victorian, Traditional Monterey, American Classic and Cottage styles in its residences, the first phase of which should hit the market in 2013.

Eric Tolles, the city's community development director, suggested Irvine's reputation for homogeneity is a stereotype, but did say FivePoint's architecture "is a departure from what we've seen in recent years."

In fact, the company is specifically promising diversity of design, something that's especially evident in its "Main Street" commercial area. There, it plans to include contemporary and classic looks, as well as "transitional" combinations of the two, on the same blocks.

"Many town centers have one dominant architectural style, compromising the authenticity of the place," FivePoint says in plans that were submitted to the city and vow to "avoid monotony."

(Click here for more photos)

"Uninterrupted blank wall surfaces should be avoided along all building facades," the plans say, and design should discourage features that "hinder pedestrian activity, such as big box retail."

No dominant architectural style? No big box retailers? In Irvine?

It's hard to believe, and it's also a departure from a philosophy that's proven popular. The Irvine Co., which has developed the majority of the land in the city, has witnessed seemingly endless success with its products, including those in the new Woodbury communities, which from a distance resemble light-brown boxes.

Irvine Co. officials (who declined to comment) have an approach that has "been appealing to homebuyers," Tolles noted.

Regardless of whether one appreciates that approach, it probably pales in importance compared with Irvine's nationally renowned schools and safety.

FivePoint will test the relevance of visual appearances with its diverse residential styles, which will variously employ stone veneers, asphalt shingles, wood shutters, lap siding, decorative columns, brick facades, wraparound porches and, notably, colors that don't resemble sand.

Renderings submitted to the city depict a wide variety of housing types, but FivePoint officials would release only one image of the homes, saying the others remain conceptual.

In its plans, the company seems to deride cookie-cutter construction, referring at one point to the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement that "rejected mass production and mediocre design in favor of the beauty and honesty of traditional hand-craftsmanship and natural materials."

Carol Wold, a FivePoint vice president, said "there will be a variety of housing types to create distinctive neighborhoods."

Which, given the surroundings, shouldn't be too hard to do.

This story originally ran in The Orange County Register.

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