Surf Shacks 091

Steve Jones
Laguna Beach, CA

Matt Titone

No, this is not the Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols, this Steve is a seasoned designer with impeccable taste for the authentic coastal aesthetic. A veteran of the surf industry, he helped define the look of brands like Quiksilver and Roxy for over twenty years during their heyday. Steve now restores classic old homes in Southern California and applies his curated vintage touch under the moniker Better Shelter. He is a “maker of Surf Shacks” if you will. Here is a peep inside his personal beachfront 5-plex unit in picturesque Laguna Beach.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in Laguna Beach, 2nd generation, my father grew up there too.

I mostly live in LA, working on renovating homes. I like old 1920’s homes and have a passion for restoring them. I’m always trolling vintage flea markets looking for architectural salvage pieces for my homes.

I teach a design class at Orange Coast College, a holdover from my days in the surf apparel industry.

How did you find this amazing property in Laguna and how long have you been living here?

I’ve been here since 1999! It is a 5-plex building and I was fortunate enough to purchase when prices weren’t what they are now. I rent out 4 units and keep one unit for myself. I’m down here a few days a week.

What are your favorite parts of your home?

For sure the view, it never gets old. The building was built in the 1940’s and when I purchased the property the previous owner had styled it like an Italian villa or something. It was kind of tacky and over time I’ve restored it back to what it is now; a classic 40’s stucco coastal building. I’ve renovated all the apartments. I like authenticity and integrity when restoring properties. It’s nice when someone is in one of my places, points to something and asks if it’s original and I say, “nah, I put that in.” I want people to think the homes weren’t “restored,” just cared for in a thoughtful way. In reality, if people knew how much energy, time (and money) I spend on each home it would blow their mind.

What are your favorite parts about Laguna and the area in which you live?

Laguna is such a gorgeous town! I appreciate it so much more not living here full time. There is nothing like driving down from LA, getting out of your car and smelling the ocean air. The best. Being able to surf right in front of where you live is an added bonus.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone

How did you find your way into a career in the surf industry?

My timing was good; I started a window display company doing displays in the early 1980’s for all these up and coming brands. One thing led to another and Quiksilver hired me full time, I was there for almost 25 years. It was a good ride.

What were some highlights of working for Quiksilver and Roxy in those days?

Quiksilver was a company of firsts: first company to sponsor a $1M surfer, first company to go public on NY Stock Exchange, first company to open free standing stores, the list goes on. I was fortunate enough be be in charge of designing all the stores, at one time there were a lot of them! I traveled all over the world doing that job.

Working with Barry, Leslie and Keone Kanaiapuni on their surf shop was another highlight, such a legendary family. Also being able to work with Danny Kwock, both he and Bob hired me back in the day and Danny had a HUGE influence on me, even to this day.

Opening a store in Soho NYC before Soho really blew up, store was at Spring & Mercer which is now pretty much ground zero for Soho. I remember standing there with Bob McKnight, Gregg Solomon, and Marty Samuels trying to decide if we should open a store there, everyone just sort of shrugged their shoulders and were like, yes, let’s do it. There was no market research, no outside consultants, Quiksilver was very much a gut decision type of company which I think served them well.

I loved how Quiksilver was able to straddle those two worlds; working with such core surfers in Hawaii AND opening stores in NYC and pulling both off. Very much a testament to the strength of the brand.

As someone who was a part of shaping surf culture during such a pivotal time, what are your thoughts on the current state of the surf industry and culture these days?

I love what a lot of smaller brands are currently doing, there is so much cool, curated stuff out there and its so great to see what the next generation is coming up with, super inspiring. The era of the big brands (with the exception of perhaps Patagonia) are mostly over, there is a huge opportunity for the smaller micro brands to fill those voids. A more curated point of view for the customer is great.

What are some of those smaller brands you like?

Sport of Kings Forever Young.
I walked into their store at Pacific City, didn’t know anything about the brand, my mind was blown. They do such a great job.

Deus Ex Machina.
I discovered them back in the day in Australia; they are master merchants and merchandisers and their stores always look fantastic. Great product as well.

Thalia Street Surf Shop.
I love everything about this store, my good friend Jim Olarte helped them on the store design and I can’t think of a cooler surf shop. I appreciate that they take chances on smaller brands and I love the sense of discovery I get every time I walk into the store.

Almond Surfboards.
So great how they’ve always given their surfboard line priority over everything else, it’s what drives their business and seems to be working. Plus, they’re cool.

Matt Titone

When and how did your career transition over more to real estate and renovation projects?

I was always interested in real estate and housing. One day I made the jump from the surf industry to real estate development. There was so much I learned while at Quiksilver that I was able to apply to my current career. I am forever indebted to QS for all the opportunities they gave me.

Where do you draw inspiration from in your interior design style?

So much of my design style is informed from growing up in Laguna and working in the surf industry for as long as I did! It never leaves you. I’m also inspired by old buildings, vintage flea markets and really just design in general.

What have been some of your favorite projects over the years and why?

I’ve renovated over 200 homes, I love providing cool spaces/homes for people and neighborhoods. I always fall in love with the homes and the neighborhoods when restoring them. I did the redesign for Lido Marina Village in Newport, that was fun.

Matt Titone
Matt Titone
Matt Titone

What makes a quintessential “surf shack” in your opinion?

The classic surf shack can’t take itself too seriously, that is for sure! As I mentioned before, authenticity and integrity and so important. People can spot a fake a mile away.

Any parting thoughts, words of wisdom, or sage advice?

It’s amazing how many of my relationships from my surf industry days are with people and friends I’m still in contact with today. There were so many talented, creative people who worked at QS when I did and it’s so inspiring to see what everyone has done with their lives.

Get a mentor, call them and take them out to lunch! You’d be surprised how much information and knowledge people are willing to give away. Also, LISTEN. Keep your mouth shut and really take on listening, let other people do the talking. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Discover more creative surfers’ homes in our books; Surf Shacks® Vol. 1, and Vol. 2 available now!

BUY VOL. 1
BUY VOL. 2

Matt Titone

A goofy-footed graphic designer who hails from the first state, Delaware. After attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL then graduating from SCAD in Savannah, GA with a BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration, Matt moved to NYC and found work as a freelance designer and art director. In 2006 he moved west to Venice, CA where he co-founded ITAL/C Studio and now resides a bit further north in Oxnard.

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