How a 100-Year-Old House is Transforming L.A.’s Toughest Neighborhood
The motto at The Big House is "Don't move, improve."
The Big House is a 100-year old craftsman home in south Los Angeles and home to nonprofit Nuevo South. It’s a modern example of a powerful phenomenon: the use of a private home as a community space. We teamed up with our friends at Nest and interior designer Casey Keasler to reimagine The Big House. We sanded, painted, brought in new design elements, and installed Nest products to help keep The Big House comfortable and secure, all with the goal of inspiring youth in this neighborhood to dream big.
The Big House. Image by Sarah Shreves.
Ask him today and Jorge Nuño will tell you his motto is “Don’t move, improve.” But he didn’t always feel that way. Nuño grew up in the heart of south central Los Angeles, where, he says, people used to prove their success by moving away. He worked hard growing up, helping his dad with his gardening business, but Jorge didn’t have much academic ambition or sense of what he would do with his future. He also got into mischief—one summer, after his football program was cut due to lack of funding, he discovered graffiti. Eventually, though, Nuño found his way to college, and rose quickly in his career as a graphic designer. He launched his own design agency, The NTS Group, and when it was time for the business to expand, he started checking out sleek office spaces downtown, Hollywood, and Santa Monica. But after a radical change of heart, he took a risk and made the bold decision to move his business into his home.
Jorge Nuño. Image by Sarah Shreves.
“When I started my agency, I never thought I’d come back to south LA,” Nuño says. But he had a great house, a very cool 100-year old craftsman home with three floors and over nine rooms. He lovingly called it The Big House. It was a fixer-upper just a few blocks from where he’d grown up; he purchased it as an investment property and planned to rent it out. Instead, he opened NTS on the second floor.
Very quickly, The Big House became a hub of energy and inspiration for the neighborhood. Looking out from his office on the second floor, “I’d see tons of kids skateboarding on the street,” Nuño says. “And I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got this big old lot.’”
So, for Christmas, he built a skate park in the driveway. Then, he added an Xbox on one side of The Big House, and a Playstation on the other. “Kids would come after school to go play and be in a safe place. This idea of The Big House being a safe place was the beginning.” It was the beginning of The Big House’s transformation, and the beginning of Nuño’s passion project, Nuevo South, a nonprofit that provides technology training opportunities for local youth, as well as civic engagement and leadership development.
Nest Dropcams were installed throughout to enhance the feeling of a safe, comfortable home. Image by Sarah Shreves.
He also started throwing block parties, holiday toy drives, and health fairs. Fairly quickly, people started coming out and talking, feeling welcome at The Big House, as well as the neighborhood that surrounded it. They started walking down the streets at night.
One of the things that’s so striking about Nuño is how he correlates his own success with the health of the community. If you ask him what his own next steps and goals are, he’ll likely say something that begins with the word, “We.”
Today, at The Big House, he says, “We’re teaching kids how to code, and become entrepreneurs. We’re teaching soft skills--how to do a resume, knowing how to go in for an interview, etiquette. A lot of kids don’t have the guidance.” Nuño has thought a lot about how he can be a resource for the kids in the neighborhood. Nuevo South just passed its five-year benchmark as a 501(c)3, and since its beginning has served over 150 youth with high-quality classes and training in graphic design, writing, videography, photography, social media marketing, math, and science—as well as financial literacy, career planning, business incubation, and leadership development. Within the vibrant atmosphere of The Big House, young people are encouraged to think big about how they can transform their own futures.
Kids in South LA took time out of their weekends to renovate The Big House. Image by Sarah Shreves.
“I didn’t really understand how important this house was until recently,” Nuño says. It provides a center that allows him to inspire others, and also to provide a home for inspired collaborators. In addition to housing NTS and Nuevo South, The Big House is home to a few other organizations including Root Down LA, which does urban gardening and cooking classes for healthy eating, and even the LA County Parks Foundation has an office downstairs (Jorge’s on the board to make sure, that, among other things, the football program stays funded).
Nuño has always wanted The Big House to be a space where kids come in and feel like, “‘Wow. This is where my ideas can be incubated and pushed forward.’” He wants them to be inspired not just by the great classes, but by the space itself, so that when they walk in they think: “‘I want to create a short film,’ or ‘I want to be able to help my parents with their street vending ice cream business,’ or ‘I want to create content so that we can tell our community’s story.’”
Kids in South LA treat The Big House like home. Image by Sarah Shreves.
This summer, interior designer Casey Keasler, GOOD, and Nest helped redesign The Big House, with the goal of providing an even more inspirational, safe, and comfortable place for the students. “The whole idea of it being remodeled to fit our needs?” Jorge says, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” It’s exciting for him to see The Big House undergo this next level of transformation.
This unique example of a home that has become such a rich community space sits at the center of all of the things that are important to Jorge—his family, his company, the nonprofit, the association of nonprofits he collaborates with, the local government, his neighbors and friends. Through The Big House, and the programs offered through Nuevo South, he’s pretty excited for other people to see what a great place south LA is. “People who give back to the area, even in small ways, are making it better,” he says. “These kids don’t need to move out to be successful. We can improve south LA.”
Jorge Nuño gets hands-on during The Big House redesign process. Image by Sarah Shreves.
Over the coming weeks, find out more about The Big House—and the process of its transformation—right here on GOOD. Plus, see the full before and after on Nest’s Pinterest board, or see more from the team via #ThisNestHome on Instagram.