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From the side streets of Little Italy to the canyons of Hillcrest, a developing duo rethinks the build-up.

Developers Matt Mellos and Zac Stover in the garage of their C2 Lofts, where a sleek cypress wood wall speaks to their dedication to thoughtful details. “We chose to use cypress—and don’t laugh—because it is the name of the nearest cross street,” says Mellos.

It doesn’t look like the kind of place that would lure a young family. Each half of the chic Hillcrest duplex has an unconventional layout and stairs—so many stairs. But don’t tell that to the couple who won the bidding war and moved in this January with their small son and a pair of English bulldogs.

“We didn’t think in a million years that a family would go for all those stairs,” marvels Matt Mellos, who developed the four-story C2 Lofts with his business partner and best friend, Zac Stover. “But the market reacted with every kind of person you can imagine.”

Sore thighs are a small price to pay for such stylish living. C2’s steps lead up through four levels of flexible-use lofts and alfresco spaces that maximize surrounding views, which include Balboa Park and stretch to the ocean on a clear day. Bespoke touches abound in both units, from concrete countertops to double-height ceilings. Even the garage doors were custom clad in a mix of honey-colored cypress and Japanese-style black charred wood.

Mellos and Stover knew they’d struck gold when they first gazed at the 50-square-foot lot that dead ends on a canyon filled with eucalyptus trees and rustling native grasses. Where others see awkward nooks and crannies in the urban landscape, they imagine innovative new buildings. InDev, the boutique development firm the duo founded in 2009, has a proven knack for projects that deliver contemporary curb appeal along with impressive financial returns.

The fourth story bedroom of a condo at C2 Lofts, which boasts views of the North Park neighborhood and Balboa Park

Of course, the architect-as-developer formula is nothing new. Pioneering locals such as Ted Smith and Jonathan Segal paved the way for a new generation of design-build firms like Foundation for Form, Butler-Malick and InDev, which are transforming San Diego’s neighborhoods one odd-shaped lot at a time.

“We love the mix of old and current,” say Mellos, whose entrepreneurial track record includes the Gaslamp’s Stingaree nightclub. “We believe in taking part in the community rather than taking away from it.”

Stover, a Woodbury and NewSchool alum with three advanced degrees, says streamlining the early stages is a big part of InDev’s strategy. “We work within the rules the neighborhood dictates for itself,” Stover explains. In other words: Instead of wrangling impossible permits, he has time to fine-tune the details.

At Four on Albatross in Hillcrest, white stucco and cedar cladding lend a hip, minimalist vibe, as do tiny windows that cast light-dappled patterns inside. All four units feature expansive rooftop decks with ocean views—a rarity in small-scale Uptown builds.

“They also have a private front stoop,” says Stover. “We wanted the feel of a single-family home.”

For Ten on Columbia, a Little Italy building slated to be completed next spring, the two are researching hardwoods they can curve along the facade. For another proposed building, they’re looking into promising aluminum shingles they saw in Dwell.

“We have no problem spending more on materiality,” says Mellos. “It’s what makes a building stand out.”

Finding the perfect trio of complementary materials for each project has become an obsession, as has repurposing salvageable materials from teardowns. At Little Italy’s Kapela, a rental project based on Stover’s graduate thesis and InDev’s first build, half the materials were reclaimed, allowing a budget for wood siding, garden patios and other upscale amenities.

The results were so striking that Stover still calls it home. As for Mellos? He lives right across the street and couldn’t be happier with his view.