The power of space: Rocio Romero has designed and shipped her prefab homes all over the country, but she makes her own home right here in Southeast Missouri

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
LAURA SIMON ~ lsimon@semissourian.com

Rocio Romero's vacation home is far from any exotic island with palm trees and turquoise water. It's in rural Perry County, tucked in a lush wooded area and surrounded by a symphony of chirping birds and crickets.

"Nothing is more perfect. Nature is the most beautiful thing in the world," says Romero.

The ultra-modern, two-bedroom, two-bath home is only about 1,150 square feet, but it's part of a much larger empire. Romero, a Chilean American architect who grew up in California, has designed prefabricated homes from California to New York and many places in between, as well as one home for her parents in Laguna Verde, Chile -- and that's what inspired the name for her LV series of prefab homes.

Some of Romero's favorite things are fresh air and sunshine, and it shows in the design of her LV homes. The windows are extra-large to admit as much sunlight as possible and offer a near-panoramic view of the outdoors. She's also passionate about keeping her environmental footprint as small as possible, so she uses eco-friendly technology whenever she can.

"We're mindful of resources and finding green products," she says. "We try to minimize the materials so we're not being wasteful. You can do a lot with very little."

She designs each home to be affordable, inviting and efficient. As for her own style, it's both modern and minimalistic.

LAURA SIMON ~ lsimon@semissourian.com

"It's rooted in what I like or think is cool, what I'm interested in and passionate about. That's what I gravitate toward," she says.

Romero attended the University of California at Berkeley, where she studied environmental design and architecture, then earned her master's degree in architecture from the Southern California Institute of Architecture.

At first, she wasn't quite sure what she wanted her career to be, but when she took a trip to Europe and studied historic architecture, she was amazed by the power of space, and the rest was history, she says.

"A good space can encourage people to have better behavior or a better outlook on the world," she says. "When you embrace it wholly, it can make you feel good and invigorated, whereas other spaces are bleak and can make you feel sad."

LAURA SIMON ~ lsimon@semissourian.com

She was especially drawn to domestic and residential architecture, so that's where she focused her career.

Romero began showing her designs, but she was met with uncertainty at first. The prefab style was big in Europe at the time, but it hadn't caught on in the U.S., and companies wanted to change the theme of Romero's design, such as by adding pitched roofs. Romero stayed focused on her own design and goal, and she says her husband, Cale Bradford, was a big motivator. He liked her work, and they needed a house, so he suggested that she go ahead and build it.

"So we built our dream house together," she says. The Perryville area home was completed in 2003. The couple chose the site because it's near Bradford's work and because both of them came from farming families and always wanted to live on a farm themselves.

The location was also ideal for business purposes. Many supplies for Romero's homes are manufactured in Perry County and nearby Illinois and Arkansas, which makes for a central location to ship the LV kits across the country -- and, once again, to keep the homes affordable and efficient. To date, Romero has sold several hundred LV kits in more than 29 states.

LAURA SIMON ~ lsimon@semissourian.com

For now, Romero lives full time in St. Louis with her husband and their 5-year-old twins. The design, sales and marketing staff of Rocio Romero LLC are in St. Louis as well, so her Perry County home provides a quiet refuge from the city. Weekends at the LV are often spent reading, playing with the kids and cooking out with her extended family. Her 69-acre property also includes two smaller LV buildings -- a fish camp and a base camp -- that are perfect for family get-togethers.

And while there will always be folks who believe bigger is better when it comes to housing, Romero knows there's something to be said about living in a small space.

"It's more intimate. There's a coziness when you live in a small space. Having children, I can always hear the pitter-patter of their feet and know that they're doing this or they're right there," she says. "Life is about those small details, and it's those small, little details that count."

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