The Expert: Santiago Arana

The Agency principal shares today’s design trends and the biggest mistake homeowners should avoid.
Santiago Arana

When The Agency’s Santiago Arana ( moved to Los Angeles from Bolivia, he had only $120 in his pocket—and no knowledge of English or real estate. Now, the design and development power player has closed over $4 billion in real estate (netting nearly $2.5 billion in sales volume from 2017 to 2021 alone), earning the title of the sixth-ranked agent in the country while building a roster of high-profile clients such as Lady Gaga, Lebron James, Larry David, Rick Caruso, Anthony Hopkins, and Alessandra Ambrosio.

After noticing a gap in the market for what discerning buyers were truly seeking in luxury homes, Arana and his business partner, David Herskowitz, formed Cutting Edge Developments, a formidable force in custom home building that focuses on creating more curated, thoughtful spaces—think a lounge with taps for artisanal beverages, effortless indoor-outdoor spaces for family gatherings, the latest air- and water-purifying technology, and use of sustainable materials. Arana’s keen eye for trends and understanding of the market paid off, resulting in record-breaking sales, including 568 N. Tigertail ($23 million) and 565 N. Tigertail ($22.7 million)—recent double-ended sales built by Cutting Edge Developments.

What are the top trends you see homeowners asking for right now when they’re looking for a new home? Right now, the trend is anything that is more organic, not only for colors but also on the finishes. Let’s say if you’re using stone, lighter colors are more preferred now. Luxury homeowners don’t want shiny, over-the-top polished stones—they are looking for a honed, neutral finish that showcases the outdoors, establishes serenity, and will be flexible enough to accommodate home design changes and versatility for years to come.

What design trends are antiquated? Mediterranean houses are done. I think we went through a period where there were too many inauthentic Mediterranean-style houses being built that did not accurately represent what a Mediterranean house actually was. Now, people tend to go with metal, aluminum, or steel rather than wood. Granite isn’t as popular as it used to be and a lot of the doors and windows that developers are using these days are very different from before.

What is the biggest mistakes you see homeowners make when it comes to design? Homeowners are building houses to their taste only. There’s nothing wrong with that, but unless you’re planning on living in that house forever, it’s important to keep in mind that certain things should have more of a neutral and raw color palette as opposed to a heavily personalized taste. Or, choose to put the personal taste on something that can be changed. Paint can be easily altered but certain things that are ornate or gold-plated finishes, stuff like that, might go out of style and will be more expensive to replace.

When it comes to building a home from the ground up, what are some of the most important things homeowners should be aware of? The most important thing is to understand where this property is located, what are the rules and regulations for that specific city on what you’re allowed to do when it comes to square footage, height restrictions, and setbacks. It’s also very important to know the area and see what style of house fits the area better. With the California lifestyle in mind, an Angeleno might want a house with more open entertaining spaces that feature seamless indoor-outdoor flow and a connection to nature.

How have you seen building trends change during the last five years? I think the trends have changed in a way where floorplans have become very important, with more open space because people are working from home. I think people are becoming more environmentally and health conscious by adding energy-efficient solar panels and water-filtration systems throughout the entire home. For example, filtering water will not just affect the quality of your drink, but also results in softer shower water, which has less chemicals and is better for your skin. Home gyms with infrared saunas and cold plunges have become more popular as well.