by JOAN TAPPER photographs by JEREMY SAMUELSON
The views from Steve and Dede Wood’s Foxen Canyon home take in golden hills dotted by oaks, occasional grazing cows, and slopes of well-tended grapevines. What you don’t see anywhere on the property are power lines. The house—which the couple designed and built—is completely off the grid. Not that you’d know it by looking at their contemporary take on a shingled farmhouse, with its steeply pitched roofs over two wings and a capacious front porch.
“I was inspired by the Foxen House,” notes Dede, an accomplished interior designer, referring to a nearby Victorian dwelling built around 1860. Inside, she has blended Chinese and Asian antiques and modern art with the classic charm that is the hallmark of her work. And there’s no shortage of the essentials—from reliable electricity to satellite TV, Internet, and cellular phones—that underpin modern life.
The Woods, who have had several homes in the Santa Ynez area, didn’t necessarily have solar on their minds when they first saw this 100-acre parcel. They’d noticed the For Sale sign during an impromptu drive up the wine trail, made an offer, and were in escrow when a conversation with PG&E almost stopped them in their tracks. “There was no house here before—just a dirt road and cows,” Steve remembers. “We realized it would be very expensive to run electricity to the land. I was shocked.”
Instead of walking away, though, the couple began working with Ken O’Keefe in Los Olivos to plan a solar-powered system that would accommodate the 3,500-square-foot home they envisioned, as well as a barn-style garage, private water well, and swimming pool. The system “works like a charm,” says Steve, thanks to a sophisticated freestanding solar array that takes in energy during the day and stores it in four huge lead-acid batteries in the garage. Inverters then transform the DC current to AC, which is carried to the house and well through underground wires.
The barn also houses Dede’s art and design studio, as well as a large workshop for Steve, who acted as the general contractor during construction. Oh, yes, there are a couple of surfboards, too—testament to Steve’s love of water sports and his career as captain of lifeguards in Manhattan Beach, where the couple met two decades ago.
Inside the house, with its 14-foot-high ceilings, there’s plenty of room for an eclectic mix of treasured pieces and furniture made or bought especially for the rooms. “My design philosophy is that your house is the shell and you fill it with your personal things—art, books, and so on,” says Dede. “I don’t ‘decorate’—I get tired of that. But I’m always redoing.”
The entryway also doubles as the dining room. “I wanted to reuse space, not have a lot of little rooms you never go into,” she says. The result is drama as soon as you step inside: Grass-green padded linen walls surround a Portuguese-style ebony-finished maple table that can seat 16. The ornate beaded Italian chandelier is from the early 20th century. The floors are inch-thick wire-brushed larch (a sustainable wood from Montana), while French doors facing the back porch extend one’s gaze out to distant hillsides. “The house is mostly one room wide,” notes Dede, “so you can look out at the view on both sides.”
In the living room, matching velvet settees from Dennis & Leen face each other over a newer acquisition—a 17 by 18-foot blue and beige wool Chinese rug. It was a find by Dede’s daughter, Megan Rice Yager (also an interior designer), who lives in Texas and sometimes collaborates with her mother on residential projects. “The rug came from a Moorish-style house in San Antonio,” says Dede, whose other daughter, Mindy Rice Davidson, another valley resident, has her own following as a floral and event designer.
Throughout the home, paintings and sculpture abound. An antique wooden statue of Saint Michael tops a table. One of Dede’s works hangs over the fireplace; opposite is a wave-filled seascape by Santa Barbara artist Garrett Speirs. In the master bedroom, where the Portuguese spool-style bed dominates, an assortment of blue and white Chinese pottery sets the palette. The same hues are reflected in a vividly colored bathtub. In fact, the house is a showcase for Dede’s penchant for the unexpected, such as the Chinese screens mounted upside down to serve as headboards in a guest bedroom, or the tiny pieces of ceramic heaters she’s placed on the mantelpiece as intriguing examples of found art. In the kitchen, Dede has turned a Chinese painter’s table into a work island. Cabinet doors disguise two Liebherr refrigerators, while the elegant Lacanche stove shines in all its gold and white glory.
For all the polish of the decor, the house still reflects its country setting. There’s a chicken coop behind the garage, cattle on the property, and deer that peer through the gate. The 55-foot-long lap pool in the backyard was a must. Steve uses it daily (he competes in ocean swims and still surfs at Refugio regularly throughout the year), while the fun distraction for Dede is “my girls and grandkids,” she says. And her favorite spot? Probably the long, inviting back porch. “I’ve put a porch like this on pretty much every house I’ve done,” she says. This one, however, is illuminated with antique tin lanterns made into light fixtures by local blacksmith Hans Duus and powered—brilliantly—by the sun.