Permanent Vacation

Posted online: January 2013

Carmen Marc Valvo gown.


My husband and I were married in 1996 at the Biltmore,” says Kathy Nicolson. “We fell in love with Santa Barbara—with its major cultural influences and rich Spanish history and heritage.” When this tastemaker and mother of two started spending parts of her summers here to escape the southwest warmth, she would question—“Why are we leaving this paradise?” Well, some southern gals get what they ask for. In 2010, her husband, David, surprised her with a move to Montecito as her anniversary present. She says, “This was truly our destiny.”

The living room is filled with an eclectic mix of Spanish antiques and modern art.

At her Mediterranean-style home, Nicolson brought to fruition a serene indoor and outdoor-living space filled with an eclectic mix of antiques, global curios, vintage accents, and a distinct—if not playful—collection of modern art. Ross Bleckner paintings mix with contemporary photography, and family heirlooms sit next to an equestrian silver headdress found in Argentina. “By collecting and framing, beautiful things that were once worn become works of art,” she says of treasures found on various trips to Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

LOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A Ross Bleckner painting from his Dome series in the foyer; Duke’s suit, hat, and scarf by Zara Kids; an array of Jessica Seaton jewelry from Akia Ito Boutique in Los Angeles; fringed leather scarf paired with Bendigo Frames sunglasses; Madison in the courtyard; travel treasures and family memories in the living room; Kathy takes a quiet moment in a Yigal Azrouël poncho.

Nowadays, the Nicolsons (with daughter Madison, 13, and son Duke, 7) are destined to spend their holidays in paradise as well. Kathy loves to entertain, and dinners often come with a theme. Through the years, they have hosted a variety of family get-togethers, including karaoke Christmas parties and black-tie soirees. There’s “definitely the smell of a fresh-cut pine tree and always a piece of mistletoe hanging under a doorway,” she says of her inviting abode. “I believe a house is something you live in, but a home is something you create.”

Mother and son in the entrance to their San Ysidro home. Kathy is wearing a Rajasthani throw by Matta NY and Duke’s Mexican serape was a gift from a close family friend.

And her southern hospitality certainly plays a role in how she translates her Texan sensibilities into her new Santa Barbara life. “Celebrating the holidays California style has offered us many tranquil and peaceful moments—from family hikes to sunset walks to bonfires on the beach,” she says. “These precious moments and traditions of togetherness are the things we treasure as a family;
after all, that’s what the holidays are all about.”

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