by GINA TOLLESON photographs by LISA CANDELA styled by GARA ROSE GAMBUCCI
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”