Southern Hospitality

Posted online: September 2014

A 1920s property sets the stage for a 21st century lifestyle

by Joan Tapper  photographs by Jeremy Samuelson

Still as a statue, Gracie extends a canine welcome to guests of the European-inspired half-timbered home.

A profusion of mirrors and glass lighten the formality of the Banks’s living room, with its original 1920s beamed ceilings and elegant paned-glass windows.

IF HOSPITALITY is an art, Charles and Ali Banks are creating museum-quality work. Sharing good times with family and friends seems to be second nature to the couple. Which may explain why they
enjoy meshing their private lives with an astonishing number of businesses that range, not surprisingly, from restaurants and food and wine events to vineyards and wineries in California, France, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Inspired by the smell of jasmine on a February morning, the couple—both originally from Atlanta—moved to Montecito from San Francisco in 2001 and have lived in several houses since. But the two-story half-timbered home they bought almost seven years ago has proved to be the perfect backdrop for their lifestyle and their three children, 18-year-old Mini, 10-year-old Charlie, and 9-year-old Augusta. “It’s a family house,” says Ali, “and works best as the site of house parties.” With seven bedrooms and five baths in 7,000 square feet, “we can fill it up and everyone runs around. Kids and dogs are welcome.”

Built in 1926, the house was the creation of a builder rather than an architect, and it “has a lot of quirks,” she adds, “with passageways and panels that open. In the library, the fun thing is a hidden closet with a pass-through to the guest room”—great for a game of hide and seek.

From paintings on the wall to the egg-and-horn chandelier and the giraffe rug underfoot, Afri-can accents add singular touches to the dining room.

“When we bought it,” Charles remembers, “Ali said we don’t have to do anything except get rid of the trash compactor in the kitchen and the pink tile in our bath. Both are still there, but every couple of months, Aligets the itch to do a great project.”

Indeed, she’s responsible for the decor, with the help of designer friends Kirsten Fisk and Christina Rottman—“great editors,” Ali calls them. “People say the interior is a 3-D biography. It’s an expression of things we love in life,” things that are “layered with story and emotion.”

For example, the chinoiserie chest in the foyer “was the first antique we bought when we were young and just married in Atlanta 23 years ago,” says Charles. And the chandelier in the dining room—which combines kudu horns and ostrich eggs—and the giraffe and zebra rugs are pieces the pair brought back from South Africa, where they own three wineries, Mulderbosch, Fable Mountain, and Marvelous Wines. “We love the place,” notes Ali, who’s quick to point out that the animals died in captivity: “We’re not hunters!”

A mounted water buffalo head adds a bit of exotica to the dramatic two-story entrance hall, which is a light-filled space with a view toward the mountains. “People walk in and think it’s going to be a dark house, but it’s Y-shaped and the rooms are bright,” says Charles. One particular favorite sunny spot is known as the coffee room. “It’s tiny, with four chairs—perfect for conversation,” says Ali. “Charles and I start our day in that room.”

Navy lacquered walls flank the living room fireplace, one of seven in the house.

And while there really aren’t formal spaces in the house, the living room, with its lacquered navy blue walls, is where winter dinner parties start and end, with meals served in the dining room. Equally important for entertaining is the underground wine cellar, which is “large but not fancy,” notes Ali. “Charles puts the money into the wine, not the room, and it allows us to share wines with our guests.” Although the Banks are involved in 14 different wine businesses, the cellar “is mostly filled not with our wines. It’s important to always be drinking other people’s wines. That’s how we learn.”

Of course, much of the year, the focus moves outdoors. “We have a pretty great open yard with views of the ocean and the mountains,” says Charles. “And when you live in Santa Barbara, why not be outside?” adds Ali. There’s a pool, an outdoor fireplace, a movable fire cauldron, and several dining areas. But the key to the couple’s hospitality is really their penchant for mixing guests and making them all feel at home.

“Our style of entertaining? Call it Old World,” says Ali. “It’s often intergenerational and family style. We do most things ourselves, and the guests help out. We love to have diverse conversations, and we want a lot of different viewpoints at the table.”

The gatherings often include business associates like other winemakers; the Banks’s partners in Mattei’s Tavern; in CLM, which owns restaurants and events in California; and in Terroir, which oversees their wineries as well as Cultivate, a wine enterprise that donates 10 percent of its revenue to community reinvestment. If juggling those enterprises—and a new high-design glassware company called Vessels— seems like an unbelievable feat, well, “It works because we have great partners,” says Ali. “We work from our home, and we’re friends with the people we work with. It’s a delicate balance of art, business, and life, and we try to make that seamless.”

Charles and Ali Banks; photograph by Megan Sorel.

[FALL 2014]

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