Elegantly Livable

Posted online: July 2017

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By Joan Tapper Photographs Trevor Tondro

There’s an art to mixing the architecture of a bygone era with contemporary living. Too much reverence and you can end up with a museum piece. Throw out all elements of an earlier age and the result might be a characterless box. The owners of a 1927 home designed by architect Reginald Johnson in the hedgerow neighborhood of Montecito have just the right touch. The couple had lived full-time in Santa Barbara for half a dozen years when they moved from a rambling house to this U-shaped residence a year ago.

Johnson—the famed architect of both the Biltmore Hotel on Channel Drive and the Santa Barbara Post Office downtown, among many other commissions—designed the home with high ceilings, lots of light, and public and private spaces that offer both intimacy and accommodate gracious entertaining. Bringing it up to the needs of modern life, however, meant raising and leveling the foundation; opening walls to update plumbing, electricity, and communications; and adding sprinkler systems. The couple also converted two of the home’s five bedrooms to studies, but left the period details, including arched doorways and hallways, six distinctive fireplaces, intricately carved woodwork and cabinetry, wrought-iron hardware, and six-paned double-hung windows. “The house is spacious,” notes the owner, “but it doesn’t feel huge. It’s efficient. There’s a very livable number of rooms, but the scale is larger.”

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The voluminous spaces are furnished with comfortable seating—including multiple couches that invite napping—as well as shelves full of books and artworks that speak to the owners’ eclectic tastes. Beneath a beamed ceiling, the living room is formal but not austere, decorated with pale green and white fabrics that mix floral and geometric designs as well as accessories in Asian and contemporary styles. “We married our sensibility with what the house wanted,” says the owner. Cabinetry crafted to match the carved fireplace mantel hides an entertainment center, while games, art books, and family photographs cluster on shelves, tables, and the grand piano.

One side of the house is made for entertaining, with a spacious, gleaming white kitchen, the original butler’s pantry with copious glass-front cabinets and a spot for every kind of silver tray and utensil, and a jewel box of a dining room with walls covered in rich green velvet.

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The hallway that leads to the bedroom wing of the house includes a typical Johnson touch—an antechamber just outside the powder room. Here, the walls are hand painted by Ojai artist Maria Trimbell in a chinoiserie motif, patterned after antique-style de Gournay wallpaper. “It’s similar but customized,” says the owner, “with peacocks, butterflies, and pomegranates.”

Paralleling the hallway is a glassed-in loggia that looks out to a brick patio and lawn. “We built the wall to enclose the sun room,” she adds, “and made it into a year-round room. It’s an incredible event space for everything from an intimate ‘salon’ to a back-to-school class party.”

At the end of the hallway, the daughter’s bedroom has delicate lavender decor with a four-poster bed and trundles built in for sleepovers. Pride of place goes to one of the original—and much cherished—Teddy bears, which belonged to the owner’s great aunt. Similar personal touches are evident in the owner’s blue and white study, where she has hung a suite of plates depicting mothers and daughters from around the world that once graced her grandparents’ house. The desk, also decorated by Trimbell, was a $100 find at the Summerland Antique Collective. “I’m a big fan of mixing high and low,” the owner says.

Outside, in the hollow of the U is a courtyard with six olive trees that was redesigned to evoke the orignal plan by landscape architect Lockwood de Forest Jr. Old oaks tower over drought-resistant grass, while an enclosed vegetable garden includes raised beds of corn, tomatoes, watermelon, and basil.

The view to the garden adds to the charm of the master suite, the owner says, but when it comes down to it, it’s the way the whole house has come together that most pleases her: “I love every room. I love living in this neighborhood. It is a well-lived in, well-loved house.”

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