Shape Shifter

Posted online: May 2018

How one collaboration created a modern house on the Mesa

By Jennifer Blaise Kramer Photographs by Erin Feinblatt

First-time home buyer Heather Greene had a few ideas going into the purchase. First, the location had to be the lower Mesa. She’d narrowed it down to a small rectangle of streets near the ocean and finally—about five offers later—scored a serious fixer-upper. The dark ranch-style house had a cramped layout with only one small door to the backyard. And though it would have to be stripped to the foundation, you could smell the salt air from the site, and she was sold.

While in the early stages of remodel dreaming, she happened to visit Neil Dipaola’s moody, masculine, boxy abode on the Riviera. “It was the sexiest house I’d ever seen,” Greene recalls. Dan Weber, principal of Anacapa Architecture, had collaborated with the environmentally conscious developer on his home and Greene was instantly on board, adding, “We have such a similar aesthetic.”

Greene, founder of Sprout Concepts public relations, quickly hired Weber for the job, and he later hired her for PR work, beginning a long-term collaboration and friendship. Their first conversation on style stemmed from a detailed Pinterest exploration, which proved she preferred sleek minimalism over traditional Spanish—something that surprised her and thrilled Weber, a champion in the local modern architecture world.

To pull off Greene’s vision of a brighter, whiter, more feminine take on Dipaola’s residence, their final plan entailed doubling the square footage to about 2,500 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom open floorplan that would be incredibly low-maintenance and low energy. Radiant concrete floors give Hudson, her golden retriever, an indestructible hardscape inside while lending an efficient alternative to forced air—the flooring is the only heat source in the house aside from two fireplaces and Greene loves the “luxurious” quality that doesn’t lead to dry air. Equally important was an open-air sensation for the ultimate indoor/outdoor living, so operable glass doors were used in lieu of a wall and are almost always open to let in the ocean breeze.

“The huge movable glass wall was a substantial engineering feat!” Weber says. The “wall” of doors was built using very thin eaves and no support columns—something Greene was adamant about to keep the sight lines minimal. Above, a deep overhang from the flat white roof keeps the house cool and shaded so no air conditioning is needed. The architect and client were constantly altering the lines to keep the shape both efficient and exciting. In the entry, the 11-foot ipe front door is another feat—at four inches thick it weighs 1,000 pounds and opens with a slow marvel to the wide expanse of the living area and marble and brass clad kitchen.

“Heather had a clear vision of look, feel, materiality, and even landscaping,” Weber says, calling her his most dedicated client. Together, they envisioned cantilevered walnut desks and vanities, they hung individual brass lights at perfect yet various heights, and finished the job down to the very last gate and hinge. The final installation is the front yard’s linear ipe screens, which lend privacy and an architectural element that also bounces striking shadows around the interior. Weber laughs that most clients would have skipped this at the last point in the project. “Here I thought, Maybe they’ll get done, maybe they won’t,” he says. “There’s a reason you don’t see features like that all the time—they often get cut.”

“Oh, they got done!” Heather laughs.

The two joke that it took five different plans and “extensive” conversations to get it right, but collectively they did. Weber admits this specific slice of architecture might not necessarily be pushing the limits elsewhere in size and scope, but it’s a wow factor for Santa Barbara, adding “anytime you drive by and see a modern house being built, you know it took a lot to pull it off.” And Greene, a practitioner of patience, waited for the right real estate, the right architect, and the right floor plan and now says she couldn’t be happier in her “therapeutic” house by the sea that she calls a “bright, expansive welcome to everyone who walks through the front door.”

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