A Modern Santa Barbara Oasis With Soaring Ceiling Heights


Twenty years ago, a young couple bought a tiny, rickety wood-frame house overlooking a lovely oak forest in the Santa Barbara area. “It was the worst place in the neighborhood,” recalls the wife. “But we lived very happily in that drafty old house for eight years. Then we said, ‘We have got to do something here.’ ”

The couple yearned for spaciousness and light, and they especially appreciate the simplicity of Japanese design and its harmony with nature. “My husband has built a business in Japan, we’ve spent a lot of time there, and I studied the language at university,” says the homeowner. “We really love the Japanese experience of bringing the outside in.”

It was while flipping through a magazine that the wife spotted the home of architect Barton Myers, renowned for designing steel-frame glass buildings that virtually erase the line between indoors and out—a style perfectly in sync with Southern California’s natural beauty and sunny clime. “My husband and I don’t agree on anything, so when we both liked what Barton had done, it was a done deal,” she laughs.

The original home sat on a triangular lot, which placed it directly on the street, affording little privacy. “We told Barton that we wanted our new house to be a fortress in the front and open in the back,” the wife says. The architect replied with a conceptualized plan that would transform the existing structure into a modern oasis with soaring ceiling heights and floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

Myers presented his somewhat unorthodox plans to the Board of Architectural Review of Santa Barbara County and “secured our land use permit through the sheer force of his personality,” says the homeowner. “We never would have gotten that far without him.” She and her husband then turned to local architect Jim McClintock, who defined his clients’ vision and ultimately executed what has become their dream home. “We added exterior steps, completely reconfig- ured the entry, and reworked the apertures and many of the interior arrangements,” McClintock says, ticking off just some of the design elements he implemented.

Yet as clean and simple as the design is, constructing the steel-frame house was no easy task. “There’s a misconception that modern archi- tecture is just a bunch of cubes and flat roofs coming together,” says builder Bob Young. “To the contrary, it can be very complicated to execute properly, because you don’t want planes to lap down over one another. There’s not a lot of room for error, so it takes a very critical eye and careful planning.”

When it came time for the finishing touches, the homeowners recruited designer Elizabeth Graham, who worked tirelessly to bring in details that would complement the sleek architecture. “The glass tiles in the bathroom are very linear, for example, yet there’s movement in the color,” Graham says. “Your eyes pop and you ask yourself, ‘Wow, what’s this?’”

Focusing on function, Graham found a solution for every problem, such as when the kitchen’s glass wall left less room for cabinetry. The designer simply elevated the units to play off the home’s volume and tucked toe-kick drawers underneath, providing additional storage.

“Throughout the process, my husband and I knew that whatever Jim and Elizabeth presented us with was going to be something that we’d love,” the grateful homeowner says. “And we knew that Bob was daring enough to take on something that was kind of out there. So many people that came into this project were willing to rise to the occasion and make it work.”