A Montecito Vacation Home Ties Into its Wooded Surrounds


When a Minnesota couple began searching for a vacation residence in perpetually sunny Southern California as a way to escape what felt like a polar vortex—or, wintertime in the Midwest—they were decisively set on the idyllic coastal community of Montecito and its practically perfect climate. “I’m a fifth-generation Californian, and my husband’s family started going to Montecito about 40 years ago,” the wife says. “But what really attracted us to the area is the fact that there’s so much to do: golf, tennis, hiking, beaches, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Music Academy of the West.”

An arduous house hunt resulted in the discovery and purchase of a teardown on a lot that appeared almost untouched. “It hadn’t been fretted over or super-manicured, and it looked natural, like California used to,” the wife explains. When it came to choosing an architect to design a new home-away-from-home for the couple’s pristine parcel of land, they had a much easier time. “We have a huge affinity for midcentury design, and we wanted indoor-outdoor living,” the wife says. “We felt Marmol Radziner was well-versed in both.” In fact, the design/build firm, founded by design principal Ron Radziner and managing principal Leo Marmol, is lauded for restoring houses by iconic modernists such as Richard Neutra, Rudolph M. Schindler and John Lautner, but is equally well-known for its own artful contemporary designs that seamlessly integrate with and engage the landscape.

The residence Radziner imagined for the couple’s property is no exception. Crafted from Santa Barbara sandstone, cedar, glass, and plaster, the structure stands among stately oak trees as a large-scale geometric sculpture. “We unearthed the gold-colored sandstone as we excavated the site,” says the architect, who used the material to construct walls and a massive fireplace surround. The grays of the stained cedar lining the entry and the smooth-troweled plaster of the stairwell express the color of the oak tree trunks. “The house is a reflection of what comes from the earth,” Radziner explains, and by pulling the exterior materials through to the interiors, he further strengthened that connection. Because the owners requested indoor-outdoor living, the architect devised several comfortable outdoor living spaces as well. “The family room opens to a long patio with an outdoor fireplace,” Radziner says. “And there’s a balcony off the master bedroom, where you can catch views of the ocean.”

Radziner functioned not only as the project’s architect, but also as the interior designer, the landscape designer and the builder—making him a quadruple design threat. “A holistic approach allows us to achieve a strong design and have a process where there’s not a lot of disconnect,” he explains. In terms of the grounds, this meant preserving the property’s live oaks and boulders, which he repositioned to naturally retain slopes. “It was about recreating an enhanced version of Santa Barbara’s park-like natural landscape,” he explains.

For the interiors, Radziner used the earth tones of the landscape and the architecture as background for colorful furnishings, which he selected with the firm’s interiors studio director, Erika Montes. “This design experience was special because the clients wanted more color than we usually do,” he says, noting the rust-colored suzani covering a settee in the living room and the family room’s Cherner chairs upholstered with a turquoise fabric. The master bedroom sports a floral-covered chair and ottoman with pink blooms in one corner, and hints of purple work their way into the entry’s ikat rug. These bright hues incorporated among a mix of vintage, contemporary and custom pieces work to lend richness, depth and texture to the spaces. In addition, the wife made sure that comfort wasn’t left off the list. “I traveled far and wide to sit on all the chairs and sofas in this house,” she says. “They had to pass my test of feeling good, and the Marmol Radziner test of looking good. I can report that there’s a lot of uncomfortable furniture out there, but not in our house.”