Rick Rosen had something specific in mind: a retreat in Santa Barbara, just a short drive from Los Angeles, but with a blithe spirit that would make it feel as if it were worlds apart. “I wanted a place where I could find some serenity and escape from the pressures of my work,” says Rosen, a founding member of William Morris Endeavor.
He discovered his utopia in a Mediterranean-style house in Montecito, where his inaugural stride across the threshold convinced him that his search was over. Gazing through the foyer to the doors at the back of the house, “the first thing I saw were the mountains of Santa Barbara; it’s what sold me on the property,” says Rosen. “The view is breathtaking.”
Still, Rosen set his final decision aside in order for architect and designer Dennis Gibbens—a longtime friend who’d worked on Rosen’s L.A. residence for years—to offer his seal of approval. “It’s a great property,” says Gibbens. “The grounds are extensive and private, and the unobstructed views of the mountains are incredible.” But, although the site was ideal, the house—as well as a guest cottage earmarked for a private screening room—was less so. “It needed a lot of work,” concedes Gibbens, who nonetheless gave the green light. “It had good bones and a nice layout.”
Rosen closed on the house, then delivered his one non-negotiable point: He wanted to spend Thanksgiving at the newly acquired home, which meant that Gibbens would have less than five months to bring the property up to speed. “It was a lot of pressure,” recalls the architect, who assembled an ensemble cast of design professionals to make sure the deadline was met, including designer Cheryl Brantner, builder Jay Bruder and landscape designers Greg Sanchez and Peter Eberhard.
Adopting a staggered, three-prong approach that included a redefined landscape and a new pool, and the transformation of the cottage into a state-of-the-art screening room and guest quarters, the team tackled the main house first. “The changes there were less invasive, so we could finish them within our initial timeframe,” explains Gibbens.
A more free-flowing floor plan was achieved by removing walls and combining smaller spaces into larger ones; the master suite wing was totally reconfigured; and the addition of architectural elements such as archways and moldings now lend a richness and depth of detail that was previously absent. “One of the biggest moves we made was placing a massive limestone fireplace in the living room,” Gibbens says of the statement-making piece imported from France. “It gives the room presence.”
Brantner helped direct the interiors, guiding selections for materials, colors, finishes and fabrics. “It was important that the palette respect the property,” she says. “The interiors needed to be fresh and masculine, yet warm and nuanced.” So shades of cream, taupe, blue, gold and cognac were woven together and thrown across tailored pieces—including over 60 designed by Gibbens—with fuss-free comfort in mind. “It’s ultimately a retreat for Rick’s family and friends, so you have to be able to put your feet on the table,” says Brantner. “It’s not a precious environment.”
Outside, Sanchez and Eberhard cultivated a plan that recalls classic Santa Barbara style. They opened up the views to the mountains by trimming back a grove of overgrown California coast oaks; added drought-tolerant underplantings and softscape; and removed existing tropical flora inappropriate to the region. “Those oaks are the dominating feature of the property,” says Sanchez, “so we designed around them.”
At the same time, Gibbens and Bruder were addressing the renovation of the cottage, as well as the construction of a pool and patio areas. “When we started excavating for the pool, we discovered a number of massive boulders,” says Bruder, who ended up using the quarried rock to clad the exterior of the screening house. “We thought, ‘The stone’s native; let’s keep it on the property.’ ”
Gibbens and his team completed phase one just before Thanksgiving, layering in the last little details as Rosen’s guests arrived to enjoy the holiday. (The pool and screening room were finished the following year.) The project is a hit according to the homeowner, who delights in hosting long weekends and casual premieres. But it’s when he’s entertaining an audience of one that the house truly resonates: “I love it most when it rains,” says Rosen. “I sit by the fireplace in the living room and read, and I find that very peaceful.”