Total Zen: At One with Nature


Natural Connection in Santa Barbara

The rugged topography of a Santa Barbara property, along with the artwork and furnishings inside, proves integral to this home's design.

Entry Door with Six Walnut Slabs

Astronomical considerations aside, the couple envisioned a home at peace with its surroundings. Accordingly, Walker chose a door fashioned from six slabs of walnut and a live-edge walnut-slab bench—both look as if they were just brought in from the forest—to make the entry’s opening statement. “These elements have a strong dialogue with nature,” says the designer. To reinforce the natural connection, she selected earth-colored porcelain for the floors in most of the living spaces, plus pebble tiles in the master bathroom, alluding to the outdoors. 

For a residence in the mountains above Santa Barbara, designer Sarah Walker chose six walnut slabs for the entry door fabricated by
Architectural Millwork. Architects Linda Taalman and Alan Koch combined prefabricated aluminum components by Bosch Rexroth with glass and cast-in-place concrete for the structure. Builder Paul Franz choreographed the complex installation of the pieces.

Outdoor Living and Dining Space Sheltered from the Elements with Fireplace

Compared with the relative ease of assembling the glass and aluminum pieces, though, the concrete additions tested builder Paul Franz. “Because the concrete was integral to the house, the openings for lighting, mechanical cases and finishes for pocket doors all had to be determined ahead of time,” he explains. “Each monolith was a project onto itself, and getting the timing of the installation right was challenging.” 

In the outdoor living and dining space, two
Janus et Cie lounge chairs flank a teak root table from DAO to create a striking vignette that suggests the interplay between the polished and organic elements in the home. Sheltered from the elements, the area is intended to function year-round.

Living Room Connected to the Outside with Sculptures and Fireplace

Rolf Benz sofas seem to float above the living area’s Moroccan rug from Lawrence of La Brea. Walker designed the walnut-slat coffee table made by Artistic Concepts. Metal sculptures by Fletcher Benton flank the fireplace, while above, a piece from Media Décor in Fort Lauderdale hides the television.

Steel and Stone Perspective Kitchen with Clerestory Window

Along with the couple’s desire to have an ongoing tête-a-tête with nature came a ranch-meets-Manhattan design directive to be peppered with ryokan (Japanese inn) references. In response, Walker created clean, uncluttered interiors intended to balance organic materials and modern elements. So, in the living room, contemporary wool chenille sofas topped with Kuba cloth pillows trend warm. “Leather would have been too slick. The use of texture and pattern takes the edge off,” Walker says. In deference to the ryokan request, the slatted-wood coffee table, interjections of red in the artwork and dining room sideboard, a sliding walnut screen in the master bathroom, and a master dressing room tansu custom-designed by Walker subtly evoke the Far East. 

Large-format floor tiles from
Buena Tile + Stone pave the floor of the Bulthaup kitchen, which features an oven, microwave, warming drawer and cooktop by Gaggenau; the hoods are by Vent-a-Hood. All the appliances are from Ferguson, the sink is Julien with a Dornbracht faucet, and topping the counters is EuroStone quartz.

Dining Room with Rocky View and Contemporary Pieces

Countering the massive walls are long spans of galvanized steel commonly used in airport roofing that make up the ceilings. “It is very reflective and changes colors depending on the time of day,” says Taalman, noting they added Cor-Ten steel on the fascia and doors. “In contrast to the glass and aluminum, the imperfections of the concrete and the rusted steel speak to the natural world because of their abilities to change through aging and the patina that develops over time.” 

Running parallel to the custom table crafted by
Rincon Engineering in the dining area is a light from Plug. Set into a niche is an Iva Gueorguieva mixed-media work from Acme above a buffet fabricated by Artistic Concepts. The Zele Company chairs are from Twentieth.

Aluminum-Frame Windows with a Rock View

Before there were fabrics and furnishings, however, there was a structure to contain it all. Early in the process, the owners were smitten with the refined design of the IT House. The brainchild of architects Linda Taalman and Alan Koch, formerly of Taalman Koch Architecture, the structure uses prefabricated components that have minimal impact on the Earth. “We liked the extruded-aluminum framing system, the glass walls and the environmentally conscious aspects,” says the wife. “But we wanted to modify the design to include thick concrete walls.” The architectural team embraced the idea as the perfect remedy to ground the building to the site, connecting it physically and visually to the limestone features around the property. “We colored the walls to match the local cliffs, so they look like they are pieces carved out from the landscape,” says Koch. 

Throughout, the architects chose aluminum-frame windows from
Fleetwood Windows and Doors, installed by JNL Glass, to match the home’s aluminum framing. Forming a seating group in the wife’s office are a daybed by Blu Dot, a Wisteria glass coffee table and a petrified-wood side table from DAO.

Quiet Retreat Master Bedroom With Wooden Headboard

Placed in the south corner of the house, the master bedroom is a quiet retreat. DAO supplied the live-edge Japanese sycamore headboard and made the sycamore bedside table bases, which were designed by Walker. The hemp rug is from Lawrence of La Brea; the artwork by Aaron Morse is from Acme.

Bathroom Perspective Shot with Pebble-Like Tile

Walker chose pebble-like tile from Walker Zanger to bring a Zen feeling to the master bathroom. Artistic Concepts fashioned the custom vanity. The sink is Kohler; the Lulu faucet by Dornbracht is from Ferguson.

Covered Living and Dining Area with Stylish Pieces

Landscape designer Kathleen Ferguson extended the Cor-Ten material into the landscape, using it for the distinctive water features dotting the grounds. She also persuaded the homeowners to install a Cor-Ten steel walkway. “It was definitely a bold experiment, but the husband had the idea to cast it into concrete slabs to mitigate the heat,” she says, noting that the slabs dissipate the heat during the day and radiate heat at night. The steel enhances the transition between the architecture and the landscape, as does the gravel on the perimeter walkways, which gives the impression of the mountain eroding down the site. 

For the covered living and dining area, Walker opted for furnishings that were stylish and did not read as outdoor pieces. However, her choices, such as a dining table by
West Barnstable Tables and the Janus et Cie dining chairs and sofa, strike a more rustic tone. Landscape designer Kathleen Ferguson incorporated several water features into her concept for the property. Paysage executed Ferguson’s vision, installing the landscape.

Just a short drive up a steep winding road from Santa Barbara’s soft sandy beaches and swaying palm trees lies a 32-acre site so rugged that it’s hard to believe the two worlds are only 25 minutes apart. Emerging from the limestone outcroppings is a glass, aluminum and concrete house so elegant in its simplicity that it barely disturbs the natural environment. The job of marrying the home’s interiors with the dramatic setting fell to designer Sarah Walker, who immediately recognized the challenge before her. “Having a strong connection with the outdoors was critical,” she says. “The site is very dramatic and rugged, rather than nurturing. I knew the house had to have a conversation with the landscape, or it would forever remain disconnected.” 

It wasn’t just the jaw-dropping surroundings or the ocean views that inspired the clients to acquire the property. No, simply put, the husband is an engineer and astronomer who thought it was the perfect setting for an observatory. “We bought the property because it’s above the marine layer,” says the wife. The couple, in fact, also own a beach house at the bottom of the road. “Where we sleep is often dependent on the phases of the moon,” she says. When there is little or no moon, they stay at the mountain home for optimal stargazing. 

The result is a house so seamlessly integrated with its surroundings that the hillside feels like just another design feature and no one questions the boulders that form part of the entry sequence. As Walker points out, “There’s a perfect interplay between the indoor and outdoor worlds, and an ongoing sense of not knowing where one stops and the other begins.” 

Mindy Pantiel