July 04, 2022 4 min read

The Mediterranean climate has pulled me towards mid-California, like filings to a magnet, since I was sixteen years old. Finally I was fortunate enough to find a spot high up in the hills of Santa Barbara where I could make a sanctuary amid my own western Arcadia. The spectacular view of the harbor and sea, and the natural surroundings, are a joyful rational for the colors I used both in the house and the garden: shades of periwinkle blue, silver-gray, white, terra-cotta, and beige. The exterior stucco of the house is a dusty sandalwood color that is the exact shade of the bark of the eucalyptus that grow in the heavily wooded parts of my garden. Nearer the house a mix of solanum, rosemary, lavender, and gray santolina mingle happily under the canopies of umbrella pines, Portuguese cork oaks, and silver-gray olive trees. The same colors, especially the lavender blues, come indoors as upholstery, slipcovers, and tapestry fabrics; and the color of the terra-cotta tiles that cover all the outdoor terraces and indoor floors offsets the cooler colors and reminds me of the arid mountains that can be seen in the distance.

Looking across what is actually one huge room reveals three zones: the dining room, entry hall, and living room. The walls of the living room are painted soft putty-gray-beige, all the other “rooms” are white. The terra-cotta floor tiles unify the indoor and outdoor spaces, contributing to the illusion that the house is a pavilion and also that it is larger than it is in reality.

The north-south axis leads from the motor court through the entry zone of the house. Partly as an extension of the dining area, and partly an extension of the living room, this area is given added interest by the pale cream Oushak carpet, a pair of antique Continental chairs, and a collection of tomato-colored leather trunks and boxes stacked against the periwinkle-blue high-backed, slipcovered sofa.

The floor-to-ceiling 12-foot-high glass windows and doors turn the house into a vitrine so that the view seems to fill the living room. The comfortable furnishings were chosen for their simple geometric shapes, and the colors of the fabrics to be sympathetic with the flowers that tumble over the edge of the terrace. One of my signature touches is the picture that appears to be temporarily propped up on the mantlepiece rather than being hung permanently above it.

The kitchen area, tucked into a corner of the ground floor, is largely veiled from view by a gray voile curtain. The cantilevered end of the heavy work-counter doubles as a table at which one can sit and eat.

A minimalist discipline was applied to the many planes of this corner of my bedroom. As in a painting by Mondrian, negative and positive spaces play an equal part, either as walls, windows, or the antique screen.

A bust of Sir Francis Drake, the first English-speaking person to see the Pacific, now views the harbor of Santa Barbara from a corner of my bedroom. The modular, precision-hung views of the Roman Pantheon above the bed are softened by the bedspread, a romantic pastoral view of woodland in grisaille. Thus classical order is juxtaposed with romance.

The antique ruined column in my bathroom is placed so that it becomes the visual reward at the end of an axis. In addition, its imperfections and age make a sharp contrast to the uncompromising modernity of its setting. I hit upon the idea of hanging the shower curtains on lengths of rustproof chain so that steam can escape easily and the bathroom is kept airy.

The south-facing terrace, which runs the length of the main house, is paved with the same terra-cotta that is used indoors. The strictly linear, international style of the architecture of the house is offset by the romance of the tied-back drapery, the nineteenth-century French garden chairs, and the ornaments – the Turkish marble basin that acts as the bird bath and the green-painted miniature urns on the table. I often like to introduce something fragile and perishable – in this case the drapery that moves in the wind – to contrast with, and thus exaggerate, the permanent, unyielding structure of the house. The setting unabashedly conjures memories of the movie sets of Samson and Delilah.

A covered passageway, cooled and softened by climbing plants, leads to the guest house.

Made cozy by the presence of the fireplace, the simple living room and bedroom in the guest house also suggest a holiday escape. The British officer’s canvas-and-leather campaign chairs are like old friends; they lived in my room when I was a student at Yale. The leather Shelter sofa, long a part of my own furniture collection, unfolds into a bed for extra guests.

The blue flowers of Solanum rantonnetii‘Grandiflorum’, which are native to California, play at the feet of eucalyptus trees near the guest house, their trunks framing a miniature umbrella pine tree on the terrace. My enduring attachment to the ancient world is symbolized by this small potted tree; it reminds me of the huge, parent versions that surround the nymphaeum of Hadrian’s Villa near Rome.