There is something mysterious and magical in the air in Montecito, the hillside Santa Barbara playground for California’s well-to-do set. At one eight-bedroom 1895 Colonial Revival home, that feeling is built in. It’s not officially documented that storied architect Stanford White—the McKim, Mead & White principal whose firm was responsible for monumental projects such as the renovation of the White House’s West and East wings—designed the expansive estate. But he had done a previous Pennsylvania home for the original owner, Alexander Blair Thaw, and it is rumored White was asked for at least some initial sketches for this property before he was tragically murdered.
Regardless of its true auteur, the two-story home stands out among its neighbors—not only for its rambling size, an effect of several past additions, but also for its Gilded Age architecture. Its shingled façade, pilasters, and portico are decidedly East Coast, unlike the Spanish and Mediterranean elements that inform Montecito’s other landmarks. When the current owners first bought the home in 2018, they knew an East Coast design team was needed to turn it into the comfortable family abode they wanted. The wife, a certified master gardener and former chair of Nantucket by Design, rang up AD100 architect Gil Schafer and designer Michelle Holland, both of whom she had met at design events on the Atlantic island. Soon, a dream team was forged to tackle the project.
When the design process started in the fall of 2019, architecturally there were two choices, according to the New York–based Schafer. “We could unravel the whole thing and take it completely apart, or we could try to work with what it is and bring some of the character and charm back.” Ultimately, the light touch approach seemed best. An updated front door made the entrance from the grand motor court more friendly, while elegant new moldings, wainscoting, and French doors to the garden brought glamour back to the first-floor common spaces. Elsewhere, a sweeping archway between the large kitchen and a newly reimagined informal dining room created an easy yet period-evocative family gathering place.
Some of Schafer’s largest changes, which he and project lead Carl Carfi implemented during the pandemic with the help of local architect Anthony Grumbine of Harrison Design, were the removal of a messy sunroom addition and the construction of a shingled pool house cabana, which was connected to an existing one by a new outdoor dining pergola. “We were really just trying to create a backdrop for Michelle and [the wife] to work their magic with the decoration,” Schafer notes.
That decoration began with several meetings between designer and homeowner about wallpaper. Each bedroom in the house has a custom one, designed by Holland in collaboration with artist Kevin Paulsen. Complex layers of color and pattern define the interiors, and the entry sets the stage. A golden Kravet grasscloth that Paulsen stenciled with floral bursts wraps the walls around the original banister stair. A gilded mirror and a lantern-style pendant by Jamb add to the turn-of-the-century feel.