Creative Spark

When a wildfire destroyed a Santa Barbara, Calif., neighborhood, one affected resident had a tough choice to make: rebuild or relocate. The owner had invested in three remodels on his former home throughout nearly 30 years with the help of Santa Barbara construction company, Allen Associates. Dennis Allen, president of Allen Associates, was a longtime friend, and the owner asked him to help assess the situation.

The expense of rebuilding combined with the three- to five-year projections for the neighborhood to regenerate influenced the owner’s decision to move. Despite his recent experience with the local fire, he chose a 2,400-square-foot home only a few blocks away. “The owner is an outdoor adventurer and this is a beautifully wooded region of Santa Barbara, so he wanted to stay in his playground,” Allen explains. “The current home sits on a beautiful property with a creek running through it, and there’s a larger backyard, which was better for family entertaining.”

The owner had paired Allen Associates and Santa Barbara-based Billy + Warner Architects for his previous home’s remodels and brought them back together to transform the 1950s-era Ranch-style house into an airy space with contemporary, clean lines. One of the owner’s first objectives on the remodel was to lower his risk of future fire damage.

To make the property as fire-safe as possible, the team removed on-site wooden structures, such as small trellises near the house, a potting shed and wooden fence. They kept the home’s existing wood siding but wrapped the house in a noncombustible material and the entire exterior with stucco. Because the eaves were made of wood, they covered the bottom of the eaves with stucco, as well. The crew also installed new dual-paned windows with anodized aluminum frames throughout the home. The existing roof already was fire-resistant so no improvements were made to it.

Grand Room Recipe

The main living area contained a small living room, kitchen, dining room and family room. Initially, Billy + Warner discussed removing a major wall to combine these areas, but the owner thought it would exceed his budget. When the owner’s daughter visited the house, she convinced her father to take the wall down and open the space to the roofline creating a cathedral ceiling. The process added expense to the project, but the architects and remodeler collaborated to provide a cost-conscious and elegant solution. Eliminating the wall exposed two structural columns in the center of the space. The original approach was to add a structural steel beam so the columns could be removed and leave the space completely open. The steel would have added $25,000 to the project, which was financially unfeasible, so the team had to retain the prominent columns in the center of the room.

Allen Associates’ finish carpenter suggested they clad the columns in 3/4-inch-thick white oak—the same material that would cover the floors and kitchen cabinets—and he devised a decorative base so the columns would blend into the space rather than detract from it.

“That’s one of the things that happens in the middle of construction: You find opportunities,” says Richard Warner, principal of Billy + Warner. “We had worked with the same team members from Allen Associates on the past remodel and they had done an amazing job. We had a lot of trust in them, and we knew we were all working together toward the larger goal.”

Electrical wiring also created a complication. The electrical panel was on the north side of the house, and the majority of wiring ran through the removed interior wall to reach the south side. Ben Cervantes, project manager at Allen Associates, says they installed a boxed ridge beam and rerouted the wiring inside it. “This worked to carry and conceal most of the wires, but in one area part of the wiring was tied into the concrete slab. We couldn’t reroute it up to the ceiling, so we saw-cut a channel into the slab and routed that section of wiring beneath the floor.”

The owner wanted to bring the property’s lush outside surroundings into the grand space, so a 12-foot-wide and 6-foot, 9-inch-high glass wall of four-panel anodized aluminum bifolding doors open the room to nature. A new residential storefront window went in adjacent to the folding wall to further bring in additional daylighting, and a new 2 1/4-inch-thick oak door was added that leads to the terrace.

“The owner’s interior emphasis was on materials rather than décor, and the grand room’s design became a recipe of light colors, simplicity of lines and openness,” Warner says. Planks of 5 1/2-inch-wide tongue-and-groove white oak flooring brighten the space. Because clear matte finishes actually give white oak a darker appearance, a small amount of white pigment was added to mimic the color of unfinished white oak.

Light Home

The architects wanted to limit the visual distractions of a typical kitchen and create a coherent theme for the overall space. They reduced the amount of upper cupboards and put in flush-faced white oak cabinets to create clean lines. Open shelves with subdued lighting tie the kitchen to the rest of the grand room.

Appliances were retained and readapted. The refrigerator’s front was replaced with Douglas fir laminate. Above the existing stove, the crew boxed in the exhaust hood and drywalled around it, tapering it in by 4 inches on either side to give it a contemporary look and make it visually recede. An L-shaped island directed inward to the kitchen partially blocks the view of the stove, dishwasher and cabinets from the living room. A new sink and new fixtures were added, as well as white granite countertops.

The team refaced two existing fireplaces at either end of the grand room in dark gray stucco. Each fireplace also has a section of “floating” shelves mounted without brackets standing 1/2-inch away from the wall. To achieve the effect, the crew drilled lag bolts through the drywall into the studs and cut the heads off the bolts so the ends stuck out of the wall like pins. Then they drilled holes into the back of each shelf to align with the bolts and added epoxy to secure them in place.

Overhead, old skylights were replaced with low-E insulated glass. The roof rafters and tongue-and-groove decking were painted white.

The track-lighting treatment completed the room’s clean appearance. Allen Associates routed a groove into the rafter and set the track inside. “The cuttings had to be precise, so we made templates from the track and overlaid them directly onto the rafters. We cut the grooves using a router with flush cutter right through our template. The process was so exact, we didn’t even need to caulk it. We just screwed it in,” Cervantes says.

Stair treads were replaced with white oak, and the window on the mid-level landing was doubled in size to look out on an exterior garden. The window on the upstairs landing was extended up to the roofline. Combined with the new grand room’s alteration, the effect achieved an open, light space throughout the home.

“Our combined work on the prior remodels gave the owner faith in what this team could accomplish,” says Mark Billy, principal of Billy + Warner. “By establishing a solid design and construction team early on, you work in concert instead of creating a competitive environment and get better results.”