A Wave of the Tropics in Santa Barbara

With its pristine sparkling waters and white coral sands, the islands in the Republic of Seychelles have been described as heaven on earth. Set in the Indian Ocean approximately 1,000 miles east of Kenya, this breathtaking archipelago was the childhood home of a Santa Barbara, Calif., resident who wanted to recapture the Seychelle islands’ sensibilities in her current surroundings. Folding the open contemporary lines of island living into a 1952 ranch bungalow required a thoughtful approach, and the owner selected a team that protected both sides of the equation.

Vice president and sales director of Santa Barbara-based Allen Associates Ian Cronshaw has traveled extensively in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, which gave him a firsthand grasp on the light, open style the owner sought. Because she wanted to remain highly involved in the renovation of her home, the owner helped Cronshaw research materials for the project’s construction, as well as for the interior decor.

”In the tropics, it’s hot, humid and often cloudy. The combination of humidity and dark colors makes a space seem to close in on you, and the ceilings in this house are very low, so we wanted a bright white ceiling and walls with light colored floors,” explains Cronshaw. “We were also on a tight budget so we focused on accents such as the doors and art to give the space life.”

The 1,575-sq.-ft. house’s original design was a series of small cramped rooms. Dave Mendro, partner at Carpinteria, Calif.’s Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis Architects, removed interior walls and reconfigured the home with a plan to combine the kitchen, dining and living rooms into one larger space. Mendro took full advantage of Santa Barbara’s temperate climate and designed the home to open up to a courtyard in the back of the house to extend the space outside.

“This was a great, old classic ’50s-ranch style bungalow with a broad, low-pitched roof, exposed rafters and a wide-plank board ceiling; I loved the bones of it,” affirmed Mendro. “My challenge was to preserve the old character but create a modern home that is more livable by today’s standards.”

Setting Things Straight

The house sits on a 5-in.-thick concrete slab, and one of the corners had settled. The settling caused the frame to tilt, pushing windows and doors out of plumb and skewing the roof line. In addition, the living room sagged approximately 1 in., and new tile floors required a level surface for proper installation. Jacking up the entire slab would have been too expensive.

“First, we removed the drywall and much of the exterior. Then, we freed up the plate that was bolted to the slab and jacked up that plate with car jacks,” Cronshaw says. “When we redid the floor, we floated the area that had sagged with mortar so the tile floor ended up flush with the float of mortar. Then we cranked down the bolts again.”

Mendro says that in modern home interiors, level sight lines are critical because there is no trim to cover imperfections. The team also made slight adjustments to walls and ran laser level measurements to ensure existing and new windows and doors would be plumb. “With modern interiors, every connection is exposed. It takes a certain kind of builder to understand that concept. To take an older house and transform it this way takes a lot of thought, and everything has to be done right,” he says.

New Access

Bifold doors and windows were added throughout the house. In the combination living/dining/kitchen area, four types of custom openings were added: a swinging door, bifold doors, a bifold window over the sink and an interior door. The differing systems of side hinges and bifold tracks below and above had to be carefully considered to ensure the various openings lined up.

With a span as large as the bifold door in the dining/living area, typically a 12-in. wood beam would be required. With already low ceiling heights, the needed beam would create doors no more than 6 ft. high. Using a 3-in. steel header, the team maximized the door height.

While the drywall was off, the team also took advantage of the open access to redo the electrical wiring and install new insulation to make the house more comfortable.

The original gravel roof was bowed and sagging with deep overhangs and little insulation. Allen Associates replaced the roof and decided to fur it up to straighten sagging areas and allow electrical and plumbing to access hard-to-reach spots. The team chose a standing-seam metal roof in a dark gray color with rain chains instead of gutters and added 3 1/2 in. of rigid insulation, which had a noticeable impact on the home’s comfort level.

Elegant Textures

The owner wanted to reface some of the exterior in stone, but Santa Barbara sandstone was not the right aesthetic. She found a local supplier of coral stone from the Dominican Republic, which became the material for the surface of the exterior patios, walkway to the front door and stone veneer on the front faade.

For the front entry, the owner wanted a mahogany door with vertical slats in keeping with the tropical ambiance. Initially, the team thought it would have to be custom made, but Cronshaw found a stock door at a local supplier that fit the bill perfectly and set the precedent for mahogany on the bifold doors.

“When you work on a full-house remodel with such a small space, the timeline becomes really compressed for custom-built items such as the bifold doors, cabinets and master bedroom units,” says Cronshaw. “Organization is critical. We had to make sure lead times were set well in advance so products arrived on time and work didn’t come to a standstill.”

To keep the clean, simple lines on the inside, the team left the 2 by 6 tongue-and-groove ceiling from the 1950s exposed, refinished it and added track lighting in key areas.

Limestone was selected for the door sills in the kitchen and bathroom. The owner wanted a detailed seahorse coat of arms, the house address and name of the villa carved in limestone as well. On one of his trips to Bali, Cronshaw found a master carver who performed the intricate work in two weeks for a reasonable price. He brought them back and inlaid them into the entry gate’s plaster wall.

When the $480,600 remodel was finished, the home was still a compact 1,627 sq. ft. but felt much larger. Mendro says that it’s refreshing to see the trend toward maintaining existing structures and smaller living spaces. “Sustainable practices have people adapting existing homes to their needs rather than expending the energy to create something new. This is a great remodel and demonstrates the shift in focus from a bigger home to smaller but of better quality.”


KJ Fields writes from Portland, Ore., about remodeling and design.