Outdoor Design Principles of a Santa Barbara Architect

We are fortunate to live in Santa Barbara, its weather allows for nearly year round outdoor living. As Architects we like to take advantage of this and design homes with a great connection with the outdoor either with big areas of glass or with walls that can be folded or slid away. We prefer multi-sliders that slide away into a wall pocket, opening the interior and connecting you to an outdoor room used for dining, lounging or entertaining.

fleetwood multislider

fleetwood multislider image by fleetwood

This looks best when the tracks are recessed into the ceiling and floor creating a seamless material transition between interior and exterior. See how the stone flooring in the image flows from inside to outside? This leads the eye outside and “borrows” space, making the interior feel more expansive and connected with the outside world. Outside you might set your dining arrangement to create an easy flow for your family or guests to enjoy your outdoor space but within easy reach of the kitchen. Companies like Nana Wall and Fleetwood  are provide high quality solutions for this type of construction.










Now that you have a good indoor outdoor flow its important to provide some scale for your outdoor space. We like to consider these spaces to be “rooms” for living, lounging or dining and we design with specific uses and furniture arrangements in mind. If the area is too big your furnishings will appear to be lost in space, too little area and the space will feel like an afterthought. When you get it just right people are drawn to these spaces by their intimate quality.  It’s important to define the edges of  outdoor rooms with planted areas, changes in materials or with the design of the home.

Santa Barbara Architecture Sierra Madre Interior View

Sierra Madre Interior Rendering

Our Sierra Madre project is all about connecting the interior with the exterior. The project uses continuous flooring and ceiling materials, multi-sliders, the addition of a new deck area with shade structures and fire element to provide a great place to relax or entertain guests while looking out at the amazing view of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands.

santa barbara modern remodel

View from back yard

Give us a call and let us show you what we can do for you and your home!

Our Favorite Modern Architecture / Design Blogs and Design Sites

Here’s a quick list of design blogs and sites that we like. We often draw inspiration for modern and contemporary design from these sources and wanted to share. You might notice that it’s not all architecture, we like design and appreciate all forms of design; fashion, furniture, lifestyle…

We encourage you to check these sites out, you might catch a bit of inspiration for your own project and lifestyle;












Building a Master Suite Addition in Santa Barbara

Building a Master Bedroom and Bathroom Addition or Suite in Santa Barbara

Economical Home Additions in Santa Barbara

This is the plight of the young Santa Barbara couple with a growing family. They have good jobs, plenty of friends and love living in Santa Barbara. They bought a house and it was a stretch at the time but they feel good to have a piece of Santa Barbara to call their own. Everything is great until one day… the house is starting to feel small. It might be another kid on the way or the home office is taking up too much room but it’s time to start looking for more room. They might start looking for a new house that can fit their needs but as most find out jumping up in size carries a hefty price tag. Some people find that this isn’t an option or that they really like the location where they have been living. So what is a young family to do?

A common approach is to add onto the house in some way. Most often this is a master bedroom and bathroom. We have done a few of these in the past , building in Santa Barbara is not cheap and you may not need an Architect but we wanted to share our strategies for providing the best design on a young family’s budget.

The Bridge

The most expensive part of an addition is demolishing and rebuilding part of the house that was just fine. This is work that results in zero gain for you and you’ve spent part of your tight budget on something that provides little face value. Only touch the existing house where you need to, create a “bridge” to separate the new from the existing. This strategy was developed to allow you to spend more of your money on new construction. The plan below shows how we proposed to add onto this typical Mesa home in Santa Barbara. The addition only touches the existing house where needed while providing a comfortable master bedroom and bath. Aside from a coat of paint we left the rest of the house alone, the client plans on tackling the rest of the house as a remodel some time in the future. As a bonus we were able to create a protected deck area transforming the small house by adding a large outdoor entertainment space all while maintaining a large backyard space for the kids to play in.



Reduce circulation space

Find a way to remove hallways, vestibules and other extraneous space from the floor plan. Try to combine functions to efficiently build your spaces, circulate through rooms not hallways. You shouldn’t pay for what you don’t need.

Consider a flat or single pitch roof

Whether the existing house architecture is traditional, ranch, modern or contemporary design consider a flat or single sloped roof. A single low sloped shed roof or flat roof is easier to engineer and build. It also allows you to take advantage of new PVC roofing materials that are incredibly long lasting, quick to install and when used in reflective colors can dramatically reduce the heat gain thru the roof.

We have put this to use in the Vaquero Residence addition and remodel and The Modern Beach Shack the design resulted in higher ceilings, used less lumber, required less labor and will be completed faster than a typical sloped roof.

View From Street

View From Street

Consider skipping the tub

Fewer master baths have showers and tubs in them these days, how often do you find yourself taking a soak in a tub? We suggest skipping the tub and having a larger shower instead this allows the bathroom be more compact. This move saves money in many ways; the cost of the tub, fixtures, tile work, water lines and drain line. When done right a shower can be a great design element and be incredibly functional at the same time. This image below is from our Hope Ranch Residence


Consider reducing or not using recessed lighting in the bedroom

Overhead lighting in the bedroom isn’t necessary for most people. We have found that well placed floor lamps and bedside lamps can provide what light is needed. Half hot outlets can be placed strategically to allow lighting to be switched from the wall and at the bedside. Every recessed can removed from the design saves money in material and in electrician labor which you can then spend where you want to.


These are just a few of our budget saving tips, give us a call and let us put them to work for you.


[email protected]


A Checklist for Buying Property in Santa Barbara

We get a lot of calls from people who are looking at a piece of property for sale in the Santa Barbara area and are wondering if they could add on, develop or change the home to suit their needs. There are many possible issues that can affect the final decision of whether to buy or not.  Aside from trusting your gut instinct It’s helpful to think like an Architect when looking at property. What follows is a short checklist of items we normally advise a buyer to consider and research:

Title Report:

This should describe the property boundaries, any easements, CC&R’s and any liens placed on the property. Easements can be controlled by utility companies or neighboring property owners, it’s important to know where these are to avoid problems in the future.

Septic System or public sewer service?

If the property is on a septic system it may limit the size of an addition. The system is typically sized to service the number of existing plumbing fixtures and any additional fixtures added will require upsizing the septic system. Occasionally finding the location of the septic system is a problem, we’ve had a few projects where there was a vague notion of where it was, they are not well documented. Often all that is available is a crude “treasure map” style sketch showing X marks the spot 50 feet from that tree and 20 feet from this rock.

Electrical service:

Is the electrical panel old or undersized?

Older homes may have a 100 amp panel and may still have old wiring. Modern homes demand much more power to support all the TV’s, lighting etc. and a 200 amp panel is almost mandatory.

Are the utility lines serving the property overhead? Depending on the overall cost of the project the City of Santa Barbara may require these lines to be placed underground at your cost.

Height Limits:

Most areas allow two stories however some property is located in areas with height limits due the zoning or the topography. CC&R’s can also place limits on number of stories. It is important to know that zoning does not guarantee that property may be developed to the maximum, neighborhood compatibility can trump zoning.

Floor Area Ratio (FAR):

The City of Santa Barbara places a limit on the interior area that can be built on a property based on the size of the lot. The County also places FAR limits on some areas like Montecito. It is possible to gain approval to build beyond these limits but the process can be lengthy.

Open Yard Requirement:

The City of Santa Barbara requires residences to have a significant open yard area (1,250 s.f. in some cases) with minimum dimensions and must be within the rear yard. This can impact the buildable area even on a large lot.

Topography and natural features:

Does the property have steep slopes? Construction is generally limited on steep hillsides. Large trees may require permits to be removed and streams have additional setbacks. All of which can further limit the buildable area.

How we can help

We know that in todays real estate market sometimes there isn’t much time to contemplate all of these factors. So give us a call and we can talk about the possibilities for your site or walk the site with you. We are happy to help assess the development potential of a property and provide a quick zoning summary.

Like what we do? Let us show you what we can do for you, get in touch!


[email protected]

The Process of Architecture, design review and building a house in Santa Barbara

We get a lot of questions from non Architects about the design process and building a house in Santa Barbara so wanted to share our experience with you. The process is normally broken down into 5 steps or phases as Architects like to call them, these phases take the project from the first meeting through the design process, permitting and construction. From the client’s point of view it may seem a bit odd, why so many steps? can’t we skip a few and get right to the permitting? We hope the following helps to shed some light on each of these phases and shows why they are each are important steps for the project and ultimately happy clients.


The Interview

This is usually a conversation either a phone call or a meeting where the client and Architect try and figure out if they are a good fit for each other. The client may have seen a project or been referred to the Architect by a friend but as always a good conversation will give you a better sense of each other. Information will be traded and normally the client explains what they would like to do, we like to try and get a sense of the budget, project scope and schedule at this time. Sometimes the scope is too large for the budget or the schedule is not realistic and we will warn the client immediately, thats our job, no one benefits from jumping into a project with false expectations. That being said more often than not the client is well educated about construction costs and is prepared for the project. Generally if they have been referred to us it is because they like what we do and prefer a modern or contemporary style of Architecture. If everyone gets along and the project is a good fit for us then we ask if the client would like us to write a proposal for the work. We then generate a written proposal for the project with a fee for each phase of work.

Due Diligence and Information Gathering

This is when we gather as much information as we can about the project. It doesn’t matter if the project is a small addition like a master bedroom and bath or a brand new ground up custom house, we start the same way. We visit the site, photograph and take as-built measurements of the existing structure if there is one and create a cad drawing for our use. Sometimes a surveyor is called in to provide more information on the site boundaries or building locations if that can’t be determined from previous drawings. We visit the archives and pull any drawings that might be helpful and we talk with the city/county planning dept. and review all applicable land use and zoning requirements. This can be different information depending on the project location, for instance a project in the City of Santa Barbara and a project in the County of Santa Barbara will have different zoning and require different planning review processes. All this is coalesced into a spreadsheet summary, this becomes the project bible and shows how much s.f. can be added, setbacks, height limits etc. The survey, as-built, setbacks and any other zoning information is overlaid onto the site plan drawing and is printed to scale.


The initial concept design

We take the client wish list and the ideas discussed during the interview and create an initial concept. This is where all those late nights in Architectural school comes into play, we brainstorm and break down the project to its essence to generate a concept. This can be an image or short “one liner” evocative of the design direction of the project or a combination of the two. This becomes the piece that is tacked up on the wall and whenever there is a question about the design we refer back to this. Diagrams are generated and applied to the site plan, supporting images are pulled and added. Sometimes a perspective sketch is created if it helps to communicate the concept. Then we meet with the client and review the concept diagram and imagery. Sometimes we nail it and the client loves it “thats why we came to you!”. Sometimes it takes a couple of meetings to dial it in but we always get to the point where the client is happy and we have provided a unique solution for the design. As always, the budget is in our mind when we design but this is when we typically ask a contractor to take a look and give us a broad brushstroke sense of where the project budget is. Typically at this point we will have drawn a site plan, floorplan and rough elevations of the exterior of the building.

Agency Process

This is when we introduce the project to the city or county and make the first submittal in whichever process is required, this is usually dependant on the site and scale of the proposed project. Some processes are short, some are long, designing and building a house in Santa Barbara is not easy or a quick process. Based on our experience and research we define the planning milestones in the project schedule and try to move the project forward efficiently thru the required steps. Most projects require approval from a design review board or a neighborhood association. Some find this difficult and frustrating, we look at it as an opportunity to educate and inform as the work we do challenges the norm. More often than not we hear thanks from the design board members for bringing them something interesting and good to review for a change.


After we review the project budget with the client and have approval to move ahead we begin to transition into real architectural drawings. The structural engineer is brought on board and begins their work, we continue to work closely with them until the project is complete. As we develop the drawings we continually look back at the concept image to make sure we are moving in the right direction with material selections and all the little decisions that need to be made along the way. We meet several times with the client to review the interiors and refine the exterior appearance to determine things like; what type of windows, which ones open, 36″ or 48″ wide fridge, radiant heating or forced air, tile or wood floor? Typically we visit the design board one more time during this phase and may need to respond to planning dept questions to complete the land use application.


Our typical set of permit drawings is a stripped down drawing set with enough detail to obtain a building permit. The building dept isn’t concerned with the interiors or the majority of the details, their concern is for life and safety. Does the building meet the state and local codes? will the building be safe in an earthquake? We submit these drawings to the building dept to get the first round of the review process underway, this can take 4 weeks or more. While this is going on we continue to work thru the remaining details and specifications to create a very thorough construction set, covering everything from the small (color of the tile grout on the floor) to the big(the slope of the roof).


After compiling our set of drawings  and specifications we  work with the client to interview and select a general contractor. Normally we like to pair the right builder with the project earlier in the process, the builder then has a chance to provide their input for construction options and budget options. Sometimes the client wants to wait and ask several contractors to provide bids for the project at this time. Sometimes the client knows exactly who they want to build the project and they trust they will get a fair price.


The real work begins, the permit is pulled and the construction starts. Normally a project of a decent size will require significant time from us to answer questions from the contractor, clarify the intent of the design and communicate any changes to the plans. On larger projects we will review progress, review change orders or changes to the schedule or budget on behalf of the client. Our job is to protect the interests of the client and the project. We visit the site regularly and often times will suggest changes that will improve the project or options to meet the budget, it is where we can add value based on our talent and experience. We are involved until the the keys are passed over to client.