Tour a Montecito Vacation Home Meant for Relaxing
In sunny Southern California, Burnham Design infuses a family’s getaway with a rich pastiche of worldly influences and geometric details
There are no rules in Montecito, Southern California, architecturally speaking. It’s a region where shingled Victorian houses are situated next to modern white cubes and Craftsman bungalows. Georgian revivals and Spanish Colonial abodes are as much a part of the landscape as the palm trees, but are still very much open to unique interpretation.
When a family approached designer Betsy Burnham to reimagine their Montecito vacation home in a way that would honor its classic heritage, Burnham, who was raised on the East Coast but settled in the warmth of California’s embrace, was up for the job. “I once heard my style referred to as ‘a bit country club, a bit rock and roll,’ which I found amusing,” the designer says.
Both Burnham and the client were aligned in their vision: lighten up the floorplan and let the sunshine in. “I’m very true to the New England aesthetic; I still prefer classic to almost anything, but with a bit of modernity and a relaxed energy,” Burnham explains. “In Southern California, it’s good to bring in a bit of history.”
The home had been well-loved by the previous owners for some fifty years, but it was dark, outdated, and in need of structural intervention. So before any color palette was considered or piece of furniture commissioned, Burnham and her team got to work reconfiguring the space with consultation from an architecture firm. The existing ceiling heights were challenging to work with, so they installed massive steel windows on the ground floor to drench the space in sunlight and employed clever plaster arches and detailing throughout to add character and the appearance of elongated height, in a nod to architect George Washington Smith. “If you’re being strict about Montecito architecture or Spanish Colonial architecture, there are details in the house that you would never have,” the client explains. “There are a lot of different influences coming together, and somehow, Betsy and her team made them all work.”
The clients were very involved with the process. “Every now and then we would snap and send photos of elements that struck us, but the magic of Betsy is that she embraces our ideas and still has her particular expression. Every time we walk by the tiles in our entryway that Betsy found, we think fondly of our time in Spain.” It’s that sense that the house could be located in Southern California, sunny Spain, or somewhere else that the family loves. “There’s a plethora of influences coming together. We wanted a home that would transport us.”
Finding ways to add quirk and personality to a classic and dreamy home without overdoing it was one of the family’s primary goals. “I love color and pattern, but [since] the intention was for this to feel like a vacation home in the lightest, cleanest, most beach-adjacent way, we went for comfortable upholstery [and] more monochrome [styles],” the designer explains. “I was very well-behaved on this project,” she adds with a laugh.
All members of the family gave input, including the children, who helped select fabrics, flooring, and decorative accents for their own rooms. It was a means of encouraging their creative instincts, but it was also a clever way to ensure that the family will remain anchored by this Montecito home. “We were very purposeful about wanting this to be a place they would always want to come back to, when they’re grown and have families of their own,” the owners say with a grin. “Sitting at the head of the kitchen table, with all the steel doors open, looking out—it’s joyful.”