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Santa Barbara Style
Jeanne Cooper | Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Californian | June 6, 2018
Hotel Californian serves as a Spanish-Moroccan launchpad for exploring the city’s design delights.
The transformation of Santa Barbara’s funky Hotel Californian into the gleaming centerpiece of the city’s trendy Funk Zone was years in the making—or at least in the permit-acquiring, in part due to its stunning location just a shell’s throw from the ocean and historic Stearns Wharf. The 121-room Spanish Colonial Revival hotel (from $499) finally held a soft opening last fall—just in time to receive dozens of emergency guests who had been displaced first by nearby wildfires and then later by landslides. Although they’ve long since checked out, many have gratefully returned to nest at executive chef Alexander La Motte’s chic Blackbird restaurant, a hyperlocal and seasonal bistro at one corner of the multiblock compound.
An inviting European-style enclave of dark wood and brass, Blackbird is also a favorite of Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the Los Angeles-based designer responsible for the hotel’s Moroccan-meets-midcentury-modern interiors. The latter feature more than a million tiles with Moroccan or 1960s graphics; midcentury furniture inspired by Italian masters such as Gio Ponti; and custom artwork designed in tandem with L.A.’s Voila! gallery, a la blownup photos of Marilyn Monroe on the beach, her arms superimposed with colorful tattoos. Now that the Hotel Californian has celebrated its grand opening, marking several finishing touches that include an inviting rooftop pool bar, we checked in with Bullard to find his favorite spots within the inn, its intriguing neighborhood and Greater Santa Barbara.
The extensive tilework, much of it from Bullard’s own collection with Ann Sacks, “gives a strong, graphic signature to the entire property, which has to be my favorite statement of the hotel, as it anchors all the rest of the design and spaces, creating a feeling of flow and unison,” he says. In particular, the Turkish-inspired Majorelle spa, named for the Moroccan blue he used in its tilework and paint, “is a very special spot,” says Bullard, who adds he drew inspiration from Yves St. Laurent’s villa and gardens in Marrakech. “It has a distinctively exotic atmosphere.”
Besides the “very sexy atmosphere” of Blackbird, Bullard also loves the ballroom, “where I used seven different Schumacher wallpapers decoupaged together to make a traditional mosaic look, reminiscent of the walls of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, yet freshened up with the palette of black, white, grays and golden umber.”
Part of the hotel complex, but facing the street, Isla boutique “mixes high-fashion clothing, fine jewelry, art and home wares together in a cool way,” Bullard notes. Operated by resort retailer Maris Collective (formerly Seaside Luxe), Isla also showcases several Santa Barbara-designed products, including So De Mel swimwear and Wild Precious Life perfumes.
One block away, Raoul Textiles has “a beautiful design store selling handprinted designer textiles and vintage furniture,” he says. Run by Sally McQuillan and her children, Raoul also offers African-inspired art and decor, such as miniature masks and beaded Nigerian chairs, plus locally produced lighting and sculpture, and easily portable bundles of organic sage.
A few miles south, in Upper Montecito Village, “there’s a fantastic array of little antique and decorating boutiques, all within walking distance, which are curated to capture the vibe of the area and perfect for gifts, souvenirs and home accessories,” Bullard says. Among them are Davis & Taft, focused on midcentury and modern art and antiques; and William Laman, a clapboard cottage hosting European and Asian antiques, accessories and garden items.
SIPS & NIBBLES
Around the corner from the Hotel Californian is the Funk Zone, “an area dedicated to the local wineries and tasting shops, with a delicious array of fun restaurants mixed in,” Bullard says. Chief among them: The Lark, whose “award-worthy food and fine cocktails” include delicacies such as Ellwood Farms English pea hummus and crispy duck confit wings with a vadouvan and kaffir lime glaze, as well as drinks such as the Riviera Negroni, made with house-infused grilled pineapple-vanilla gin; and the Figueroa Old-Fashioned, crafted from Old Grand-Dad bourbon, piloncillo and house fig-walnut bitters.
Oenophiles will want to visit another Funk Zone fixture, Municipal Winemakers, to sample winemaker Dave Potter’s dry white riesling, MCS (mourvèdre-carignan-syrah) and other limited-production wares. Club Awesome, Municipal’s wine club, is “loved by the locals, as well as the tourists,” according to Bullard.
The designer also recommends heading to the cliff-top Mesa neighborhood, a couple miles to the west, for cocktails and a “colorful array of tapas” at Alcazar. Downtown sister bar Milk & Honey “serves concoctions that are Instagram-worthy,” Bullard adds, while the Central Coast-inspired menu at nearby Barbareño provides “a real local experience.” For a different take on local flavor, “La Super-Rica Taqueria, favored by the late Julia Child, celebrates wonderfully traditional Mexican cuisine,” Bullard says. The cash-only counter-service restaurant makes tortillas from scratch.
The town’s namesake, Mission Santa Barbara, dates back to 1786. In addition to a church, the landmark—situated on a hillside with the Santa Ynez Mountains as a backdrop—boasts 12 acres of landscaped gardens. “It is a must-see to understand the local history as well as why and how the town was settled,” Bullard says. Bonus: “Its museum is as beautiful as it is informative.”
Originally published in the June issue of Silicon Valley