Creative Inspiration for Home Improvements

Where Santa Barbara’s Pros Go to Find Their Muse

If sheltering in place has made you eager to do some home improvements, but your creative fire needs some kindling, we’re here to help. From architects and interior designers to landscape experts and event planning pros, we asked a variety of creative professionals what they do to get inspired.

Penny Bianchi


What inspires you? Each house I do, I take a lot of inspiration from whatever the architecture is. Almost all of the houses have some kind of architectural theme,and I always work with that instead of fighting it. I stay away from trends.

Where in Santa Barbara inspires you? Casa del Herrero is amazing; it’s like the original owners just walked out the front door. Lotusland also is very inspiring, the exterior of the house with all that landscaping. I also love the landscape at El Encanto.

What about online inspiration? Pinterest has been an enormous boon. I keep so many pamphlets and papers and idea files, and they organize them for you,and it’s right at your fingertips. Some blogs are very, very helpful and inspirational,too. I love Velvet & Linen, from Brooke Giannetti of [Brooke and her husband, architect Steve Giannetti, have a store, Giannetti Home, in downtown Santa Barbara.]

Merryl Brown


Where do you go for inspiration? Lotusland is the place that some of my best ideas have come to me. There really is something so magical and spiritual about that place. Almost every time that I see movies at the Riviera,I leave with a new idea. I always keep a pad of paper with me.

Nature is huge. Being away from electronics is huge. Putting on music and sometimes putting on new music and just sitting quietly and closing your eyes and listening to it is such a good thing.

Books for me are probably really one of the most important pieces, just having beautiful books and a nice big table where I can sit and look through them.

Going to the farmers’market, just walking around and looking at the colors and looking at people, how people are dressed and listening to all of the different sounds. I find inspiration in the funniest places, you just never know, so it’s important that you’re not just doing research in books and online but also by getting out in the world and looking around.

Billy Goodnick

Billy Goodnick Landscape Design, BILLYGOODNICK.COM

Where in Santa Barbara inspires you? I enjoy visits to Terra Sol for their great collections of succulents (including over 50 varieties of agaves and aloes) and Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria for plant combos. [Goodnick also likes to bring his adult-education classes to this versatile place, which has 11 garden vignettes with an around-the-world sampling of plants that thrive in our coastal environment.]

Margie Grace


Where in Santa Barbara inspires you? You have to clear a space. You can’t be thinking about the grocery list;you have got to clear your head. For me, it’s always a walk on the beach. I can tell when my head’s getting clear because I start observing things on a minute scale.

I will hit the used architectural salvage places or nurseries. Sometimes just a single great urn is the key to a garden that is just such a great thing. You can put four trees on the corners, gravelon the floor and a beautiful object in the middle —but it’s about that thing. It’s like finding an amazing piece of jewelry,and the surroundings are the little black dress.

I feel the same way when I find an extraordinary tree. Plants are not like otherthings we build with. They are ever-changing and each one is the only of each of these living things. When you find a really great specimen is usually when you’re not looking —it finds you. It’s kind of like dating:When you’re not looking,it shows up.

Isa Hendry Eaton

Isa Bird Landscape Design, ISABIRD.COM

Where in Santa Barbara inspires you? Lotusland offers one of the finest examples of how drought-tolerant plants can look lush, glamorous,and architectural. It also teaches one of the most importantprinciples of plant design: masses of one type of plant grouped together create a much stronger design than mixed hodgepodge varieties. On the opposite end of the design spectrum, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden offers a stunning example of how to designa natural look with our local native plants.

Are there any movies that are great examples of design? Clients ask me all the time to reproduce the vegetable garden in It’s Complicated. It’s also one of my favorite movies,and the French-style potager garden is mouth-wateringly gorgeous (even if it’s too-perfect, Hollywood unrealistic).

Any online inspiration? I am a Pinterest garden junkie but am careful to avoid it when I first start a project so I can create a strong original point-of-view and thenuse online images to help inspire some of the details. and Garden Design Magazine online are also great garden sources.

Tammy Hughes

Emerald Eye Designs

What inspires you? Style inspiration can come in so many forms depending on the architecture that I’m working with. Most often for me, finding a strong architectural piece or two launches the avalanche of ideas. From that point, I can’t stop the wheels from turning in my head until the entire project is visualized down to hardware, plumbing fixtures,and paint colors. It’s a very exhilarating process that will often keep me up at night, in the best possible way.

Where in Santa Barbara inspires you? I always feel like a better person after a visit to Lotusland or Casa del Herrero. Sometimes just driving past a George Washington Smith house or a Lutah Riggs house is enough of a thrill to make me do a double take and slow down for a closer look at the subtle detailing that lends itself to the perfect scale and proportion of that ageless architecture.

What about digital inspiration? Belgian Pearls ( was one of the first design blogs that I followed and remains one of my favorites. The understated Flemish designs stand the test of time and are so exquisitely layered in their simplicity.

Laurie Romano


What inspires you? Things that inspire me are nature, which I know is a vast topic. The natural beauty of landforms, flora,and fauna. I am also inspired by my observations, photographs,and other renowned landscape architects and architects and artists.

Any Santa Barbara spots? Cathedral Peak, Lizard’s Mouth, and Shoreline Park are always inspiring.

How about movies, TV shows, or books? The movie The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces and all kinds of books by architects/landscape architects worldwide.

What about digital inspiration? I use Google as a search engine: type in topic you want to study. Landscape Architecture Magazine, The Dirt, and Landezine are also go-to’s.

Jeff Shelton


What inspires you? Everything inspires me;that is one of my problems. It’s hard to focus when I want to go in every direction. Nature of course is the basis of all ideas: balance, strength, rhythms, mystery, beauty, and joy. But people screwing things up also inspires me. Just when I feel worn out and exhausted, I see some terrible design somewhere, and my inspiration comes back.

Any Santa Barbara places? I am inspired by living on this narrow stripof land between the cold Pacific Ocean and 4,000-foot Santa Ynez Mountains, covered with chaparral, where the fog rolls in during the summer and the air is dry and clear in the winter so we can see the islands.

Digital inspirations? No, I don’t need or want any additional inspiration. I look at succulents or throw the Frisbee for inspiration.

Caroline Thompson


What inspires you? Walks! Whether in nature or a bustling city, I can find interesting colors, patterns, textures, shapes, or a reminder of something that adds an entire new layer of inspiration.

Any Santa Barbara spots? Lately, walking has not only been an exercise but a meditation. There is so much to take in along the way —neighborhoods with trees budding and flowers blooming. All the senses are engaged. The beach with tides going out and in, bringing shells and frosted sea glass to the shore and showing kiwi-colored moss on the rocks. The sand changes color in seconds as the water covers and uncovers it.

Barry Winick


What inspires you? Expansive, celestial spaces; sculptural forms; and materials with textural qualities.

Any Santa Barbara places? The great arch of the County Courthouse view toward the sunken garden, the Chapel at St. Anthony’s, the high ridge of East Camino Cielo where you can view the Santa Ynez Range looking north and peering over Santa Barbara out to the Channel Islands when looking south. The Playground up on West Camino Cielo is amazing, with these gigantic boulders strewn all around the ground, and you can go there and just perch and kind of be mesmerized looking off to the west.

What else? Probably the biggest, most impactful cultural performance that I have attended in the last few years was David Byrne’s American UtopiaTour at Santa Barbara Bowl. I was inspired by the modernity, elegance,and expansiveness of the stage, along with impeccable choreography and lighting.

Thinking of the pandemic, are there any different things that are inspiring that you didn’t think of before? Maybe I’m breaking the rules,but I still ride my bike, solo; I don’t ride with friends. For me,getting out into nature has been really great. But I’m getting out solo, so that’s been a different experience. Normally if I were riding my bike,I would be riding with a bike buddy. Now it’s a little bit more meditative and introspective in these same places.

Josh Blumer


What inspires you? I am inspired by people doing exactly what it is they were always meant to be doing. There is nothing more inspiring than a human being who is filled with gratitude and pulsing with passion!

Any Santa Barbara spots? I love watching the Santa Barbara foothills ignite with color and depth in the late afternoon and evenings. The position of the mountains in the east-west orientation allows the ridges, fingers,and valleys along the entirety of thefoothills to come alive with depth as the late-evening sun reveals their absolutely mesmerizing beauty.

Any digital inspirations? I really enjoy following #simonstalenhag Simon Stalenhagon Instagram. Simon’s digital paintings are full of detail and imagination; they make me dream about other worlds and endless possibilities. I also follow WSL (World Surf League) on Instagram. I seem to need to look at their feed about once every hour! I wish I was surfing right now.

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Barbara Independent on May 14, 2020.

AIA Santa Barbara’s 10th Anniversary ArchitecTours

“Rediscover Downtown Santa Barbara – Imagine How You Can Live, Work & Play” at AIA Santa Barbara’s 10th Anniversary ArchitecTours on October 6.

The American Institute of Architects Santa Barbara‘s 10th anniversary ArchitecTours event will celebrate the fabric of Santa Barbara’s downtown, including historic properties, hidden gems, and recent additions. Join them on this walking tour of downtown Santa Barbara.

“There have been many conversations recently about the changing face of downtown Santa Barbara and how best to support its vitality, while making it more vibrant, livable, and welcoming. This year’s tour is designed to expand these discussions by exploring downtown housing, business and entertainment through its architecture. Some of the sites on the tour will have interactive stations for discovering the concepts that came from last year’s AIASB “Make State Street Work” collaborative charrette. You are invited to contribute your thoughts, experiences, and discussions while exploring the heart of downtown and its architecture,” say the organizers.

Tour Sites:

1. Alhecama Theatre

The Alhecama Theatre was built after the 1925 earthquake that left downtown Santa Barbara irreparably damaged. Following the disaster, a large-scale construction effort completely altered the character of the city center. Originally known as the Pueblo Theatre, the building was constructed in 1925 for the Santa Barbara School of the Arts. It has been in continuous use ever since. A recent remodeling project was completed in 2017 and includes a new roof, an accessible ramp and pathway, doors that open to the plaza, and completely restored interiors with original oak floors, a fully restored stage, new lighting, and drapes on custom historically accurate rods. A professionally restored mural by the noted California artist Ross Dickinson dominates the main wall of the audience space. Today, the Theatre is an inviting space, and a strong step towards revitalizing the historic plaza and bringing art into the community.

Architecture: Harrison Design

Photography: Jim Bartsch

Harrison Design, Alhecama Theatre, photo by Jim Bartsch.

Harrison Design, Alhecama Theatre, photo by Jim Bartsch.

2. Anacapa Studios

Anacapa Studios is a three-building mixed-use complex in Downtown Santa Barbara. Envisioned as a “creative compound” for living and working, Robin Donaldson AIA, Partner of ShubinDonaldson (SD) Architects developed the live-work campus for his Santa Barbara design office, while enabling him to live on campus and truly integrate his personal life with his life-long passion for Architecture. Anacapa Studios stitches into the historically commercial and manufacturing neighborhood by minimizing the mass of the project, breaking the 12,000 SF development into three separate buildings which are three stories tall with fourth story roof decks. The ultimate goal of Anacapa Studios is to be a demonstration project and catalyst for future Santa Barbara downtown living.

Architecture: ShubinDonaldson

Photography: Jim Bartsch

ShubinDonaldson, Anacapa Studios, photo by Jim Bartsch.

ShubinDonaldson, Anacapa Studios, photo by Jim Bartsch.

3. Arlington Village

Arlington Village is the first new rental project to emerge downtown in decades helping to fulfill one of the City’s goals of new rental housing. Originally the old Arlington Hotel, the site is directly adjacent to the historic Arlington Theater. The project design compliments the historic architecture of the theater, extending its surrounding Spanish-style village to the west. The new apartment building is three stories with 33 rental units, averaging 865 SF. The project features an exercise room, a parking garage, improved surface parking for theater patrons, and 984 SF of commercial offices on the ground floor. Central components are common courtyards and a public paseo. A “village green” is provided between the theater and the development. In addition, common and private courtyards are provided on the second, third, and rooftop levels. The 1,830 SF rooftop lounge has panoramic views of the Santa Barbara Mountains.

Architecture: RRM Design Group

Photography courtesy of Architecture firm

RRM Design Group, Arlington Village, courtesy photo.

RRM Design Group, Arlington Village, courtesy photo.

4. Cota + Salsipuedes

Cota + Salsipuedes is a 19,293 square feet three-story mixed on the edge of the funk zone. The project utilizes the Average Unit-Site Density Incentive Program and boasts 29 apartment units of an average unit size of 595 square feet on a lot just under a half acre within the Priority Housing Overlay. Many of the units have mountain or downtown views and range from the basic studio units to ampler two bedroom units. The design contrasts the traditional Spanish Revival architecture drawing from the more contemporary aesthetic of the funk zone. Through the use of strong striking lines wrapping the facade and the use of industrial materials and bold colors this building stands apart and creates its own identity.

Architect: Cearnal Collective 

Cearnal Collective, Cota+Salsipuedes, courtesy rendering.

Cearnal Collective, Cota+Salsipuedes, courtesy rendering.

5. El Zapato

This project has several comfortable units arranged around a small 50’x64’ downtown lot. The building is tucked between two industrial buildings, a parking lot, and a narrow and busy street.

The initial arrangement of the building was driven by the need for creating parking and a desire to preserve a beautiful Pink Flame Tree. Jeff Shelton arranged the buildings around an elliptical porte- cochère arch in the middle of the building.

Architect: Jeff Shelton, Architect

Photography: Alex Nye

Jeff Shelton, El Zapato, photo by Alex Nye.

Jeff Shelton, El Zapato, photo by Alex Nye.

6. Granada Penthouse

On the top two floors of the historic Granada Theatre Tower in the heart of the theatre district of downtown is a beautiful immaculate penthouse. The residence is a two bedroom, two full and two half baths with many more features. The resident’s office sits just off the private elevator lobby in the western corner of the tower. The master suite and an office are located along the central gallery of the home. The master suite faces out towards the expansive mountains. At the end of the gallery is the great room with views towards the southwest and southeast, and off the living room, stairs lead to the ninth floor of the tower in the mansard roof. The southern corner of the tower has a loft with a full bar connected to an exercise room. From the loft are stairs that lead to the rooftop deck of the tower. The views are spectacular with 360º flawless views of the city.

Architect: Cearnal Collective

Photography: Nick Parker

Cearnal Collective, Granada Penthouse, photo by Nick Parker.

Cearnal Collective, Granada Penthouse, photo by Nick Parker.

7. Impact Hub

Impact Hub Santa Barbara is a premier co-working office space, offering patrons state of the art shared and independent working spaces with extensive member benefits that serve to incubate local entrepreneurialism, philanthropy, and sustainable business modeling. Intended to enhance networking and collaboration, independent workstations are located in common thoroughfares while conference rooms and event spaces offer some level of transparency, via fixed glass, to the surrounding spaces.

Upon entry to the foyer, all members are greeted by a bustling bar specializing in one-of-a-kind wine varietals and gourmet vegetarian fare. An atmosphere intended to escalate conversation, interaction, and new introductions. The space also includes an outdoor area where members are able to meet, eat lunch, or work independently during all seasons. Located on State Street, in the core of downtown, the Impact Hub is an epicenter for ingenuity, innovation and passion, qualities that underscore our community’s pervasively entrepreneurial spirit.

Architect: ANACAPA

Photography: David Mendoza

ANACAPA, Impact Hub, photo by David Mendoza.

ANACAPA, Impact Hub, photo by David Mendoza.

8. Independence House

The Independence House is an adaptive re-use and conversion of a 1,776 square foot commercial garage structure into a 2,030 square foot, four bedroom residence. Extensive exterior decks adjacent to the new living spaces provide expansive Santa Barbara city views.

Architect: Arketype Architects Inc.

Photography: Joshua Curry

Arketype Architects Inc., Independence House, photo by Joshua Curry.

Arketype Architects Inc., Independence House, photo by Joshua Curry.

9. Jardin de las Rosas

Jardin de las Rosas provides 40 affordable one, two, and three-bedroom rentals units. In addition, it houses the Michael Towbes Community Center and the Jeanette Duncan Learning Center, which provide educational programs for children, workforce preparedness for adults. The architecture reflects classic Santa Barbara style complimented by drought-tolerant landscaping and an interior courtyard with a playground and a beautiful 35-foot mural by local artists. Jardin de las Rosas is one of the first projects approved through the priority housing overlay pilot program and a key implementation action of the City’s General Plan. Jardin de las Rosas allows dozens of Santa Barbara families to live close to downtown while adding energy to the Haley corridor.

Architect: RRM Design Group

Photography: Michelle C. Torres-Grant

RRM Design Group, Jardin de las Rosas, photo by Michelle C. Torres-Grant.

RRM Design Group, Jardin de las Rosas, photo by Michelle C. Torres-Grant.

10. Mini Craftsman Contemporary

Built at the turn of the Century, this 762 square foot cottage has been designated as a Structures of Merit in the historic Brinkerhoff district. Having been severely neglected for years, the Architect and current owners embraced the Historic quality of this one bedroom home to its historic originations. At the interior, Lori A. Kari created a great room experience through the removal of walls, exposure of the vaulted ceiling, and the addition of operable skylights. While there is limited outdoor space, two outdoor living areas were created for enjoyment at different times of the day. A modest cottage, the project provides an aesthetic and functional architecture for life downtown.

Architect: Lori A. Kari; Photo courtesy of architect

Lori A. Kari, Mini Craftsman, courtesy photo.

Lori A. Kari, Mini Craftsman, courtesy photo.

11. The Service Department

In response to the current retail environment, The Service Department is being transformed into an open concept, multi-tenant property, anchored by a brewery taproom, two restaurants, a separate craft cocktail bar and two micro-retail spaces. Designed by Kevin Moore Architect and developed by Miramar Group, the same team behind the popular Waterline property in the Funk Zone, the Service Department’s layout allows for multiple defined yet contiguous spaces, each opening into the others to encourage patrons to flow easily throughout. Featuring a transformed State Street frontage with a covered patio bar and common entrance, an emphasis on indoor/outdoor spaces, an expansive outdoor beer garden at the rear of the property and charming original architectural features, the Service Department i will be a welcoming new destination property on State Street.

For downtown Santa Barbara to be truly revitalized, Miramar Group believes that projects like the Service Department be envisioned and executed, projects that utilize innovative development and design strategies to attract quality, local-friendly vendors so that State Street can be reborn as Santa Barbara’s showpiece.

Architect: Kevin Moore Architect / Miramar Group, Inc. – Rendering courtesy of Architect

Kevin Moore Architect & Miramar Group, The Service Department, courtesy rendering.

Kevin Moore Architect & Miramar Group, The Service Department, courtesy rendering.

12. West de la Guerra

This underutilized half-acre site, located just a half block from Paseo Nuevo in Santa Barbara’s downtown, was a large parking lot with a small commercial building and a very old Norfolk Island pine. The owners wanted to expand the commercial space and build new courtyard housing behind, while preserving as much parking as possible. From the street it is comfortable but urban; providing 14 new homes in the downtown, from a mountain-view penthouse to three affordable units.

Architect: Cearnal Collective

Photography: Patrick Price

Cearnal Collective, West De La Guerra, photo by Patrick Price.

Cearnal Collective, West De La Guerra, photo by Patrick Price.

The walking tour will takes place on October 6  from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a tour party from 4-6 p.m. For additional information about the tour and to purchase tickets, visit or call 805/966-4198.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on October 3, 2018.