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.

Legacies | MOXI: The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation

MOXI is located at 125 State Street adjacent to the popular Funk Zone neighborhood and just two blocks up from Stearns Wharf and the beach. The building was designed by the late Barry Berkus and AB Design Studio and is LEED Gold Certified. Photo courtesy MOXI.

MOXI is located at 125 State Street adjacent to the popular Funk Zone neighborhood and just two blocks up from Stearns Wharf and the beach. The building was designed by the late Barry Berkus and AB Design Studio and is LEED Gold Certified. Photo courtesy MOXI.

MOXI Marks Leap Into Year Two With New CEO, Expanded Programs

By Leslie Dinaberg

It has been a really incredible first year for MOXI … and we’ve just gotten started,” says Robin Gose, president and CEO. Gose began her tenure at MOXI late last year, after serving as director of education at the Thinkery in Austin, TX, where she oversaw all programming, exhibits and facilities at what was once Austin Children’s Museum.

MOXI’s attendance its first year has far exceeded expectations (175,000 guests versus approximately 120,000 estimated) and Gose says, “Attendance continues to be strong. The feedback that we’re hearing from members of the community, from donors, from tourists that come up, is that everybody is really excited by what they see at the museum.”

MOXI specializes in STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math) learning through interactive experiences outside the traditional classroom environment. Because of the interactive elements, and individual children’s continued growth and development,

MOXI is designed so that it will be different each time you visit, with new challenges to solve and new discoveries to uncover throughout the 17,000 square-feet of interactive exhibits across three floors (including an incredible 360 degree view rooftop).

The award-winning, LEED gold certified building—which had the design challenge of fitting into the Spanish style neighborhood while creating both a high tech and kid-friendly vibe and was designed by the late Barry Berkus + AB Design Studio—has played an important role in the revitalization of lower State Street as a destination for both tourists and locals.

“We have about 75% local, and 25% non-local visitors,” says Gose, adding that school visits include many students from Santa Barbara County, as well as Ventura County, San Luis Obispo County and beyond. Last year, 10,000 school children visited MOXI on field trips, and nearly 50% were from Title I schools.

Adults are also big fans of the venue. MOXI’s quarterly Afterparty events have all been sell-out affairs, and include live entertainment, demonstrations, games and local food and cocktails. Also popular are the pop- up Twilight Time evening hours for guests 18 and up who want to explore the museum kids-free. These are advertised primarily via social media, Gose says. The theme for 2018 is “Making,” with monthly spotlights on subjects like cardboard engineering and digital creativity.

These themes extend to summer camp activities, as well as new weekly projects in the Innovation Workshop makerspace. Also new are an exhibit design partnership with the Dos Pueblos High School Engineering Academy and Toddler Tuesdays, a volunteer-run program where the youngest guests can have special story time and other activities and explore the exhibits without visiting school groups onsite.

With 44 full and part-time staff and nearly 100 volunteers, ranging in age from 13 to 75 years old, MOXI has quickly become an important part of the community. In fact, earlier this year the museum provided alternative classroom space to Montecito students and teachers displaced by disaster and opened its doors free of charge to Thomas Fire and Montecito mudflow evacuees as well as first responders and their families.

Upcoming fundraising events for the nonprofit museum include an intimate rooftop concert with Jackson Browne on August 10 and the annual gala fundraiser MOXI@Night on September 22. For information or to purchase tickets, email or call 805/770-5003.

MOXI,125 State St., Santa Barbara, 805/770-5000,

This story was originally published in the 2018 summer issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Cocktail Corner: Potek Winery Launches in The Mill

Potek Winery opens Aug. 20 at The Mill (Haley and Laguna Streets). Photo by Cara Robbins.

Potek Winery opens Aug. 20 at The Mill (Haley and Laguna Streets). Photo by Cara Robbins.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg

It seems rather fitting that Dave Potter‘s new wine venture, Potek Winery, is the first of several farm-to-table ventures launching in The Mill. If you haven’t heard about Darrell and Kirsten Becker‘s cool new project, trust me, you will! Located at the corner of Laguna and Haley streets, The Mill is a stunning modern spin on The Feed Mill originally constructed in 1904 by the Boykin family and now converted into a very unique artisan marketplace with onsite manufacturing.

I predict both locals and visitors will flock to this cool, new mixed-use venue, which will eventually feature a production winery and tasting bar (that’s Potek), a craft brewery and tap room (Third Window Brewery), specialty restaurant (from Justin and Emma West of Julienne) and event center—all connected by a beautiful and practical shared-space, tree-shaded courtyard. The Mill is also home to creative businesses Becker Studios Design/Construction, Pelago and AB Design Studio.

Potter—who is best known as the affable winemaker and proprietor of Municipal Winemakers in the Funk Zone—began handcrafting wines for the Potek label in 2012. “The whole principal behind Muni Wine was to be as approachable as possible, accessible to anyone,” Potter told me when we chatted at Potek last month.

Potek is more serious, upscale venture, “focused on tiny bottlings from individual ranches.” The new winery is founded on a commitment to produce the best possible wines from Santa Barbara’s world-class vineyards, rooted in traditional techniques with a reverence for site.

Potek Winery, photo by Christian Thomas Hynes

Potek Winery, photo by Christian Thomas Hynes

The first five releases include:

2013 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir, $60

“Making wine from Sanford & Benedict is a privilege,” says Potter.   “The fruit for this wine is from the original 1971 own-rooted plantings—the genesis of Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. This vineyard has been tended from the start with love and care, resulting in vines that produce wines of amazing complexity and striking purity.”

2013 Rancho La Vina Pinot Noir, $50

Potter says, “2013 Pinot Noir Rancho La Vina is laced with spice, dark plum and menthol, all of which blossoms in the glass effortlessly. Savory and floral notes are just beginning to develop in what looks to be a hugely promising Pinot to drink over the next several years.”

2012 Tierra Alta Syrah, $45

“Iron, smoke, tobacco, black olives, cedar and black cherries meld together in the 2012 Syrah Tierra Alta,” says Potter. ” It’s rich and explosive through to the finish. The 2012 boasts terrific depth and density in a meaty, full- bodied style.   This wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered in April of 2014.”

2012 Tierra Alta Grenache, $40

Potter says this wine, “boasts notable depth, but the inclusion of the whole clusters adds an attractive element of lift to balance the richness and fruit. 2012 is hugely varietal, but the flavors and textures are all amped up—kirsch, spice-box, cured meats and dried licorice-like qualities.”

2013 Kick on Ranch Riesling, $30

“Kick On Ranch is, in my opinion, the top Riesling site in Santa Barbara County,” says Potter.  “We bottled 94 cases and are releasing the wine after a year of bottle aging. Riesling wines from this ranch tend to stay really primary until about one year of bottle age. At this point, they begin to develop those curiously tasty, mineral and kerosene characters unique to the varietal. Green apples, sage and a hint of spice are all present and nicely compliment that fascinating mineral character specific to Riesling. Above all else, this is a wine that speaks of texture; it is crisp, fresh and steely, while simultaneously creamy, supple and generous.”

Potek Winery, photo by Christian Thomas Hynes

Potek Winery, photo by Christian Thomas Hynes

Potter explains that the origin of the name Potek is from his great grandfather, who immigrated from Romania to the United States with the name Berl Potek, which was changed to Benjamin Potter, as he passed through Ellis Island in 1917. Potek’s bravery to search for a better life, and the immigrants’ experience of adaptation in a new environment inspires his great grandson’s approach to winemaking with traditional French techniques and grapes, grown in California.

“I could not be more excited about my first release of Potek wines. The bottlings are from vineyard sites that I have been working with for years, and represent what I feel to be some of the strongest expressions of these special places in Santa Barbara County,” says Potter.

The wines are available for sale online now, and the winery, at 406 E. Haley St., will be open to the general public starting Aug. 20. For more information, visit or call 805/598 1896.Cheers! Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Potek Winery, photo by Christian Thomas Hynes

Potek Winery, photo by Christian Thomas Hynes

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine on August 14, 2015.