Sheltifying Santa Barbara

Architect Jeff Shelton Delights in the Details, photo by Erick Madrid. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on May 20, 2021.

Joy oozes through the walls of every Jeff Shelton project — the delight is in the details. From the Moroccan tile carpets of Pistachio House to the Escher-like staircase of El Jardin, the Suessian shapes of Ablitt House, and the quirky art-covered Vera Cruz building, touches of his fairy dust are sprinkled around town. The artistry and zest for life infused in Jeff Shelton’s buildings are hard to miss.

While there’s some debate about whether Pearl Chase, Bernhard Hoffmann, James Osborne Craig, and the other founding fellows of Santa Barbara’s aesthetic would be toasting Shelton’s evolution of the town’s traditional style or tearing out their hair out by its Spanish-Mediterranean-Moorish roots, there’s no doubt that this native son has made his mark on our town. After almost 30 years of “Sheltifying” Santa Barbara’s cityscape, he
shows no signs of slowing down.

Current projects in the works include residences in Mission Canyon, Carpinteria, and on
Cota Street, as well as the State Street undercrossing project (expect to see vibrantly tiled columns  and fancifully loopy iron fences guiding pedestrians from the beach to downtown), and a tequila bar at the corner of Ortega and State.

“I just try to find good clients,” said Shelton. “It’s no fun with clients that don’t understand the process. I’ve been pretty lucky. Clients are the ones who make it work. They pay for everything, but they also have to have faith in this crazy bunch of people they’re getting into working with.”

Mary Beth Myers, whose Tower House was the first to be rebuilt in Montecito after the 2018 mudslides, had nothing but raves about Shelton and his team. “Jeff’s just a peach — he’s so creative, he has such minimal ego, and is so cooperative,” she said. “After all is said and done, the building process was an absolute joy. They’re just like a group of happy elves.”

From “Sheltifying Santa Barbara,” photos by Erick Madrid and sketches by Jeff Shelton. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on May 20, 2021.

Chief among the Shelton collaborative team — they call themselves a “guild” but have no
financial connection — is Dan Upton, the contractor who (with Leon Olson) offered Shelton a project at 1021 Laguna Street in 1994. They’ve worked together ever since.

“We are problem solvers,” said Upton. “Jeff comes up with these optimistic, fun ways of thinking and fun ways of building and … we are just happy to do the fun things. He sketches, and we say, ‘Make it as fun and interesting as you want, and we’ll figure out how to build it.’”

For a man who specializes in the curvy and colorful, Shelton’s a pretty straight shooter. He loves his town, his team, and his work—and it shows. As for his method of staying true to his artistic vision and navigating his way through Santa Barbara’s notoriously complicated approval process, “I just do what I think is best for each building and each lot,” he explained. “My palette is the code and the site and the city and the people around the
neighborhood. It’s an art, but ultimately nobody cares about all those details in the end. They just want to be able to have a glass of wine comfortably and happily in their house.”

“First the tractors come in, and they grade the site,” explained Shelton of how one client
described the work of his guild, “and then this merry band of artisans show up, and they laugh and they enjoy the work, and it’s like that until they leave.”

It certainly sounds like a joyful process. The Upton Construction team has played a huge part in Shelton’s work, with Matt Metcalfe recently taking over the day-to-day business as founder Dan Upton is mostly retired.

Jeff’s brother’s architectural ironwork, lamps, and other elements from David Shelton Studios are an integral part of Jeff’s buildings. “I just say, ‘Dave, I’m going to do a balcony.’ I don’t even need to draw, and he knows what to do,” laughed Shelton.

Jeff’s wife, Karin Shelton, an accomplished fine artist in her own right, wields her brush on various architectural projects and also helps with the Shelton line of fabrics, tiles, and books. Their daughter Mattie Shelton is part of the team as well, working on the fabrics, tiles, and her own line of unique shelters called Shelton Huts. (Their other daughter, Elena Shelton, works as a doula.)

The “merry band” also includes sculptor/mason Andy Johnson; woodworker David Moseley; window and door specialist Royce Woodbury; lamp shades by Saul Alcaraz of
Santa Barbara Art Glass; ceramicist Linda Hail Godlis; California Pottery & Tile Works; Villa Lagoon TileSpecialty Team Plastering; and artists Richard Wilke, Court Johnson, Katie Upton, and Ben Ciccati, among others.

For about the past 15 years, the group has been meeting at the James Joyce on Tuesday afternoons. “Jeff keeps a really accurate tally of who shows up at James Joyce and when they come,” said Upton. “And at the end of the year, you get a medal if you were there the most frequently or least frequently.”

“I’m a big believer in pubs,” said Shelton. “They should be every half mile, like a community living room that’s a place where people of all ages can meet and hang out.”

Added Upton, “It’s been one of the great pleasures of my life to have this collaboration with Jeff to build the buildings that we have built.”

Originally published in the Santa Barbara Independent on May 20, 2021. To see the story as it originally appeared, click here.

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.

Restoring Ranchito Bendito: An Edwards and Plunkett Classic

Ranchito Bendito artwork by Frank Serrano

Ranchito Bendito artwork by Frank Serrano


This story was originally published in Montecito Magazine in Winter 2010.

Get Up Close and Personal with Architecture

Brian Hofer points out details on the Architectural Foundation tour. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Brian Hofer points out details on the
Architectural Foundation tour. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

To experience Santa Barbara architecture in all its glory, there’s nothing like strolling through town with an expert by your side to point out the rich history and international artistic influences that aren’t readily visible to the untrained eye.

Every weekend, trained docents from Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara (, 805/965-6307) take both locals and tourists on walking journeys through the hidden courtyards, secret fountains and original adobes of downtown, focusing on architectural styles, significant and historic buildings, aesthetics and landscape history, as well as details like handmade tiles, wrought iron, stonework, balconies, doorways, archways and plantings.

The Sabado (Saturday) Tour starts in front of city hall and takes guests on a tour of De la Guerra Plaza, historic De la Guerra Adobe, El Paseo, Hill-Carrillo AdobeMeridian Studios, Lobero Theatre and more. The Domingo (Sunday) Tour, which starts at the Central Library, focuses on historic art and architecture of downtown Santa Barbara as it was reborn after the 1925 earthquake, including the library and its famous murals, La Arcada Court, the historic Arlington, The Granada and other architectural delights. You’ll also learn about Santa Barbara’s architectural history and how the Women’s League and Pearl Chase forced us to maintain architectural integrity, beautiful public park spaces and rich landscapes. Both tours start at 10 a.m. and last about 1-1 /2  hours. The foundation asks for a $10 donation per person, and proceeds go toward scholarships and other community programs.

Walking Wednesdays with Santa Barbara Walks is a clever new way to get some after-work exercise and experience the beauty of our local environment. The group, which is a project of COAST (Coalition for Sustainable Transportation, 805/875-3562), meets at 5:30 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of every month and features a different theme and location each time. One walk included a tour through the upper eastside with architect Anthony Grumbine of Harrison Design Associates, beginning with a walkthrough of the historic Winsor Soule Hodges Residence (currently The Fielding Institute), a 1920s Spanish colonial revival estate, which was once the most expensive home built in Santa Barbara. The expedition also journeyed through a wonderful variety of architecture styles, including a Francis Underhill stripped classicism design, a Richard Neutra mid-century modern, French Norman and Dutch colonial, as well as the many architectural hybrids. Previous walks included an art walk with Ellen Durham, an architectural tour of El Andaluz with Jeff Shelton, trees of Santa Barbara with Bob Muller and a historical tour with Brian Hofer. Walking Wednesdays are free; visit for information on monthly locations and themes.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Fall 2010. Cover photo by Jim Bartsch.

Cover photo by Jim Bartsch.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Fall 2010. Cover photo by Jim Bartsch.