By Joan Tapper
805 Living, Home + Garden April 2019
For Kevon Zehner and Ron Ritchhart it was all about the view. With a permanent residence in Santa Fe, they were looking for a vacation and retirement home in Santa Barbara, but the hot real-estate market meant that places were gone before they could offer a bid. Then they found a Mission Canyon parcel where the previous home has been lost in the Jesusita fire. The land had been completely cleared, leaving only mounds of dirt. "When I stood on top of one," Zehner says, "there was a 180-degree ocean view and a 180-degree mountain view. The sunsets were spectacular." Now there's a home to match.
"Ron and Kevon wanted something contemporary and a backdrop to the California lifestyle," says their architect, Dave Mendro of Neumann Mendro Andrulaitis. "They liked the idea of year-round indoor-outdoor living." Mendro's design included an expansive living and dining area that opens to the pool, two intimate, European-size bedrooms, and a third flexible space. "The proportions are not deep but wide," he adds. "Everywhere you look, the house connects with the site and the views."
Given the triangular shape of the one-acre lot and the requirement for fire truck access, there were some challenges when it came to the design and construction. "It was a real Rubik's Cube to fit into the site and address the views," says Mendro. "There wasn't much space for staging construction." The exposed hillside location also called for materials that could withstand sun and wind. "People come to Santa Barbara thinking it's a mellow beach town, but in the hills the environment can be rugged," Mendro says. He lengthened the roof overhangs for shade and to let in winter light and added high-efficiency thermal protection. Concrete floors extend out to the pool, and the board-form concrete walls—which add privacy and a break from the wind without interfering with the panoramas—require zero maintenance and have gained a beautiful patina.
When it came to the interiors, "We knew we wanted modern and some vintage midcentury pieces," says Zehner. Ritchhart, who had grown up in a mid-century home with period furniture, says, "We were drawn to Bertoia and Eames." They sought out an original Bertoia high-back bird chair. They also acquired a 50th-edition Eames lounge chair and ottoman and a pair of limited-edition Neutra boomerang chairs. Surrounding the stunning live-edge dining table from Santa Barbara's Millworks are eight 1950s Danish teak and faux-leather chairs.
The furnishings are complemented by an eclectic collection of artworks including an explosively colorful Aboriginal Australian painting by artist Emily Pwerle, a modern abstract monotype by Taos painter Tom Dixon, Zehner's own black-and-white photos, and a sculptural piece of strangle-vine.
In all, the house provides enjoyable contrasts to their adobe home in New Mexico. "We love Santa Fe, and we love Santa Barbara," says Zehner. "Our favorite space here is probably the living-dining-pool area. We knew we wanted the living room wall to disappear, and the doors slide completely away. It makes for a good entertaining area. We like to invite guests to come out and spend time. We have an outdoor projector that makes a 6-foot-by-12-foot picture, and we'll project movies on the pool wall."
"The tranquility of the space is amazing," Zehner adds. "And the wildlife—the hawks sit up there riding the air flows. You can with them 'standing still.' "
Adds Mendro, "There's a quiet Zen quality. The house is minimal but not cold. When you get up there, you're in your own world."