Since first applying daub to wattle, humanity has tinkered with home improvement. We’ve added rooms for growing families, plumbing for convenience and hygiene, and windows to frame views. And just as it once took a village to roof a lodge or raise a barn, it takes a team of skilled practitioners to help us realize our modern dwelling desires.
Santa Barbara-area contractors offer a range of resources and services, from in-house architects and finish carpenters, to ongoing property maintenance. Across the board, they emphasize the importance of teamwork, communication and completing projects on time.
Five local construction companies whose creative efforts grace South Coast neighborhoods offer their take on what it’s like to forge lifetime relationships with clients, while helping them build the homes of their dreams.
Bruce Giffin met carpenter Geoff Crane in 1978 and eight years later partnered as Giffin & Crane, General Contractors, Inc. Since its inception, the company has completed upward of 2,700 projects for 500 clients.
“Our strategy is to become our clients’ builder for life,” Giffin explains. “We end up doing multiple projects for them over the years.”
Giffin compares the process of choosing a contractor with that of selecting a physician, accountant or legal advisor.
“[Clients are] putting together a team that’s going to be an important part of their life. You want people you feel compatible with, have good communication with and [who] have a great track record at completing jobs on time and in budget.”
One of Giffin & Crane’s longtime clients lives in a 1970s-era house (pictured) perched on a seaside bluff on Rincon Beach, where salt spray buffets the glass and redwood exterior.
When the company was called in to refresh the house, workers fashioned exterior decking from walnut-hued ipe, a South American hardwood with the same fire rating as concrete and steel. They remodeled the bathrooms, updated flooring and installed a new network of angular skylights.
“The biggest challenge was replacing the skylights,” Crane says. “The skylight that runs across the ridge had to be custom made. It wasn’t something you could just measure and fabricate, it had to be built on site.”
Crane laughs as he likens the elegant home to a ship, because it requires constant maintenance. “We help out with the TLC of the house,” he smiles. “We’ve been taking care of it for years.”
When Darrell and Kirsten Becker folded their construction company into Becker Studios, they created a full-service shop that includes everything from in-house architects to interior designers.
“For us to watch [a project] come together down to the last window covering, is really rewarding. What led us towards becoming more than just a construction or design firm was being able to walk through the process from beginning to end to realize people’s dreams,” says Kirsten.
The Beckers recently realized a personal dream when they remodeled their own home, Glen Oaks (pictured), a low-slung complex located on the Riviera, at the base of the coastal mountains.
“We wanted to be true to the mid-century contemporary architecture,” Darrell explains. “It was nice to run with that theme, although it’s expensive to do contemporary well.”
The couple gutted the surfaces and reconfigured the floor plan, but in order to maintain the home’s architectural integrity, they preserved the existing footprint, as well as most of the original doors and windows. To enclose an open breezeway, they used an attractive combination of walnut and concrete.
“We had to figure out a material that was true to the style and period,” Kirsten says, “but also functional. We built the grid of walnut first, then poured the concrete in and polished over both. We loved the idea of a clutter free, very clean and crisp, but warm environment.”
Clients Julie and Mike Davenport, who renovated their Santa Barbara area home, found a perfect fit with Becker Studios.
“We felt they understood our vision,” Julie remembers. “When Mike and I walked through the doors of our newly remodeled home, we felt like we were walking into a dream. Our wishes were reality. We now consider Darrell and Kirsten our friends, which says a lot.”
Dennis Allen, founder of green-building pioneer Allen Associates (recently renamed Allen Construction), begins every project by bringing together the clients, architect and builder, and often the landscape architect and interior designer, as well.
“By having [everyone] there,” Allen explains, “you can explore the clients’ values, what they really cherish…to come up with creative solutions that maximize their budget. We think of ourselves as service providers and that means the communication has to be superb.”
Friendship also figures in the formula for success at employee-owned Allen Construction.
“It’s wonderful to run into people that are your friends that you’ve done projects with,” Allen smiles. “That’s a real rewarding aspect of my career.”
One satisfied client, Matthew Bio, recalls the decayed state of his then-newly purchased, Craftsman-style home near downtown Santa Barbara.
“It was in very poor condition, uninhabitable, actually,” Bio says. “[Our architect] worked closely with Allen Construction to build a high quality product that was true to the design. It felt good to take this long-neglected property and restore it to something beautiful.”
The president of Allen Construction, Bryan Henson takes special pleasure in the old world satisfaction of building something tangible.
“It’s like creating a piece of art that people will live in for generations,” Henson says. “It’s rewarding to see people playing in the front yard or having dinner on a patio that I made.”
One project, dubbed Tuscan Hillside Home (pictured), features a grand exterior staircase assembled from stone excavated and cut on site. The staircase unites the home with its site by mirroring boulders protruding from the backdrop of chaparral clad mountains.
Gently arching door and window frames were forged from bronze to last several lifetimes, while inside the elegant greatroom a centuries-old French fireplace surround lends a touch of antiquity.
“Each project is special in its own way,” Henson says, “and it has to be fun for everybody. That might sound odd, but the process should be a partnership and if you enjoyed the process, you’re going to enjoy the product.”
Contractor Bob Young has co-owned Young Construction with his brother Dave since 1978. The division of labor has Dave handling field operations, while Bob manages the company.
The secret to their success, Bob declares, is really simple. “Get it done on time and on budget. Budget, communication and scheduling are key.”
Clients eager to build homes that frame dramatic vistas often turn to Young Construction for custom residences reflecting a modern architectural style.
“With big views, you want to have big glass,” Bob explains, “and there’s a misconception that modern is easy, that it’s just a bunch of boxes put together. In fact, it’s very complicated.
“Working with concrete, steel and glass, there’s no forgiveness. It’s very precise and it’s not like you can go back and trim a piece of wood. It’s challenging, but that’s part of the excitement.”
When the company built a sleekly modern house in Toro Canyon in 2008, designed by Olson Kundig Architects, the mountainside location determined many of the design and material choices. The raw, contemporary architecture was rendered in concrete, glass and metal-clad structural steel, a unique combination ideal for such an exposed site.
“The front of the house is steel cladding,” Bob says. “There’s a microclimate up there [with] lots of wind, cold and blowing rain, which is part of reason for the rugged design. A lot of the components, such as the front door hardware, are handmade, one-of-a-kind.”
Additional features of the T-shaped home include two guest rooms flanking a 100-foot entryway and roll-down metal doors to provide additional protection from the elements and in the event of fire. A dramatically raised roof acts as a sun shield, while full height sliding glass doors afford 360-degree views of the mountains, ocean and distant Channel Islands.
Doug Ford, president of DD Ford Construction, built fine furniture before obtaining his general contractor’s license in 1980. Because of his background in woodworking, his company maintains in-house crews to help facilitate all finish carpentry work.
“If you start a project with a perspective on what it’s supposed to be in the end,” Ford explains, “you’re going to have a more successful project completion. All the details are worked out ahead of time.”
A few years ago, a married couple contacted Ford about building a house that future generations could enjoy. The house (pictured), located on a coastal Carpinteria bluff, has two large wings to accommodate friends and family members of all ages. Inside each wing is a plush master suite and bedrooms equipped with child-friendly bunk beds, where white walls create a crisp contrast to the warm glow of stained poplar ceilings.
“Being on the ocean, everything is going to get beat by the elements,” Ford says, “so the roof is copper, the chimneys are clad in copper and the deck is ipe, which weathers nicely. There’s also stainless steel hardware and cable railings.
“The siding looks like wood, but is made from cement,” he continues. “And everything is built on 98 concrete caissons to put the house above the flood plain.”
The company recently undertook a residential project in Montecito: a U-shaped Mediterranean-style home anchored by a 1910-era pond.
“Part of the design was driven by the site,” the home’s owner Mary Jane Creighton says. “It’s got an historic four leaf clover pond and we wanted to honor that. I’m looking forward to the fact that it’s going to look like it’s been there for a long time.
“The builder is key,” she adds. “It’s all coming together beautifully and I’m very excited, because it’s so fun to work with this team.”
Allen Construction, 805/884-8777 buildallen.com
Becker Studios, 805/965-9555 beckerstudiosinc.com
DD Ford Construction, 805/965-4055 ddford.com
Giffin & Crane, 805/966-6401, giffinandcrane.com
Young Construction, 805/963-6787 youngconst.com
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Winter 2014/15.