This charming cottage was once a part of the historic estate.
Story by Jane Ellison
Photographs by Cara Robbins
While visiting friends in Santa Barbara, Suzanne Finamore fell in love with the city’s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, and its natural setting, and decided to make it her home. Two years after her arrival, she found the home of her dreams—a 1930 Edwards and Plunkett-designed cottage.
Edwards and Plunkett, an award-winning firm—known for a variety of historic buildings, from the Fox Arlington Theatre to Cold Springs School, as well as numerous offices and residences—was also well-known for its picturesque Spanish Colonial Revival designs. “I stepped through the door and knew it had to be mine,” Finamore reports. “It only needed the personal touches I would bring to it. We began the renovation in 2012, and it was completed by 2014.”
Her new home, originally completed in 1930 as an El Encanto Hotel cottage, was enlarged to a single-family home by Edwards and Plunkett in 1935, the same year that it was separated from the El Encanto Hotel’s property. Today it shares a remarkable site with two smaller cottages, constructed in 1958 in a compatible style by a previous owner who acted as architect. The smaller renovated cottages, each with a private patio, have been enhanced by the addition of private gardens. One cottage occasionally serves as a convenient retreat. “When I need a quiet place to focus on a project,” Finamore explains, “I find this cozy space provides the perfect setting.”
A designation as a City Structure of Merit was granted by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission to El Encanto Hotel in 1998 and, by extension, to this Edwards and Plunkett cottage that would become Finamore’s home.
“I brought architect Eric Mossman to Santa Barbara to guide the renovation. We’ve worked together for many years, so it was only natural that I would want him to be a part of this new adventure,” she explains.
The present-day Historic Landmarks Commission worked closely with its new owner in determining the appropriate restoration for all exteriors visible to the public. Original materials, doors, windows and exterior lighting fixtures were restored in compliance with the commission’s and city’s historic preservation guidelines. After several meetings with the city Architectural Historian, final commission approval was given. “In addition to what can be seen,” Mossman points out, “all new mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering were required, with seismic and energy efficiency code upgrades. All underground utilities were required for each of the structures on the property.”
The two associates attended project review meetings before the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission and Architectural Review Committee, where compliance with El Pueblo Viejo Landmark District Design Guidelines was assessed and approved. “Eric and I collaborated on the design and plans for this project. I was responsible for interior details and finishes as well as the landscape, including hardscape, brickwork and lighting,” Finamore says.
While many features qualified the property for landmark status, none is more inviting than the pergola. It is accessed from the south courtyard by a curved staircase, embellished with inlaid period tiles. The unusual rounded columns supporting its beams make it a focal point from several locations throughout the property, as well as from the surrounding neighborhood. “This is a magical spot on late afternoons for viewing breathtaking sunsets, Santa Barbara’s varied landscape and a sparkling Pacific Ocean,” says Finamore.
A tour of the garden introduces guests to the 52 citrus trees, plus herb and vegetable gardens that are an integral part of the landscape. They bear witness to Finamore’s description of herself as an “organic cook and gardener.” Perhaps it also explains why the original kitchen—described as a dark 10 x 10 ft. area adjacent to a narrow hallway leading to the maid’s quarters—was first on her list for replacement. It is now a welcoming space with a large marble bar that provides seating for casual meals and where friends can enjoy a glass of wine while watching the cook.
Also added was a cozy seating area with a fireplace and small bar. Most importantly, the once dark space has been opened to an abundance of natural light streaming through windows and French doors that open onto the two courtyards and an ocean view.
Another major alteration to the interior was the introduction of archways replacing doors that existed between the living room and dining room and the dining room and kitchen. The resulting visual access creates a more inviting and friendly environment. “Eric and I worked together on the design that opened up the house, creating a flow while bringing in lots of light,” Finamore points out.
"The main house had been remodeled with additions made over the years that were not in keeping with the spirit of the original architects and their architectural style. They were removed,” Mossman adds.
The remaining rooms were restored using the 1935 Edwards and Plunkett plans as a guide. Throughout, they are made even more engaging by fireplaces and restored period lighting fixtures, as well as original paired casement windows and French doors. Among the many details that make this home a delight is the living room’s dramatic open-beam wood-truss ceiling. Reaching a height of just over 14 feet, its existence was unknown to Finamore until construction activity revealed it.
“While inspecting the attic, to our great surprise, we discovered it. I couldn’t believe it had been hidden for so many years. It was an unexpected gift,” she laughs. “I still can’t believe it!”
Beneath this extraordinary ceiling, guests are invited to relax in large, comfortable leather-cushioned chairs or on an equally welcoming sofa. The entire scene is further enhanced by stunning antiques. It is warmed by an original fireplace set between paired casement windows with panels below that open onto the south courtyard. Natural light fills this room, where views to the courtyards and garden invite ever-changing patterns of light and shadows as the hours pass.
Each room has a view of the protected central courtyard. Accessible by a covered walkway, it retains its original lighting fixtures and fireplace. The space is further embellished by a superb Malibu tile fountain mounted on an exterior wall of the attached garage, adding immeasurably to the sheltered courtyard’s appeal. The lure of the outdoors in this unique location is not to be denied. Whether its views to the Pacific from the south courtyard and pergola or the central courtyard’s sheer comfort, there’s a retreat you can call your own.
A garden pathway takes you to Finamore’s favorite spot, the bocce ball court. As an accomplished player, she can be found many mornings practicing her form. Suffice it to say, you want to be in shape before you challenge her to a game. But fear not, if you’re willing to give it a try, she invites all to play and, when requested, may even give a pointer or two.
Her enthusiasm for the new and challenging animates her work as a general contractor and owner of Finamore Design Group. Drawn to architecture and design as a child, she reports that she was drawing plans and imagining interior and exterior spaces even then. “It just seemed natural to be involved with architecture in some way,” she notes.
Visitors to her home admire the way she has brought it back to life. With a minimalist’s respect for original details, while avoiding unnecessary flourishes, Finamore’s welcoming home allows her guests to enjoy its original and charming simplicity.
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Spring 2015.