Sustainable Seasons: El Toro

Posted on Jan 2 by SEASONS Magazine

The original home was designed in 1926 by noted architect A. E. Harvey and built by Robert W. Winfield for Fran & Kathryn Preston. Photo by Jim Bartsch, courtesy Allen Construction.

It’s the story of a match made in historical home heaven. The sprawling 1920s estate tucked away in the Arboleda section of Ojai was in need of attention. Relatively untouched since it was built in 1926, the Spanish Colonial Revival home had seen better days. Enter a visionary couple who moved to the Santa Barbara area from Santa Cruz, saw the property and were smitten.

Appreciating the home’s architectural integrity and beautiful details, such as colorful handmade tile and wrought-iron finishings, they knew that they wanted to restore it to its original grandeur while honoring its history. They also wanted to bring it up to and beyond today’s energy efficiency standards. Teaming up with Allen Construction as general contractor, they embarked on what would become a two-and-a-half-year restoration project and labor of love.

Old & New

“The challenge was how to maintain the character while incorporating the modern amenities of a brand-new house,” says Bryan Henson, president of Allen Construction. “The goal is that it doesn’t look like it’s been remodeled.”

Set on eight acres and known as El Toro, the house was designed by famed architect Arthur E. Harvey, who created the Château Élysée in Los Angeles. Harvey’s original design blueprints for the property and historical photos were an invaluable reference, as Allen Construction’s team worked with the late Santa Barbara architect Peter Becker and his associate Tom Henson.

They discovered two balconies that were part of the original design, but had not been built. Those were added, along with a water closet in the master bath, but the rest of the project was essentially a careful, meticulous and respectful restoration of what was there.

Allen Construction worked on the restoration with the late Santa Barbara architect Peter Becker and his associate Tom Henson. Photo by Jim Bartsch, courtesy Allen Construction.

Dry-rotted plaster throughout the house was replaced with fresh plaster designed to look as it did in the 1920s. Doors and windows were remade based on the original blueprints. Hardware was salvaged, refurbished or fabricated to match, and exquisite painted ceilings on burlap canvas were restored. A 1950s pool house and swimming pool were torn out and replaced to fit seamlessly with the home’s architecture and surroundings.

Green Model

Now registered as a historical landmark, El Toro is a stunning model of sustainability. Eco-conscious features incorporated during the restoration include three-phase electrical power, ultra-low-flow plumbing fixtures, energy-efficient window glass and zero-VOC finishes. Solar panels are next on the homeowners’ to-do list, with the aim of making the house net-zero energy, where the house only consumes as much energy as it produces.

Ultimately, the house will be net zero in energy use, meaning it consumes only as much energy as it produces. Photo by Jim Bartsch, courtesy Allen Construction.

“We want to be good stewards of the land and the property surrounding the home,” says the homeowner. “We feel super-fortunate to be able to caretake this property for a while.” He credits landscape designer Jim Melnik and Connor Jones at Ojai Permaculture for bringing the couple’s garden dreams to fruition. What was once a neglected orange orchard is now a thriving terraced organic garden designed to hold water for irrigation and growing food.

“Every drop of water that falls on the property will stay and be used to irrigate or recharge the aquifers,” notes the homeowner. Strolling among native plants and citrus, avocado, persimmon and pomegranate trees, he says, “One of the most important things to me is the community.”

The couple donates the majority of their bounty of fruits and vegetables to Ojai and Oxnard nonprofits. They also enjoy sharing El Toro during the Ojai Holiday Home Tour and Green Living Tour. When the project was finished, “The homeowner paid us the highest compliment,” says Henson.” He said, ‘It looks like you guys were never here.'”

This story was originally published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.

Nancy Ransohoff


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