A Dated Beachfront Home Receives Modern Form and Function

beach house, Nanawall

Nestled into a gorgeous stretch of the Southern California coast, Santa Barbara is a very desirable place to call home. With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Santa Ynez Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop, the city’s natural beauty attracts people worldwide.

A Seattle couple saw a 1970s home on a lot that caught their eye and brought on local builder, Larsen Fine Homes, to transform the home into a more modern aesthetic and function. Larsen Fine Homes had recently undertaken a complete home renovation down the street from this home, and the homeowners selected them to do the same.

The sliding-glass-door system is wrapped around two 90-degree corners without using fixed corner-posts to capture maximum ocean views when closed and to avoid obstructions when the system is open. When the doors are open, all nine panels slide to one side around the two corners and stack out of sight.

The existing house was very dated, run-down and needed a great deal of work. As a result, it wound up requiring a larger investment and became a more significant project than initially anticipated.

“Our goal was to renovate the home into a luxurious residence with fine finishes, features and details,” recalls Nils Larsen, owner of Larsen Fine Homes. “Our scope grew largely because the bones weren’t so good; every wall we opened presented a problem and challenge. The house was poorly constructed, had funky wiring, bad plumbing, termite damage, walls out-of-plumb, dry-rot, poor waterproofing, and the list goes on. We wound up taking it down to the studs and reframing many areas. The joke onsite was that once we finished, we would tear out the foundation and redo that.”


Even with the substantial work needed, everyone agreed to move forward with a retrofit rather than a tear-down and rebuild. One of the primary reasons was timing.

“If you tear down and rebuild, that sets everything back a year or two due to the more rigorous Coastal Commission and permitting processes triggered here in California,” Larsen says. “You need to take more time and money to design a new-construction home thoroughly with the architect and engineer and the regulatory bodies to get the project to the point where they can put it through their system for approval. It was easier for us to retrofit, renovate, and make smaller-scale changes than to bulldoze the house and start fresh.”

There were numerous goals for this project. Aesthetics may have led the list—above all was the effort to get rid of the 1970s look and bring the home into current contemporary standards—but there were many other items of concern.

Aesthetics were at the top of the homeowners’ list of desires. Above all was the effort to get rid of the existing 1970s look and bring the home into current contemporary standards.

“The homeowners did not want a cold glass and concrete building. We were building a warm-contemporary look and feel, along with improved and sensible function,” Larsen explains. “The home has a U-shaped floorplan with the pool in the center of the U. Before the remodel, you had to walk outside alongside the pool to get to the guest bedrooms, which was very awkward. We found in the original plans, one of those rooms was a servant’s or maid’s room and the other was a workshop storage room close to the garage. We built an art gallery corridor with lots of glass facing the pool to bring the bedrooms into the interior living space. That was definitely a functional improvement.”

Installing radiant-heat floors was another challenging undertaking, effectively raising the finished floor elevation by 2 to 3 inches.

A particular oddity of the original home was that the three-car garage had a constricting ceiling height, even by 1970s standards.

“I’m 6-foot-2 and I had to duck to get in the garage,” Larsen says. “When I was inside, I felt like I was going to hit my head. My clients are car collectors, so that configuration wasn’t going to work. We ultimately tore down the whole garage, made it taller and installed two car lifts, giving them a five-car garage.”

PHOTOS: Nils Larsen

About the Author

Jim Schneider, LEED AP
Jim Schneider, LEED AP, has worked in the design and construction industry for almost 20 years. He writes about architecture, sustainability and construction from Denver.

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