On a ruggedly picturesque hilltop abutting the Los Padres National Forest in Montecito, California, stands a home that’s a monument to self-sufficiency. But it wasn’t always that way. The owners, a worldly husband and wife with a passion for collecting art, had made peace with their middling Spanish Mediterranean–style house when the devastating Thomas Fire of 2017 tore through the property and forced a new beginning.

The couple had intended to rebuild their previous home as it was when designer and architect Jamie Bush came on board, pushing them to consider a different direction entirely. To accommodate building laws, Bush suggested a house with the exact same footprint but pared back, with hyperfunctional interior architecture. It would be constructed, with the help of architecture firm Shubin Donaldson, from hard-wearing materials, most notably fire-resistant standing seam metal cladding on the exterior. “We wanted to heed the lessons of nature by collaborating with the environment and our immediate surroundings,” the wife says.

In the main living area of a residence in Montecito, California, designed by Jamie Bush with help from architecture firm Shubin Donaldson, the custom sofa is by Brambila’s Drapery. The cocktail table is by Stahl + Band, the armchair by Orior, the jute rug by Armadillo, and the artwork by Zhang Huan.

Yoshihiro Makino

“The idea for a fire-resistant home came out of the concept of The Machine in the Garden,” Bush says, referring to Leo Marx’s 1964 book about industrialization’s mark on the natural world—a favorite in architecture programs. “We thought about the romanticized aesthetic of the man-made within a bucolic setting.” The designer looked at out-buildings and sheds as references, structures that often go unnoticed but prove to be most useful. “I love the idea of industrial, modest materials that recede into the landscape,” he says.

The cladding speaks to this idea perfectly, though the interiors are just as thoroughly considered. In the primary suite, the wide-plank white American oak used on the floors proved too delicious to stay underfoot; Bush specified it for the walls in the same dimensions as the flooring planks, creating an interior that disappears once you’re in it.

The dining area opens onto the terrace through floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. The bleached hardwood table is Balinese; the swivel chairs are vintage, and the pendant is by Ingo Maurer.

Yoshihiro Makino

The color palette for the home was decided on equally rational-yet-inventive terms. “The couple are educated aesthetes, with an extensive art collection,” Bush says. “When we talked about infusing color into the house, we looked at the early modernism of the Bauhaus. That led us to primary colors.” An Alexander Calder piece (now the focal point of a blue powder room) served as a springboard for color testing. “We were inspired by how Charlotte Perriand embraced the transformative potential of primary colors and found expression in their abstraction,” the wife adds. Large swaths of yellow, red, and blue appear on walls and in furnishings on every floor of the house. Tangerine explodes in tiny doses throughout, while a faded peach stone was chosen for the primary bathroom to match the white oak.

White oak flooring is applied as paneling in the primary bedroom. The custom bed is by Brambila’s Drapery, and the nightstand is by Disc Interiors. The photographs are by Hiroshi Sugimoto, and the is sculpture by René Letourneur.

Yoshihiro Makino

Calder isn’t the only iconic artist represented in the couple’s collection. A white lounge chair by Dutch Bauhaus architect Gerrit Rietveld sits in the primary suite beside German lighting designer Ingo Maurer’s scrunched paper Lampampe. Mexican designer Pedro Friedeberg’s hand chair waves at them from across the room; Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs hang above the headboard.

“I love the idea of industrial, modest materials that recede into the landscape.” —Jamie Bush

In the living room, a sofa by Polish-Brazilian mid-century designer Jorge Zalszupin separates the space from the dining area, with works by Louise Nevelson nestled around it. A painting by Wang Guangle welcomes guests into the foyer, while a work by Nathalie Du Pasquier draws the eye down the ground floor hallway leading from the kitchen to the children’s rooms.

The centerpiece of the home is the perforated metal staircase that punctuates all three floors, powder-coated in a bright raincoat yellow. When the low ceiling at the top-floor landing proved structurally unsound for a skylight, Bush looked to artist Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 installation at the Tate Modern, The Weather Project, for inspiration, commissioning a half-dome light fixture that looks like the sun when reflected off the mirrored ceiling.

On the pool terrace, the dining table is by Bkon Millwork, the chairs are by Robina Benson, and the sculpture is by Yasuhide Kobashi. Landscape architecture by Franz Design Studio.

Yoshihiro Makino

And while fire may be well represented in the design of the home, it doesn’t define the property. Earth is ever-present in local plantings like manzanita, native buckwheat, and sage, grown alongside California lilac to emphasize Marx’s machine-in-the-garden concept. Air circulates easily throughout the house, and with the windows open, more than just the California breeze comes in. “You hear croaking frogs and birds at all times of the day,” says Bush.

The sea, just steps away, completes the circle, making the home self-contained in more ways than one. “It is a part of the landscape,” the wife says. 

This story originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE

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