Giffin & Crane

April 21, 2017

groundbreaking customer service with mac brown

Sure, countless clients have taken comfort in the fact that Mac Brown Excavating has been around since the early ‘80s. They can also feel good about supporting a business forged and maintained by a long-time Santa Barbara farming family. But what it really comes down to is that Brown, his stepson Mike Isaac, and their dirt-moving crew of 22 have their clients’ health and longevity in mind each time they fire up a piece of heavy machinery. Just read the company’s mission statement: “Ask any doctor and they will all tell you that sleep is imperative in order to live a happy and healthy life. We at Mac Brown Excavating take every precaution to make sure the job is done right and in a timely manner so you can sleep better at night.”

But doing a good job ahead of schedule is just part of reason why Giffin & Crane calls on Mac Brown with regularity, says Isaac, who entered the company full-time around 2001 after growing up in the trade.. “We just try to offer everything we can. [General contractors] really enjoy having one subcontractor cover as much as possible.”

In that respect, Mac Brown has grown its offerings considerably since those early days of helping fellow farmers dig drainage ditches. There’s plenty of grading, of course, from flat driveways to hillside removal, plus storm drains, utility trenches, and various feats of demolition, such as making swimming pools disappear (pictured above). “We do anything and everything that takes a tractor,” Isaac says.

Mac Brown first worked with Giffin & Crane about 15 years back, razing an old house to make way for a mansion in Montecito’s Cima del Mundo gated community. Since then, as Mac Brown further expanded into custom residential construction jobs, they’ve put each other on speed dial. “Giffin & Crane is one of our best customers,” says Isaac, who grew up in Carpinteria, where the company is headquartered with 40 pieces of heavy machinery. “We work well together. Once you’ve fostered that relationship over the years, there’s no surprises on the job site.”

In fact, the only job-site surprise of late has been a winter’s worth of heavy storms unlike anything the region has seen through five years of historic drought. But with a hustle gleaned from the family business, Isaac and his crew managed to stack up longer work hours into calm-weather windows without fumbling a single job, he said. Hey, whatever it takes to help everyone sleep better at night.

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March 30, 2017

The G&C Questionnaire — Anthony P. Spann, AIA


Having collaborated on no fewer than half a dozen extensive remodels, Anthony P. Spann — we call him Tony — has a long and eye-catching history with Giffin & Crane. As you’ll read in the Q&A below, he’s an admitted perfectionist — exactly what we need when it comes to high-end homebuilding.

It’s in his blood. Spann’s father was a draftsman, and made a point of taking young Tony to study and critique buildings in his native Chicago. That’s where he gets his knack for renovation and historic preservation, and he uses it to balance his clients’ needs with the unique challenges of strict residential and commercial building guidelines, especially in Santa Barbara.

In 2006, Spann merged his private practice with internationally regarded Harrison Design, where he’s now the managing principal of the firm’s California offices. Since then, one of his most memorable jobs was the comprehensive restoration of Crocker Row #5, which earned him the City of Santa Barbara’s Edwards/Plunkett Award for Historic Preservation and the Architectural Heritage award by the city’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

We caught up with Tony for more about his work, and about his life outside the blueprints.


G&C: What drew you to architecture and design early on?

Spann: My father was instrumental in guiding me to this profession.


What has been your favorite architectural field trip or vacation?

As a grammar school student, my father would take me downtown, Chicago, to see the skyscrapers — the old and the new — and explain how they were built, connecting the dots through history and how the aesthetics changed over time due to trial and error, engineering breakthroughs, and new technologies.


What is your favorite public building in Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara County Courthouse.


Where do you find design inspiration outside of architecture?

In nature, art and my children’s crazy ideas.


What do you most like about your job?

The joy it gives me, each and every day. I am one lucky guy.


What do you most dislike about your job?

There aren’t enough hours in the day; perfection can be time-consuming.


Go back and pick another profession. What would it be?

A history professor. Lessons learned are an incredible source of knowledge.


What is your current state of mind?

Life is good.


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sunset on Butterfly Beach with my family beside me, soaking up the rays and enjoying the colorful display in the sky.


What is your greatest fear?

That the Computer Age will negate the need for true architects who have a great deal of education, and our built environment will then suffer immensely.


What is your greatest extravagance?

Front row seats to a Chicago Bears football game.


What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Being published.


Which talent would you most like to have?

To be a musician.


If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Not be a loyal Chicago Bears fan.


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My children.


What is your most treasured possession?

Drafting tools handed down to me by my father.


Which living person do you most admire?

My wife, Linda.


Which living person do you most despise?

I don’t despise anyone.


What do you most value in your friends?



Who is your favorite fictional character?

Sherlock Holmes.


Who are your heroes in real life?

My family.


On what occasion do you lie?

To prevent hurting the feelings of others.


What is your most marked characteristic?

I’m a good listener.


What word or phase do you most overuse?

Draw faster!


What is your motto?

No matter what it is you are doing, you gotta have fun!




(By Keith Hamm, with photograph by Jim Bartsch.)

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March 16, 2017

The G&C Questionnaire— Dennis Thompson, AIA

Inspired by his grandmother at a young age, Dennis Thompson took his love of design through UC Berkeley and Princeton University before landing in Santa Barbara. In 1985, he founded Thompson Naylor Architects with Susette Naylor. The firm’s mission is to create beautiful places while strengthening community and protecting nature. Thompson, a LEED Accredited Professional, has served on the board of directors of the Community Environmental Council, the Sustainability Project, and was the founding president of the Green Building Alliance.

Click here for a look at the firm’s portfolio. And for more on Thompson’s take on work, play, and other pursuits of the human endeavor, keep reading.


G&C: What drew you to architecture and design early on? 

Thompson: My grandmother! She was a frustrated interior designer, and she got me interested in design when I was seven.


What has been your favorite architectural field trip or vacation?

I love Barcelona for its architecture and art.


What is your favorite public building in Santa Barbara?

The courthouse, of course.


Where do you often find design inspiration outside of architecture?

From nature and from artists.


What do you most like about your job?

Helping people create something useful and beautiful.


What do you most dislike about your job?

Having to find work.


Go back in time and pick another profession. 

Graphic design.


What is your current state of mind?

Stimulated by new design challenges.


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A perfect day is reading the Times, going for a bike ride with friends, and having an early alfresco dinner with my wife.


What is your greatest fear?

Losing my loved ones.


What is your greatest extravagance?

I once had a 15-year old car repainted.


What do you consider the most overrated virtue?



Which talent would you most like to have?

Playing a musical instrument.


If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

A certain amount of obsessiveness.


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Creating a business that supports several talented people.


What is your most marked characteristic?


What is your most treasured possession?

My road bike.


Which living person do you most admire?

Barack Obama


Which living person do you most despise?

DJT in his current role.


What do you most value in your friends?



Who are your heroes?

People who persevere in spite of obstacles.



(By Keith Hamm. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.)

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February 25, 2017

Poolside with Project Manager Steve Potter


When a family-favorite hangout spot needed an upgrade, the owners teamed up with Giffin & Crane to make it practical, functional, and easy on the eye. The project’s manager Steve Potter has the details.


Why change the pool? 

Steve Potter: The pool had grass right up to the edge. It looked good but didn’t function well. Clippings were continuously getting into the pool, and during pool parties the ground would get saturated and the kids would track dirt into the water.

One thing we had to consider was making sure that the new concrete coping around the edge of the pool had enough grip so that you wouldn’t slip but it also needed to be gentle on bathing suits. That involved pouring the coping with an aging compound, then sandblasting it a little, and then machine- and hand-sanding it for the final pass. The last step was adding stain to the fresh concrete to make it look like it had always been there.

With the remodel of the pool we were able to add a built-in spa and also a concealed cover. The previous cover was housed in a monstrous box at the end of the pool. We did away with that and sunk the cover spool into the ground.


How about inside?

The pool house bathroom was huge but at the same time too cave-like. We put in a skylight and refreshed the walls with a light waterproof plaster, completely changing the feeling. We also added the sauna. It literally came in a kit off the internet, custom-sized to our space, and was really efficient to install.


How about the outdoor living space? 

We upgraded the kitchen appliances and added an outdoor TV and wifi service to the patio area. We also added pool controls in the main house so that they could turn on the spa ahead of time without having to walk the 100 yards between the house and pool.

Anything else about the process?

The project was conceived with our estimators and out in the field, and it really came to life in our weekly meetings with the owners.


(By Keith Hamm, with photographs by Jim Bartsch.)

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February 17, 2017

The best of good wood: architectural millwork

Brothers Joe and Tom Mathews started out when they were kids, sweeping sawdust at their dad’s cabinetmaking shop. As they got older, they came in on weekends and during summer vacation to absorb the trade. Then it was off to college to get in some more bookwork before coming back to help run the place as business ramped up and the small shop became a big shop. These days, with dad long retired, they own it.

Architectural Millwork of Santa Barbara occupies the corner of Nopal and Quinientos streets, in Santa Barbara’s Lower Eastside industrial neighborhood, directly across the street from where Joe and Tom’s dad, Ron Mathews, opened it in 1969. “Working as a foreman in a construction company at the time, my dad saw an opportunity to build cabinets,” Joe says. “He started out renting a microscopic room with a table saw in it.”

Today, Architectural Millwork hums and buzzes inside a 19,000 square-foot facility with a showroom, conference space, upstairs offices, and, of course, a state-of-the-art woodworking shop. Joe and Tom’s crew consists of draftsmen, estimators, project managers, and more than 20 sets of hands in production and installation. You name it: cabinets, doors, windows, moldings. All of it expertly crafted to look good, function perfectly, and last a long time, like the quarter-sawn white oak ticket counter at Santa Barbara Train Station (pictured, below). And there’s everything from big jobs, such as fabricating dozens of identical wardrobes for the new dorms at Westmont College, to “a custom fireplace mantel for the little old lady up the street,” says Joe, who understands the bond between man and wood.


“Wood is a very therapeutic, enjoyable product to work with—It’s the feel. The smell. From working with your hands on a small piece to the heat from the fire in your cabin,” he says philosophically before circling back to the realities of running a business. “But it’s a whole different thing to do it as a living. You really have to be on your game. It’s all about relationships—listening to your clients and understanding their needs. You have to be relentless about taking care of them.” In that respect Joe and Tom are big on communication platforms more traditional than texts and email. Call your clients, says Joe. Meet them, shake hands, and have face-to-face conversations about custom bi-folding glass doors (pictured, below).


In business for nearly half a century, Architectural Millwork is building pieces for the children of some of their former clients. “We try to grow with our clients,” says Joe (pictured, above right, with a custom gate), a sentiment shared by Giffin & Crane, who’s been in business since 1986. “Working with Bruce and Geoff is the best,” Joe says. “They have great staff and the work flows well. They’re honest and they pay their bills on time. 100% professional. At the end of the day, it’s not just Giffin & Crane building a house. It’s Giffin & Crane and 40 subcontractors building a house. They know that, and that’s why we all succeed together.”



(By Keith Hamm, with photos courtesy of Architectural Millwork.)


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January 31, 2017

Lessons in Hillside Mastery: An Asian Contemporary


For the owner of this all-new home overlooking the Santa Barbara waterfront, finding the right architect was the easy part. “I was just looking through magazines and all the homes I liked happened to be Don Pedersen homes,” says Vickie Ideta. So she rang his office.

Ideta, who’s Asian American, told Pedersen that she was a big fan of the Asian influences on the American Craftsman architectural style. “Lots of natural wood. Streamlined features. Clean lines with a natural color palette,” the list goes on, she said. “I wasn’t looking for ostentatious detail so much as fine workmanship. That’s what I think of when I think of a Craftsman home.”

Ultimately, she added, “I wanted a house that was a modern look on a Craftsman, with the views taken into consideration. And because it’s in California, I wanted an inside-outside feel.”

With Ideta’s direction and wishlist committed to memory, Pedersen started drawing. The design evolved as the drawings took shape, “going through four or five iterations,” she remembers, to get the house just right on paper to avoid costly redesigns down the line. “I wasn’t too keen on the whole change-order idea,” Ideta says.

With completed plans in hand, Pedersen recommended Ideta start interviewing contractors. During that process, Giffin & Crane jumped out above the rest. Then came the hard part.

Situated on a steep hillside with no driveway, the tough-to-reach parcel was also composed of Santa Barbara’s dreaded expansive soil, which is prone to swelling and shrinking as its water content changes throughout the seasons. As expansive soil moves, it threatens to dislodge a home from its foundation or send a crack through the ceiling.

To remedy that problem, lots of engineering stabilized the site, mostly with extra-deep foundational footings and heavy duty retaining walls. Looking back now, Ideta says, “Bruce Giffin is probably the best project manager I’ve ever met.”


Per Ideta’s desires, exterior stonework made its way inside, with matching fireplace facades (pictured, above) and an aggregate concrete floor downstairs for the pool table and guest rooms. Upstairs, there’s the master bedroom, kitchen, and great room, all with those optimized views (pictured, below). From the stonework to the custom cabinetry by Architectural Millwork, Ideta paid attention to every detail and was open to feedback from the build crew.


“One of the things I liked about working with Giffin & Crane is that they brought in some of the best people,” she remembers. “They were true craftsmen who really added to the home with their ideas.”

All said, it’s approximately 4,200 square feet, with four bedrooms and four-and-a-half baths, and everything she had hoped for, she says. “Building a house was one of those bucket list things I always wanted to do.”



(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Jim Bartsch)






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January 12, 2017



After requisite formal training (undergraduate work at the University of Florida and an advanced degree from the University of Pennsylvania) and plenty of time broadening her perspective overseas (in Vicenza, Italy, and the American University of Paris), Jane Snyder now orchestrates a team of creative professionals, Mosaic Architects & Interiors. With offices in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Napa Valley, Vail, and Boulder, they specialize in custom homes, estates, and interior design, among other services.  

Above all, Snyder maintains a deep love for the process of design and enjoys helping people feel comfortable in their homes by bringing their creative visions to life. And as you’ll see below, Snyder also has a warm place in her heart for Italian hillsides, optimism in general, and a certain man in a red suit.


G&C: What drew you to architecture early on?

Snyder: The blend between art, space, and materials.


What has been your favorite architectural field trip or vacation?

Definitely exploring the hill towns in Italy.


What is your favorite public building in Santa Barbara?

The Courthouse. I always notice something new each time I visit.


Where do you find design inspiration outside of architecture?

In the color and texture palettes in nature.


What do you most like about your job?

Working with craftsmen on custom pieces, furniture, light fixtures, details.


What do you most dislike about your job?

The long timeframe from start to move-in.


Go back in time and pick another profession.

Set designer and painter.


What is your current state of mind?

Enjoying the wisdom that comes from experience.


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A balance of work and play.


What is your greatest fear?

That our projects won’t get built.


What is your greatest extravagance?

A daily dose of dark chocolate.


What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Hard to say.


Which talent would you most like to have?

A good singing voice.


If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

More patience.


What is your most treasured possession?

My sketchbooks.


Which living person do you most admire?

Eckhart Tolle.


Which living person do you most despise?

Let’s just say that I am a Democrat.


What do you most value in your friends?



Who is your favorite fictional character?

Santa Claus.


Who are your heroes in real life?



On what occasion do you lie?

I try to speak my truth with gentle words.


What is your most marked characteristic?

My optimism.


What word or phase do you most overuse?



What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Building a fun, multitalented design firm in five locations.



(By Keith Hamm, with photo by Jim Bartsch)

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December 6, 2016



PART I: A licensed architect in California and New Mexico, Chris Dentzel completed undergraduate studies at UCSB before earning an advance degree from the Southern California Institute of Architecture. While his award-winning skill set focusses on conventional and adobe residences on Santa Barbara’s South Coast (including his own) and New Mexico’s Four Corners region, his services also include homesite development, interior design, and furniture design and fabrication. With any project, he aims “to combine beauty and contemporary design with age-old techniques and materials to ensure each project is truly exceptional,” he says.

A companion blog (Part II) takes a closer look at Dentzel’s creative hand in an all-new construction of a Tuscan farmhouse in the Santa Barbara hills. But before getting into that, let’s ask him about perfect happiness, his greatest fear, and a few more insights from the mind of an architect.


G&C: What drew you to architecture early on?  

Dentzel: Watching our stick-frame adobe house being built when I was four.


What has been a favorite architectural field trip?

Italy, until I went to Australia.


What is your favorite public building in Santa Barbara? 

Lobero Theatre.


Where do you find design inspiration outside of architecture? 

In nature. And when I’m sketching and the left brain melts away.


What do you most like about your job? 

Relative independence.


What do you most dislike about your job? 



If you had to pick another profession, what would it be? 

Goat herder.


What is your current state of mind? 



What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Balance, gratitude, and appreciation.


What is your greatest fear? 

Forgetting my name.


What is your greatest extravagance? 

Sleeping past 7 a.m.


What do you consider the most over-rated virtue? 



If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 

I’d be an inch taller.


Which talent would you most like to have?

Opera singer.


What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

Overcoming disasters.


What is your most treasured possession? 

My health.


Which living person do you most admire? 

Dr. Walt Lewis, MD.


Which living person do you most despise? 

That’s a hard one.


What do you most value in your friends? 



Who is your favorite fictional character? 



Who are your heroes in real life?

Those keeping their boat afloat.


On what occasion do you lie? 

When creativity fails.


What is your most marked characteristic?



What phrases do you most overuse?

“Um . . .”


What is your motto?

Do your best.



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Chris Dentzel, Part II: French-Italian Farmhouse


When Chris Dentzel’s neighbors purchased a flat, hilltop parcel on the western end of Santa Barbara’s picturesque Mountain Drive, they invited him to design their dream home. They’d traveled Europe quite a bit and had fallen in love with the living spaces outside city centers, where resident architecture radiated comfort and country charm.

When they asked Dentzel to design them a farmhouse, he got excited. At the time, he happened to be wildly smitten with Italy, particularly Tuscany and all its traditional farmhouses. “So I gave them an Italian farmhouse,” he remembers. “But they said, ‘Oh, no, we want a French farmhouse.”

Dentzel went back to the drawing board, but not in the sense of the old saying. Instead of starting over, he made a simple change. At their next meeting, Dentzel unveiled drawings of the very same farmhouse, but with the window sashes in the provence blue so common to France’s southern homes along the Mediterranean. They loved it.


Following about a year in planning and permitting, the all-new home spent another year in construction. Finished highlights include: imported French terra-cotta and carved limestone fireplace surrounds (pictured, above), installed by Santa Barbara Stone; oak beams (picture, below) hand-hewn in the 19th Century; and fire sprinklers and tempered window glass to meet strict building codes for mountainous areas prone to wildfire.


The home covers 5,500 square feet with four bedrooms, four baths, and a second-story master suite.


(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Jim Bartsch)

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November 15, 2016



Instead of delegating, architect Howard Wittausch prefers to work directly with his clients every step of the way, an approach that brings collaboration, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness to any project. He also draws from a spectrum of experience. After graduating from the UC Berkeley School of Architecture, he served with the Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps. He also worked with the County of Santa Barbara as a plan-check engineer. His portfolio includes free-spirited custom homes, historic renovations, affordable housing, skilled-nursing facilities, residential remodels, and additions to commercial mixed-use projects and industrial buildings.

“In an age of specialization, I think of myself as a generalist,” he says. “Versatility is my hallmark. And my greatest satisfaction lies in seeing the joy and excitement that comes from helping my clients realize their dreams.”

For one such dream, click here. And for more Wittausch’s career insight and work ethic, keep reading.


G&C: What drew you to architecture early on? 

Wittausch: Drawing ability and math. Also I’m a very visual person.


What has been a favorite architectural field trip?

Most recently, a stay at the historic McCloud Hotel, near Mount Shasta, restored to its 1910 condition.


What is your favorite public building in Santa Barbara? 

Santa Barbara County Courthouse.


Where do you find design inspiration outside of architecture? 



What do you most like about your job? 

No two days are the same.


What do you most dislike about your job? 

Unnecessary bureaucratic red tape.


If you had to pick another profession, what would it be? 

Painter. Writer. Musician.


What is your current state of mind? 

Peaceful, curious.


What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To be busy, useful, connected to people.


What is your greatest fear? 

Loss of my faculties.


What is your greatest extravagance? 

To have time and spaciousness.


What do you consider the most over-rated virtue? 



If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 

To be more athletic.


What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

My work.


What is your most treasured possession? 

My health and well-being.


Which living person do you most admire? 

My Unitarian minister.


Which living person do you most despise? 

I do not despise anyone.


What do you most value in your friends? 

Intellectual honesty, personal integrity.


Who is your favorite fictional character? 

Ahab from Moby Dick.


Who are your heroes in real life?

Everyday people who persevere against the odds.


On what occasion do you lie? 

To save face and to protect the feelings of others.


What is your most marked characteristic?

My physical presence.


What phrases do you most overuse?

“So it would seem” and “By all means.”


What is your motto?

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.


(By Keith Hamm, with photo by Jim Bartsch)


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November 3, 2016

“done moving” in Montecito


Built in 2011, this 4,200-square-foot home (pictured, above) had plenty of attractive ingredients, such as steel-reinforced framing, vaulted ceilings, and a sensible floor plan. Outside, a wooded ambiance invited quiet privacy, all within walking distance of Montecito shops and restaurants. Purchased in 2012 by a retired couple—who prefer a bit of anonymity—the house would serve as a comfortable homebase between travels and a grand gathering spot when their grown children headed home for the holidays. They wanted it to be perfect. And for that, it would need a transformative remodel.  

On a recommendation, they called Giffin & Crane. We recommended architectural designer Jason Grant. Also on board was Wendy Weiner, the interior designer of their previous home. The design-build team was set.   

Described by the homeowners as a ghastly mishmash of design features, the home’s main living area—a wide and vaulted space linking the kitchen to a dining area to the living room and fireplace—originally showcased heavy stone pillars, archways clashing with archways, and bloated ceiling fans. All in all, there was far too much busy detail, which would distract from the homeowners’ desire to build a nice backdrop for all the furniture arriving from their previous home. Their old place was nearly twice as big, but the goal wasn’t to downsize so much as “right-size” their post-career lives into a final home with all their favorite pieces.   

Meeting every Thursday, the team decided not to rush the planning process. Better to get the concepts just right—and get them all down on paper, with cost and timeline accounted for—before launching the project. And after a year in planning and another year in process, their patience paid off.

Giffin & Crane builders—led by project manager Dana Anderson—calmed the busy living spaces by eliminating superfluous arches, lifting ceilings, and moving those bulky stone pillars outside where they belong. A linen closet off the kitchen became a bar. Boring cabinetry found an elegantly antique look with a bit of creative refinishing. And the three-car attached garage became a family room, office, and library, as crews built a new 800-square-foot garage on the other side of the driveway. Other highlights include a Napoleon direct-vent gas fireplace, custom light fixtures by Merv Newton, and all-new wood floors.

With the finishing touches in 2015—including a French courtyard out the back, with a burbling fountain and a hidden owl box—it’s the sort of home that makes its owners say, “We’re done moving.”



(By Keith Hamm, with courtesy photos.)

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October 13, 2016



Overlooking San Ysidro Creek in the quiet Montecito foothills, the 1.4-acre parcel was home to mature sycamore and oak trees. The idyllic setting was a compelling empty canvas. But it also presented unexpected challenges. Could a newly constructed single-family residence live up to the surrounding splender with minimal disturbance?

Faced with the regulatory reality that any new home could not compromise the surrounding riparian health, the building’s footprint was confined to small open spaces between the drip lines of the sprawling canopies.

“Right away, I visited the property alone several times,” remembers architect Howard Wittausch, who came up with the idea to design the home to fit within the tight envelope described by the woodland and the required 25-foot setback from the top of the creek bank. “It would be very challenging to build, with lots of acute angles [pictured below],” he says. “The owner liked the idea.”


As backup, Wittausch presented an alternate design of intersecting rectangular structures that would have cut construction costs by half, he says. But the owner vastly preferred the first option. “She wanted to live in a work of art,” Wittausch adds. “The artistic side of this project would reign supreme. And she wanted something very modern but warm to the eye and warm to the feel.”

However, designs that look fantastic on paper don’t always translate easily during construction. In fact, the original contractor underestimated some of the project’s many formidable challenges, and it was decided that Giffin & Crane step in, Wittausch remembers. “I was looking forward to working with Giffin & Crane; I had always wanted to work with them on a special project.”

A shortlist of the home’s many custom features: fiberglass-reinforced pea gravel stucco made extra-smooth with long aluminum screed boards; copper roof and gutters; windows and doors by Architectural Millwork; stonework by Pat Scott Masonry; eve-mounted exterior fire sprinklers; a cantilevered concrete deck projecting into the riparian setback; and a board-formed concrete chimney (pictured below) by Concrete Impressions.


“Knowledgeable subcontractors can be as important to a design process as the architect,” Wittausch says. “And sometimes even more so, because they really know the methods and tools it will take to fasten certain materials the right way.”

The main house measures roughly 2,800 square feet, with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, plus a 600-square-foot art studio. Outside, there’s a detached two-car garage with an upstairs office. All of it blends with the natural surroundings while standing alone as a distinct one-of-a-kind home.

Reflecting on the project, Wittausch said it’s “the highest achievement in my career. That house is written in time—it will never be dated.”


(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Jim Bartsch)



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September 14, 2016



Santa Barbara-based architect Tom Meaney first realized the potential of combining his passions for art and architecture while studying in Rome through the University of Norte Dame. Since then, his artwork has helped him “understand and appreciate the subtleties of color, proportion, and texture,” he says. “Combined with architectural training, I strive to create a home which emphasizes light, space, scale, and detail. My goal is to create a home for my clients which reflects the unique qualities of their site and the individual aspects of their lifestyle.”

For examples of his art and architecture, visit For more photos of the home pictured above, click here. And for Meaney’s thoughts on life’s bigger picture, keep reading.


G&C: What drew you to architecture early on?

Meaney: It’s always been in my blood.


What has been your favorite architectural field trip or vacation? 

Studying in Rome for a year while in college.


What is your favorite public building in Santa Barbara? 

The mission.


Where do you find inspiration outside of architecture? 

Drawing, traveling, and seeing great artwork.


What do you most like about your job? 

Doing good work for good people with a good team.


What do you most dislike about your job? 

The governmental agencies.


Go back and pick another profession. What would it be? 

Hmmmmm. Maybe art forgery.


What is your current state of mind? 

Fine, thank you.


What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Family vacations.


What is your greatest extravagance? 

Family vacations.


What is your greatest fear? 

That we are ruining our planet.


What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 



Which talent would you most like to have? 

The ability to speak many languages


What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

Being dad to some amazing kids.


What are your most treasured possessions? 

My memories.


Which living person do you most admire? 

Pope Francis.


Which living person do you most despise? 



What do you most value in your friends? 

Humor, intelligence, humility.


Who is your favorite fictional character? 

Captain Hook.


Who are your heroes in real life? 

My kids, Father Hesburgh, and Michelangelo.


What is your most marked characteristic? 

I’m easygoing.


What is your motto? 

“Fine art. Fine architecture.”


What word or phase do you most overuse? 

“Bruce Giffin is a genius.”


On what occasion do you lie? 

Answering questionnaires like this. But not this one, I swear.


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August 14, 2016

Elephant Iron: The Welder and the Zookeeper unite

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Behind a wide, nondescript door off a side street in Santa Barbara’s Eastside, Gerry Endeman surrounds himself with the tools of his trade—welders, cutters, grinders, files, and all the attendant safety gear. As a welder and business partner at Elephant Iron, Endeman’s work runs the gamut, from bidding and designing to fabricating and installing. At the core of it, though, he’s an artist (pictured, above, working on an elegant entry gate, shown installed, below).


Endeman grew up in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley, a creative kid who took a year of art classes at Allan Hancock College on scholarship before joining the Navy. After a year in Italy, he transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he took up welding and spent three years repairing warships. Back home in Santa Ynez, he found a lot of welding work on agricultural operations and spent a lot of time developing a hydraulic dump trailer for some local farmers and ranchers. “I still see some of those around town,” Endeman says matter-of-factly, with a hint of pride. He joined Elephant Iron about 25 years ago.

Back then, the small business was simply called Peter Grimm Welding, operated out of the back of Grimm’s beat-up Volvo wagon. Grimm, who also grew up in Santa Barbara, found his knack for welding at Santa Barbara City College, where he took night classes while working days at Santa Barbara Zoo, training and tending to elephants, sea lions, and parrots, among other attractions. Soon enough, the zoo started hiring Grimm for his welding skills, and his career slowly shifted from zookeeper to full-time welder, around 1985. “The elephants were my weld inspectors,” Grimm remembers with a laugh. Among other memorable projects, Grimm built the zoo’s first lion cage. (Turns out, Endeman has also built a lion cage, at Neverland Ranch, where he also created a steep walkway and platform from which Michael Jackson could pet his giraffe.)

Grimm changed the name to Elephant Iron about 15 years ago, honoring his old four-ton friends at the zoo. These days, Endeman and Grimm are partners, Grimm heading up the paperwork department while Endeman shines in his creative element of conceptualizing, drawing, and fabricating high-end ironwork. “We certainly aren’t the cheapest shop in town,” Endeman says. “But we do the nicest work.”

As for their longstanding collaborations with Giffin & Crane, Grimm takes comfort in the fact that he and Endeman have confidence in the building team, and vice versa. “Working with Giffin & Crane, we all know that each person is always moving toward solutions,” Grimm says. “They’re totally honest guys, and we’re lucky to have a solid relationship with them.”


(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Holly Lepere)

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April 12, 2016

Warm-Blanket Inspiration for a Montecito Remodel

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The Turrichi family had found a great parcel, that’s for certain: a flat Montecito acre with lots of oaks and peek-a-boo ocean views. But the house? Not so great. It was time for a remodel.

“The house was a hodgepodge, a hot mess, a mix of the ‘70s and the ‘80s,” says Lannette Turrichi (pictured, above right). “We didn’t know if was Spanish-style or ranch-style or what. It bugged me—the way it was laid out, all these doors, and very dated.” To begin the process of making it their own, the Turrichis decided to remodel the kitchen, while living at home with three young children. They met with Bruce Giffin, introduced through the listing agent.

As the first of three substantial contracts the Turrichis signed with Giffin & Crane, that painless and ultimately fulfilling kitchen remodel lead to a second project, focussed on upgrading the detached guest cottage. And last but certainly not least, they pulled the trigger on a “down-to-the-studs” remodel of the main house. For that one, architect Tom Meaney played a big hand; he’s good at rearranging disjointed floor plans into living spaces with good flow.

“After that first experience with the kitchen, we felt we had formed a good partnership with Giffin & Crane,” Lannette remembers. “It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh! We actually like this contractor!’ Bruce helped us have a vision and completely accommodated us as our vision transformed.”

The Turrichi vision crystallized when Bruce gave the family a blanket for Christmas. The blend of wool and cashmere was warm, comfortable, and luxurious. Later, when Bruce asked Lanette what she wanted her home to feel like, she answered, “Like that blanket.”

Bruce called a meeting with Meaney and site superintendent Derek Shue — and the three grown men on a multimillion-dollar project had a long talk about a very special blanket.

“And the best part about it,” says Lannette, “is we had a contractor who didn’t blow me off or make fun of me because of that. Bruce embraced it.”

Fast forward several months— through “a beautiful ballet” of creative powwows, through spontaneous design adjustments on site, through teams of “very respectful subcontractors,” says Lannette — to an end result: a new and large home for the growing Turrichi family, with four bedrooms, six bathrooms, and sophisticated architectural lines.

“When I pull into the driveway and unlock the front door, I get little goosebumps,” Lanette says “I feel so comfortable in my home. It’s my blanket.”

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(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

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March 30, 2016

All in the Details: Finish Carpentry with Trim Works

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Surrounded by a family of homebuilders, Santa Barbara-native Jerry DeHoog grew up on job sites. His first construction work was digging ditches for foundation footings, and he watched many new houses go up, dirt to doorknob. Along the way, he discovered his specialty. “I realized at a young age that finish work is like the cherry on top,” he says. “It’s the best part of building, and it’s a lot easier on the body.” It also makes a strong impression, he adds. “Finish carpentry is one of the last things done but the first thing you see.”

In his twenties, DeHoog emerged from beneath the family wing to set out on his own, focusing on interior finish carpentry, mainly windows, doors, baseboard, and crown molding.

In the mid-1990s, he relocated to Las Vegas, where he spent nearly years working for the same contractor, specifically on high-end new homes for the movers and shakers of the valley. DeHoog says that one year working the burgeoning Sin City build boom equalled three years back home. Any way you do the math, the experience positioned him at the top of this game. Plus, he had a cool boss. “He allowed me to think outside the box and try new things.” DeHoog remembers, “I use to brainstorm with my boss frequently on how to be more efficient while maintaining the highest quality on upcoming projects.”

Back in Santa Barbara, DeHoog became licensed in 2002, launched Trim Works in January 2003, and started working with Giffin & Crane in June 2003, specializing in the installation of custom doors, windows, hardware, plus decorative millwork.

Also, once a year, he teaches a workshop in Santa Barbara City College’s Construction Technology Program on how to hang and hardware doors.

“It’s a way for me to give back a little and to help me with public speaking,” he says. When he gets some free time, DeHoog enjoys hanging out with his girlfriend Julia, firing up the backyard barbecue for friends and family, and going to concerts.

As far as work goes, “I’m just trying to capitalize on a certain skill set,” he said recently while touring two Giffin & Crane job sites, where attention to detail is as important as high-quality working relationships between client, contractor, and subcontractor. And it sure doesn’t hurt that he’s doing something he truly enjoys.

“I was very fortunate to start working with Giffin & Crane,” adds DeHoog (pictured, below). “They have amazing projects, wonderful clients, and everyone has always been helpful along the way.”

(By Keith Hamm, with photo courtesy of Trim Works)

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November 9, 2015

Growing a Business, a Family, a Garden, and a Home

Like many self-respecting business ventures, Giffin & Crane General Contractors got its start in the family garage. The year was 1986, and that garage was attached to the small home of Kim and Geoff Crane (pictured, below). Geoff had met Bruce Giffin in the field—Geoff a finish carpenter, Bruce an expert in foundations and framing—and they sensed a market for a partnership. So they shook hands and organized their headquarters with desks, a phone, a fax and a PC equipped with the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program.


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Nearly three decades later, the Cranes have long since reclaimed their garage, and as business ramped up they’ve put a lot back into the place where Giffin & Crane was born.

“It was just a tiny little box when we bought it,” Kim remembers, adding that Geoff’s mom spotted the sale sign on a Sunday drive in the foothills. Since then, they’ve about doubled the home’s square footage, up to roughly 2,500, but have spent most of their efforts outside, working the one-acre parcel.

“Santa Barbara has become such an expensive place to live and raise a family that we just wanted to put the entire property to good use, grow some food and have it be a gathering place,” Kim says.

On the food front, the Cranes started out with a simple vegetable garden. Over the years, their tastes and talents have expanded into a veritable homesteading outfit, complete with many more garden rows, a small citrus orchard, chickens, turkeys, honey bees and a couple goats that produce upward of two gallons of milk each day (great for Kim’s homemade chèvre, Camembert and salted ricotta). Their all-organic, zero-pesticide homegrown operation has come along way since the days of their young daughters selling eggs and lavender sachets from a makeshift street stand on the nearby corner.

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But as the Cranes can attest, even the most modest edible gardens—let alone full-blown husbandry—require space for washing, preparing, freezing and, of course, cooking. That’s where Geoff’s know-how of the building trades came in handy.

For example, as the immediate family grew—as did their group of friends—they dialed back a master bedroom project and instead made the home more functional for more people, combining an expanded kitchen with adjacent living space, where double French doors open to a shaded flagstone patio equipped with a built-in barbecue, kitchenette and outdoor fireplace.

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Taken as a whole, the Crane property reflects a theme of “family first,” which is fitting. At last count, three generations live on the land. The family’s latest addition—little Frankie—was born healthy and happy on May 29, at home.


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(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

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August 11, 2015

Tom Curry: Working His Way to the Top of the Trade


Tom Curry has a lot of energy and a good attitude. That’s impressive for a roofer pushing 40 years in the trade, a profession that requires large and equal doses of each, plus spontaneous math skills, crew management and perhaps a secret pleasure in standing on steeply pitched rooftops 20 feet or more off the ground.

“Tom likes risk and always seems up for a challenge,” says Bruce Giffin. “He’ll take on very difficult roofing and waterproofing jobs.”

That’s probably why he’s been the primary go-to guy for Giffin & Crane since their initial collaboration about 10 years back on a complicated below-grade waterproofing job at a celebrity’s Montecito hillside compound.

“I enjoy working with Giffin & Crane,” Tom says. “They have good management skills, and they’re true believers in professionalism and quality.”

Tom started with union jobs straight out of high school, hot-roofing with tar and gravel “back in the old days,” he says, while learning about new materials and techniques—and launching his own business—as the industry evolved at a fairly rapid pace.

In his late 30s, he earned an associate of science degree from Santa Barbara City College (which led to a few roofing jobs for various professors). He branched out into waterproofing 15 years ago, and 10 years ago he added a sheet metal shop to his growing workload. These days, he says, energy-efficient PVC roofing is very popular (and guaranteed for life), and he also does a lot of custom copper gutters.

His crew—headquartered next door to his materials yard in Santa Barbara’s lower Eastside—is about two dozen strong, some of whom are recovering alcoholics and users he’s coaching through stages of sobriety. “To give back quite a bit,” he says, “that’s what me and my wife are striving to do.”

On top of all that, he’s had a successful run of rehabilitating beat-up housing and building new residences on empty lots, lining up a considerable bevy of income properties that will someday bankroll his retirement.

Until then, business is good and he’s keeping at it. When he has time off, he enjoys sailing trips to the islands with family and friends and dinners at Joe’s with his better half—oh, and the occasional 20-mile hike up Tunnel Trail all the way over the mountains to the Red Rock backcountry, an endeavor best accomplished with lots of energy and a good attitude.

(Story and photo by Keith Hamm)

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July 6, 2015

Mid-Century Sea Ranch: Rebuild with Nod to Past

The four-acre hilltop belonging to Barbara and Greg Siemons (pictured, below) enjoys a broad view across the greater Hope Ranch neighborhood, yet blends into the surrounding land and sky. Avocado, apple, stone fruit and citrus greenery fill the property’s gently rolling contours. An expanse of drought-tolerant California grasses thrive along an unirrigated western slope. And the property’s centerpiece—a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath single-story home—draws the eye without stealing the spotlight.
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Conceived in the 1960s by an architect with Northern California sensibilities, the Siemons home—which Barbara describes as “mid-century sea ranch”—is a marvel of single-grain old-growth redwood fastened with copper nails. But after 50 years of seaside existence, it needed a comprehensive remodel. That doesn’t mean its distinctive character was put out to pasture. Far from it.

Maintaining the original footprint at approximately 3,000 square feet, the Siemons opened up parts of the interior, brought in more natural light through five new skylights, replaced about half of the redwood walls with a smooth coat of plaster and finished it to match the grayed patina of weathered driftwood. Most of the removed redwood planking was repurposed as baseboard and cabinetry. Underfoot, composite concrete floors complement the new walls, windows and doors.


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The open, relaxing mood of the interior extends outside, as well. Certain walls carry original redwood siding and others have been renewed with highly finished stucco, all of it in concert with the warm grays of a summer fog. The Siemonses also extended the front-yard deck to form an exterior wrap-around connection between shared living spaces and adjacent bedrooms.

“Here’s where I really had fun with it,” says Barbara about the master bath, which sports his-and-hers sinks, a large walk-in closet, separate shower and tub, private toilet and a sliding glass door to a deck and outdoor shower surrounded by hedge of physocarpus.

“We clicked with Giffin & Crane immediately,” she says. “They understood that we wanted to go modern, but not too modern.”

‪“As we opened it up, there were a lot of surprises,” she adds with a laugh. Before the Siemonses purchased it in 2012, the house had stood empty for eight years. “It was a bit of a Pandora’s Box, but Giffin & Crane was excellent at troubleshooting and moving on the best solutions.” ‬‬‬‬

(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

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April 29, 2015

Making the Wish Lists Come to Life . . . with Technology

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When a client has the vision, patience, and financial wherewithal to build a sizable custom home with a wide view beyond the Santa Barbara Channel, it is essential for the project’s general contractor to turn spontaneous ideas into finely tuned details as efficiently as possible. At this level, perfection isn’t so merely a dream but an attainable reality, thanks in part to modern-day technologies that enable a contractor, such as Giffin & Crane, to communicate a client’s vision to the people whose hands are hard at work.

For example, project manager Steve Potter (pictured, above)—who joined Giffin & Crane five years ago after running his own construction company in the Pacific Northwest—has been using computer software called SketchUp to turn complex blueprints into three-dimensional renditions that clients can receive via email and contemplate offsite.

Such technology came in handy recently, way up in the foothills off Gibraltar Road, where Potter is overseeing the ground-up build of a modern-contemporary, 4,100-square-foot single-family residence.

The client wanted a new enclosure for a fountain pump and trashcans but didn’t want it to be conspicuous from the ascending walkway to the home’s front door. After designing this enclosure straight into the existing computer model of the home’s exterior, Potter and the client were able to move the image and look at their design from several different angles. Once they got it just right, Potter could show it to the hardscaping crew. They, in turn, benefited from the computer model—they could see the finished product they were working toward and also calculate a reliable estimate of how much material they’d need see it through.

“The technology is especially helpful with what we call ‘client visualization,’” he added. “If a client is trying to imagine what the kitchen is going to look like, words and numbers on a blueprint don’t speak as well as a 3D drawing.”

Ultimately, says Potter, a finished home that matches a client’s dreams is about all the tradesmen “building the exact same thing—to achieve accuracy of vision.”


(By Keith Hamm, with photo by Eliot Crowley)



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April 14, 2015

Getting Good (Up)grades at Crane Country Day School

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Any Giffin & Crane construction project at Crane Country Day School (pictured, above) holds a special place in Geoff Crane’s heart—his grandfather founded the private school in 1928, and in more recent memory he’s overseen a handful of new builds and renovations on campus.

Most recently, Giffin & Crane doubled the size of the school’s parking lot and integrated an efficient roundabout for student drop-off and pickup. Sounds fairly straightforward, but it’s much more than meets the eye. The 56,240-square-foot expanse is built with permeable pavers over a deep layer of rock and gravel, like a giant French drain that enables precious rain runoff to soak back into our drought-stricken groundwater basins. (Plus, the vast amount of excavated material was used to re-engineer the school’s playing fields.)

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And in 2009, Giffin & Crane demolished the school’s old kindergarten classroom and built an entirely new building. Project manager Mike Staniforth remembers working with extra manpower to complete the entire build in just 11 weeks over the summer. But the rush to finish before the kids returned didn’t compromise Staniforth’s and Crane’s determination to match the exterior appearance of the new classroom with original structures nearby, many of them dating back some 80 years.


“Geoff’s a sophisticated builder who understands architectural vocabulary,” says Head of School Joel Weiss. “He builds on that vocabulary, and when he’s finished with a new project, it all reads coherently.”

Crane’s fluency also played a huge role in the construction the K–8 school’s Brown Family Art Center and the Brittingham Family Library, both of which have understated rural exteriors surrounding state-of-the-art interiors, including well-lit open floor plans that blend seamlessly with adjacent outdoor workspaces.


Over the years, some of the construction crews have been on the clock when classes are in session, and Giffin & Crane and school administrators have seized on those projects as educational opportunities, taking the kids on hardhat tours.

“Giffin & Crane has been an awesome friend to the school,” says Weiss, adding, “Outside of the execution of projects with a critical eye for detail, they’ve come in on time and on budget.”

(By Keith Hamm, with photos courtesy of Crane Country Day School)


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March 3, 2015

tuning in: a new home in rattlesnake canyon

As a professional designer of homes and interiors for the past three decades, Jill Hall was very excited to lend her style and expertise — and a little something extra—to a new construction in Rattlesnake Canyon. After all, this project would be her own, a space where she could eventually retire. She started from scratch, purchasing a 28,000-square-foot hillside lot that had been ravaged by the 2009 Jesusita Fire. Then she called Bruce Giffin.

Hall and Giffin had worked together initially, along with Hall’s daughter, Elyse Pardoe, seven years ago on a big remodel in Montecito. “Elyse and I really wanted to work with the best,” remembers Hall, “so we interviewed all the guys in town. We loved Bruce; he just exuded integrity.”

Since that first meeting, Hall Pardoe Design has teamed up with Giffin & Crane on several Santa Barbara projects, including Hall’s brand new home, completed in late 2013 after a yearlong build.

Working with a strict budget, Hall kept the footprint at a manageable 1,600 square feet. The home’s one bedroom has two full-size bathrooms and there’s another half-bath near the common area. Off the bedroom, Hall enjoys an expansive walk-in closet with a vanity on one end.

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Throughout her home—which could be described basically as rustic contemporary, or more elaborately as contemporary French farmhouse—high ceilings prevail and heated concrete runs underfoot. Radiant-heat flooring was one of three “must-haves” on Hall’s wish list, along with steel windows and an authentic French fireplace.

The large living room—with vaulted 20-foot ceilings supported by salvaged hand-hewn beams—shares a long view with the open kitchen, where soft-close Ikea cabinetry exactly matches the gunmetal gray Viking appliances. She’s a huge fan of Cesarstone countertops; she picked a color that goes well with the waxed concrete flooring. The whole place is sophisticated without being delicate.

“I wanted a place where you can put your feet up and be comfortable and not have to worry if you spill something or worry about the dog,” Hall says, pointing at Benny, her Dalmatian rat terrier masquerading as a mini pinscher.

The home’s creature comforts reflect Hall’s knack for locating affordable vintage items—such as antique pushbutton light switches and cover plates—but she also had to keep fire safety under close consideration. In that respect, the stucco home has interior sprinklers, no exterior wood (except a small hatch covering the electrical panel) and all of its steel windows and doors hold double-paned tempered glass. The roof is made of large corrugated panels of bonderized zinc, which Giffin’s crew acid-washed to make the house look like it’s been there for decades.

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That’s precisely what Hall wanted—an elegantly weathered place to hang her hat, with modern amenities. Giffin & Crane delivered.

“I clicked well with them,” he says. “They know how to tune in to the client.”

(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

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February 18, 2015

Landscape architecture: coursing through his veins

As a landscape architect specializing in the art and science of designing outdoor spaces for discerning clientele, it was only a matter of time before Leland Walmsley and his team at everGREEN Landscape Architects crossed paths with Giffin & Crane. That encounter occurred in 2008 on a comprehensive remodel in Montecito. Since then, they’ve worked together on half a dozen projects, from a Tuscan farmhouse residential build to a remodel of the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.


Like Giffin & Crane, Walmsley’s reputation rests with high-end endeavors, yet he’s not exclusive. He’ll take on 300 square feet as enthusiastically as 300 acres, simply because it’s what he loves to do—and it’s in his blood.

Nearly a century ago, his grandmother, Margaret Sears, started practicing landscape architecture at Florence Yoch & Associates in Pasadena. In 1923, she helped create the renowned Italianate garden at the Il Brolino estate in Montecito. She also designed the Ojai Valley Inn’s original gardens and worked on exterior set designs for Gone with the Wind. And these days, in a drought-stricken Southern California, original practices come back into play.


“A true estate garden really gets by on very little,” Walmsley says. “My family and I have always practiced cutting-edge, organic, environmentally responsible and green design, while others are just now scrambling to catch up. Many of my early clients don’t even realize their gardens are eco-sensitive, but are enjoying all the benefits: reduced installation and maintenance costs and a healthier environment to work, live and play in.”

Born and raised in Pasadena, Walmsley (pictured, below) studied film, fine arts and marine biology at UCSB in the early and mid-’80s before graduating from the USC School of Cinema-Television in 1988. For years while trying to figure out how to get back to Santa Barbara, he worked in Hollywood production design, he says, before refocusing on landscape design and architecture. He moved back to town in 2001, earned a Graduate Certificate for Landscape Architecture from UCLA a year later, and in 2004 he launched everGREEN. In 2007, he distinguished himself as the first certified LEED AP landscape architect in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

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That LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification requires that all the heavy hitters of a construction project—general contractor, architect, landscape architect, interior designer and a variety of engineers, among others—get together early on to carry out the U.S. Green Building Code’s mandate of resource efficiency and environmental responsibility.

“We have a very good working relationship with Giffin & Crane in that respect,” says Walmsley. “When you get a contractor like Giffin & Crane on board from the outset, they can engineer-value the project more precisely so that clients don’t get sticker shock.”

That’s good for the billfold—and good for the build.


(By Keith Hamm, with photos courtesy of everGreen)


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February 3, 2015

A Personal Shangri-La

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When Lillian Cross’s husband, Dave, passed away a few years back, she purchased a Mesa home that he had previously discovered while walking the dog. A modest 1,350 square feet, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, the house was a good size for Lillian, suddenly living alone and taking over the award-winning industrial lighting business Dave had established.

As with any new home, she needed to make it her own. After fielding a handful of remodel bids she thought were overpriced, she called Giffin & Crane on her daughter’s recommendation that “if you’re going to do something like this, do it correctly with a company that has a reputation for quality and service.”

“When I initially called, I thought Giffin & Crane would tell me the job was too small for them because they were known for building big, Montecito-type homes,” remembers Lillian (pictured, below). “But there was no hesitation on their part, and they demonstrated over and over again that my little house was important to them.”

The 6,500-square-foot lot sits on a hillside with views to Santa Cruz Island, but the existing exterior staircases were steep and narrow, tough for Lillian to safely navigate. With Bruce Giffin’s guidance, crews built new, gently sloping staircases, and retained the hillside with sandstone walls and appropriate landscaping. The backyard’s new centerpiece is an airy portico with comfortable furnishings and inconspicuous heaters overhead.

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“It’s my little Shangri-La,” says Lillian, a place to sip something warm in the morning and to unwind at day’s end.

As the work outside was nearing completion, Lillian contemplated an interior overhaul, but didn’t know where to start. “Bruce’s infinite patience convinced me to pull the trigger on remodeling the inside,” she says.

The original railroad kitchen felt very claustrophobic, she remembers. “Bruce just opened it up so there could be social interactions between the kitchen and dining room and living room,” which comes in handy when her children and grandchildren come over.


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Other updated features include refinished oak flooring throughout, a business office where a small bedroom once was, a cozy TV room — with an entire wall of books — leading out to that portico, a Japanese soaking tub that fits perfectly in the guest bathroom, and widened doorways complementing the newly opened floor plan.

Giffin & Crane tailored all of it to Lillian’s taste and potential needs down the road.

“I’m 74 years old, and I’m planning ahead to be able to move about freely inside and outside,” she says. “The best thing about working with Giffin & Crane was working with Bruce [pictured with Lillian, below]. I felt so much a part of the process. It was a wonderful experience.”

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(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral Zumwalt)

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December 18, 2014

Pat Scott Masonry: Community cornerstone



A slow walk around the 10-acre materials yard at Pat Scott Masonry reveals the organized collection of owner Eddie Langhorne’s trade. His business is all about Santa Barbara sandstone — that 30-million-year-old sedimentary rock angulating from our mountainsides and foothills — and the elegantly rustic look it lends to many of the region’s exemplary estates

From poolside pavers and gateway columns to ornate entryways and hand-sculpted fireplace surrounds, sandstone provides a durable beauty that complements entire neighborhoods, especially those tucked away along the wooded creeks of Montecito.


Almost all of Langhorne’s sandstone stockpile is sourced on site during construction projects. For example, it’s fairly common that boulders large and small are unearthed when a new home site is initially graded. That’s when Langhorne’s team comes in with shovels, wheelbarrows, cranes and dump trucks.

Back at the materials yard, located in Goleta, cobbles are sifted and sorted by size into hog-wire baskets, ready for the next installation (often at the same property from which they were sourced). The sifted-off dirt, by the way, makes its way into garden and landscaping projects all over town.

“We try to limit our waste,” Langhorne says, pointing out that small scraps of sandstone get crushed into gravel for driveways and drains behind retaining walls. “We’re left with just a bit of dust on the ground.”

Downtown, on the industrial Lower Eastside, Langhorne has a 5,000-square-foot shop with a 10-ton crane, a stone lathe and three computer-guided stonecutting saws. The biggest blade measures two meters across (pictured, below) and its teeth are made partially from diamonds, enabling it to slice precisely through very heavy, very thick sandstone boulders destined to become garden benches, oversized patio pavers, antiqued veneer siding or the roomy baking slab of a custom outdoor pizza oven.


The lathe and smaller saws can handle more intricate cuts, but for truly artistic touches Langhorne relies on his small crew of expert stone carvers. One of them, Salvador Melendez, was a young mason in Jalisco, Mexico, before coming to Santa Barbara a few decades back. Prior to landing a job with Pat Scott Masonry, Melendez carved the Sunday brunch ice sculptures at the La Cumbre Country Club.

“It’s really the clients who set the bar,” says Langhorne. “Our talents have been refined by the people who push our abilities.”


A Carpinteria native who grew up with the son of stonemason and company founder Pat Scott, Langhorne worked for Scott as an estimator before branching out on his own. In 1998, as Scott neared retirement, he approached Langhorne to buy Pat Scott Masonry, which had been in business since 1960. Langhorne seized the opportunity, combining his crew with Scott’s to offer elite stonemasonry that’s highly adapted to the textures and hardness of our local sandstone.

Tapped in to Santa Barbara’s high-end market for half a century, Pat Scott Masonry has worked with Giffin & Crane since the construction firm’s inception.

“We have an excellent working relationship with Giffin & Crane,” Langhorne says. “They’re not only our customer, they’re good friends. Their word is their bond.”


(Story and photos by Keith Hamm)

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November 18, 2014

Out of the Ashes

The fire was ignited by a home-alone dog pulling a bag of food off the counter next to the stovetop. The blaze was small and isolated, and firefighters from the Montecito Fire Department Station No. 2 were quickly called to the scene. The dog made it out just fine. The house didn’t fare so well.

Although the fire only burned for an estimated 12 minutes, its stinking black smoke permeated every room in Chris Dentzel’s 2,300-square-foot California ranch-style home. He had little choice but to strip down the 1955 original to the studs and start anew.

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As an architect — with an art degree from UCSB and a master’s from the Southern California Institute of Architecture — Dentzel (pictured, below) has worked with Giffin & Crane on half a dozen high-end projects over the past 20 years. But for this comprehensive remodel, he’d be the client. After going back and forth with his insurance company for more than a year, Dentzel finally got the green light to proceed with Giffin & Crane.

After demolition, the team, headed up by project manager Tom Stefl, tackled issues with the foundation. The one-and-a-quarter-acre hillside property sits on what’s called expansive soil, a shifting substrate that can cause structural damage. Using an integrated system of hydraulic jacks, crews temporarily elevated the entire wooden structure a few feet so that a new, self-leveling concrete foundation could be poured. As added earthquake protection, they also installed new sheer walls.

Dentzel says Stefl has a “vast amount of experience and has the masterful ability to come up with solutions to challenges, with keeping in mind the goal of quality.”

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After re-anchoring the skeleton to the new slab, Stefl orchestrated new electrical and plumbing, insulation and drywall, Arch Mill wooden doors and windows (except for some of the newly powder-coated original Torrance steel windows), and flush-front cabinets by Santa Barbara’s Ted Muneno. They also expanded the master closet and bathroom, in part to make room for a clawfoot tub originally sourced from the Santa Barbara Men’s Club. Among other details, the home’s entryway columns and fireplace surround were rebuilt with bricks salvaged from a remodel at the San Ysidro Ranch.

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With the master addition, the home now checks in at 3,000 square feet, all of it protected by interior fire sprinklers, tempered widow glass, and a bright red fire bell connected to the firehouse down the street.

And all of it is stylized by Dentzel’s own aesthetic: “I was like the cobbler getting to make himself a new pair of shoes,” he says.

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(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

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October 29, 2014

G&C’s Chris Leonard: Building Homes and Music

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As you can imagine, orchestrating extensive remodels and building high-end custom homes can be a challenge. With the work comes a sense of accomplishment, of course, but the team-building distillation of various players — moneymen, architects, subcontractors, laborers, inspectors, and many others — into a finished product pleasing to the client can also get a bit stressful.

That’s why Giffin & Crane Superintendent Chris Leonard builds guitars.

Leonard, 56, who grew up on live music — from Aretha Franklin and Cream to Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead (and his father’s accordion polkas) — built his first guitar a few years back, not long after deciding to teach himself how to play.

“Playing guitar is all-encompassing,” he says, referring to that state of hyper-focused creativity musicians slip into during a good jam session. He gets the same escape in his garage workshop, where he fabricates his own jigs and clamps, and has a spray booth for applying topcoats to his custom instruments. “While I’m playing or building guitars, everything else goes away,” he says.

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In terms of his long history at Giffin & Crane, Leonard laid a foundation as a carpenter in his native Canada, where he completed an intensive four-year apprenticeship program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. That training and follow-up work went a long way toward landing a job at Giffin & Crane more than 25 years ago, when he dropped anchor in the warmer climes of Santa Barbara. He stared out as a finish carpenter before setting his sights higher.

“My goal was to move my way up through the ranks,” Leonard says. “You can only swing a hammer for so long.”

His past experience on the ground floor helps him oversee project quality, he says, but the true key to the realm is being able to communicate effectively with a spectrum of skill sets and personalities. Whether he’s working with tradesmen just learning to speak English or playing the middleman between architects and building-code bureaucrats, “there’s a lot of tact to it,” he says.

Leonard also makes an effort to recognize and appreciate advancements in training and technology. “Those kids straight out of college with degrees in construction management, they’re on the cutting edge, and I’m all for hearing expert opinion. A job is always a team effort.”

And when a job is done, Leonard (pictured, below) heads back to his guitar workshop to clear his head.


(By Keith Hamm, with photos courtesy of Chris Leonard)

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October 14, 2014

The Art of the Home: Starbuck-Minikin Cabinetry


For the past two decades, Giffin & Crane has maintained a steady working relationship with one of Santa Barbara’s finest cabinetmakers. Starbuck Minikin, headed up by Charlie Starbuck, specializes in custom, one-of-a-kind projects (such as the kitchen cabinetry, pictured).

“I like building something nobody’s ever done before,” Starbuck says. To achieve that, especially for the region’s high-end market and its discerning clientele, Starbuck draws from nearly 40 years of experience.

“I bought the shop (pictured, below) from Bill Minikin in 1978,” he says. “That’s when my career in cabinetry began. I trained for five years with Bill’s partner, Wes Butler.”Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 4.36.58 PM

Before that, after earning an advanced degree from the University of Colorado, Starbuck worked as an accountant in San Francisco, a job that provided considerable monetary compensation but not much else. So the Santa Barbara native moved back home to revisit the creative impulses from his younger years, namely woodworking skills he picked up at Laguna Blanca School, under the guidance of shop teacher Charles Chester Cash, a retired carpenter.

“If Mr. Cash were still alive, I’d take him by the hand and show him my shop and my projects and tell him that this is what he inspired.”

“Wood shop was the only class I got an A in when I was a kid,” Starbuck says about those days of crafting cutting boards, skim boards, and paddle boards, among other early assignments. “I’ve always been building something since then.”

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One of his favorite personal pieces — which he built in his college apartment — is a walnut ping-pong table with cherrywood inlays. His kids grew up playing on it.

Once in the cabinetry business, Starbuck started out refinishing furniture before taking on remodels and new homes, and “as our shop grew and Giffin & Crane grew, our paths crossed,” he says. “It was a normal business eventuality” that’s going on 20 years.

“Our longstanding relationship is based on a mutual interest in quality, integrity, and professionalism,” Starbuck says. “And we both know that the most important thing in business is having a happy client.”

Over the years, Starbuck, who’s now 66, has adapted to a changing industry and marketplace, from learning computer-aided design and automation to sourcing specialty hardware and responding to a demand for sustainably harvested hardwoods. His seven-man crew operates out of a 4,000-square-foot shop, next door to his office in downtown Santa Barbara.

“I consider myself an artist, to an extent,” says Starbuck (pictured, below). “As an artist, if you’re in it for the money, forget it. You have to love what you do and have the passion to dedicate yourself to making sure clients are happy and be proud of your work.”

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(Story and photos by Keith Hamm, except lead photo, by Jim Bartsch).

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August 7, 2014

The Great Kitchen Remodel


If the kitchen is the new great room, the Jasiorkowskis are really onto something with their latest remodel. Where once a low-hanging beam cramped a tight layout of dated countertop and appliances, there’s now an expanded view across polished quartzite and dining space.

The vista doesn’t stop there, though. Beyond the dinner table, 300 square feet of windows showcase the Santa Barbara mountaintops rolling and rising from Rancho del Ciervo foothills.

The breathtaking result — one that opens up the interior while inviting the outside in — is nothing short of great.

It’s also quite practical for this family of five (six if you count Lizzie, their 80-pound Bernese Mountain Dog). Randy and Eden (pictured, below) Jasiorkowski’s three young sons, 6, 11, and 15, all like to cook. The remodeled open-concept layout offers about 70 square feet of easy-to-clean counter space, where the boys enjoy preparing snacks and meals before and after heading to the backyard to climb trees and play with Lizzie within eye and earshot of their folks.


The roomy design, much of it sketched out by Randy, who’s a corporate pilot by day and a musician by night, also got rid of a bad bottleneck between the kitchen and the living room, where the musical family keeps a four-piece drum set, a grand piano, and several guitars among other instruments.

“Bruce and Derek were a dream team to work with,” Randy says, referring to Bruce Giffin and Derek Shue. “They got it that music is an integral part of our lifestyle.”

Eden, an educational consultant and learning specialist who often works with clients in the new space, points out that the project team also commented “very candidly” about the couple’s original plans very early in the process. The valuable advice saved the Jasiorkowskis considerable time and money.

“Our ideas were a little bit too grandiose at first,” Eden remembers. Bringing experience and perspective to the proposed workload, Bruce helped the family accomplish a more practical and well-rounded project.


Also, adds Eden, Giffin & Crane stepped up to the added challenge of carrying out the multi-month remodel while the family remained in the home. While the Jasiorkowskis set up a temporary kitchen in the attached two-car garage, the demolition team, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, cabinetmakers, painters, and other crew members sealed off the work area to keep the dust down and cleaned up after themselves at the end of each workday.

Inset-panel cabinetry with a Swiss coffee and glazed-edge finish surrounding quartzite countertops on a buff-stained alder island, with distressed hickory flooring underfoot. The feel is blend of ranch and beach, a great fit for Santa Barbara.

“It’s a beautiful space,” Eden says. “It’s functional and it looks good.”


(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

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