Giving Thanks for Teamwork

Guest blog by Eric Carlstedt, Giffin & Crane Principal and Partner

In sports, there is always a field, court, ring, pitch, or some other setting where the event takes place. In construction, it’s really no different. Our job sites may not resemble a traditional field of play, such as Wrigley or Fenway, but just like in those legendary spaces, our project teams take their positions at the beginning of each game, prepared to execute what they’ve practiced so many times before. In our world, the team in the field is made up of our laborers and carpenters working alongside trusted tradespeople of all stripes, many of whom we have been working with for decades. With the guidance and direction of our onsite superintendents and project managers, our teams are able to produce the incredible projects we are known for.

However, it does not stop with the onsite team. Each one of our projects is a prototype, as each design is unique from the start and continues to evolve until completion. Such a journey requires strong partners on the design side who can help our players in the field get the information they need to perform. We are fortunate to work with some amazing architects and designers who are up for the challenge. Much like our trusted trade partners, we have worked with many of these firms and individuals for years, and that familiarity is valuable for creating a common playbook so that we can all continue to improve our performance. And when we get the opportunity to work with a new design firm, we always end up with some new innovation or idea to carry forward to the next project. 

At the end of the day, none of this work would be possible without our clients. When it comes down to it, they are the most essential members of the team and their engagement is critical from start to finish. As builders, there is an indescribable excitement that comes with witnessing owners take in their projects at various stages. Whether they are surveying the freshly graded land where their home will be built or seeing the finishes they selected applied for the first time — it just never gets old to us!

It likely comes as no surprise that our 2021 theme at Giffin & Crane has been “Construction is a Team Sport.” As mentioned above, that team extends beyond our internal G&C team to our trade partners, design partners, and clients. As general contractors, we are calling the plays and helping our teammates perform at their best because we know that what makes our projects special is the combined heart and professionalism of everyone involved. The fact that we have been able to continue to do this safely during the pandemic, without sacrificing quality, is something we are very proud of.

Now is an appropriate time to look back on the words of G&C cofounder Bruce Giffin in our Summer 2018 newsletter. “Those day-to-day neighborly interactions of human kindness . . . that’s what makes Montecito, and by extension, Santa Barbara, special,” he wrote. “Re-establishing normalcy is how we honor those we lost.” 

At that time, he was referring to how our community would rebuild after the mudslides that devastated the area earlier that year. Nearly four years on, Bruce’s words are again timely. While the scope of the events we are recovering from are global this time, and what normalcy looks like may have changed, the basic tenets of human kindness and our ability to strengthen our resolve to move us forward have not. So please, enjoy the holidays, be good to each other, and take the time to enjoy your favorite sport, whichever field it’s played on!

—Eric Carlstedt

Adding Warmth to Cool Nights

In Santa Barbara, warm summer days tend to drag on well into fall. At the same time, our nights cool down quite a bit. By late October, an evening fire can be a welcomed warming from the steadily shortened afternoon light. And during the holidays — and hopefully during some long rain days well into the new year — a warm and mesmerizing fireplace can make it feel like a real winter around here. 

We’ve helped build countless custom fireplaces over the years. It’s tough to pick a favorite. But here’s five great ones.       

Renovated Montecito Mediterranean: As part of a design-build team with the principal builders and architect, the clients could confidently adjust their ideas according to site constraints and budget. Ultimately, the new floor plan transformed the old disjointed layout into a flowing space with sophisticated architectural lines and an appreciation of necessary comforts for a growing family. Architecture by Tom Meaney. Photo by Jim Bartsch.
California Cottage: Working with the architect and builders as this remodel evolved, the owners stayed true to their vision of clean, minimalist living spaces. After reinforcing the building with foundational underpinnings and shear walls, crews vaulted the kitchen ceiling, installed radiant flooring throughout, and added square footage to the master suite, with French doors to the garden. Architecture and interiors by Mosaic Architects & Interiors. Photo by Jim Bartsch.
Montecito Modern Ranch: This comprehensive remodel had the grandchildren in mind, welcoming frequent visits with a beach house ambiance and an all-new outdoor shower near the property’s seasonal creek. Inside, a rearranged floor plan opened the kitchen to the family room and maintained a semi-private living room. Plus, there’s this cozy bedroom fireplace. Architecture and interiors by Harrison Design. Photo by Jim Bartsch.
Blending Old & New: The owners of this 1930s estate home initially started on an all-new master suite before realizing a whole-house renovation was in order. While the inside was reconfigured with better flow and modern elements, including finishes and ceiling treatments, the traditional Spanish exterior was preserved. Architectural design by J Grant Design Studio and Hall Pardoe Design. Photo by Jim Bartsch.
Classic Spanish Mediterranean: With an open floor plan and lots of glass to welcome the ocean view, this all new home fits the climate and mountain backdrop with its distinct Mediterranean style. A roomy kitchen with a center island faces the family room and formal dining area, reflecting architectural shifts from traditional layouts to the rising popularity of the great room, a signature space in 1990s high-end homebuilding. Architecture by Ketzel & Goodman. Photo by Jim Bartsch.

Framing Nature’s Splendor
This bluff-top modern captures oceanfront beauty and structural art.

All it took, they say, was one of those breathtaking doses of natural splendor Santa Barbara is famous for.

From the balcony of their blufftop home, Glennis and Jim Malcolm recently flashed back to that fateful autumn day in 2010. They had been house hunting nearby. For fun, their real estate agent urged them to take a look at an oceanfront fixer-upper outside their budget.

Jim’s memory: “It was mid-November. One of those drop-dead clear days — a 10 out of 10.” The unobstructed view stretched from Point Mugu to the western horizon of the Santa Barbara Channel and out beyond the islands. Stunned, they drove in silence back to their Los Angeles home.  

“We were looking for an escape,” remembers Glennis, a UCSB grad. “We were looking at Wyoming or a studio in New York City. San Francisco. La Jolla. We were all over the map” 

Long story short: They made an offer that was not refused. For five years, the Malcolms — now semi-retired real estate developers — spent every weekend at their one-bedroom, one-bath fixer (with some “bootleg additions,” as Jim likes to call them). 

“We were thinking the whole time, ‘What would our dream house be?’” says Glennis.

To help refine their vision, they hired Winick Architects Inc. and started talking with Barry Winick about the view, prevailing winds, and where the sun and moon rise and set during different times of the year.   

“We very much like to take context into the beginning of any design,” says Winick of those early conversations. “I take my hat off to them,” he adds. “We originally had a more modest design that was conscientious of cost. But they knew we could do something more exciting and creative — they said let’s make it more sculptural, a real work of art.”  

Winick provided the Malcolms with a shortlist of contractors, including Giffin & Crane, with whom Winick had worked on several projects.  

The comprehensive remodel took roughly three years, counting a nine-month delay to remediate the unexpected discovery of contaminated soil surrounding a relic well from the Mesa Oil Field, where production had peaked in the 1930s. 

The finished two-story home features two bedrooms, two and a half baths, and a media room across roughly 3,200 square feet. Outdoor living space includes a kitchen in the breezeway, a deck over the carport, and comfort zones that blend the boundaries between inside and out. All the better to enjoy those views, they say. 

“Back when we were dating, way before we had kids, we were always saying to each other, wouldn’t it be great to live in Santa Barbara someday?” remembers Glennis. “I mean, look at this place — it’s a dream.”

For fans of indoor/outdoor living spaces, this one captures the best of both.
Authentic portholes with cumaro siding and stair treads.

The Return of the Wet Bar

There was a time when a home wet bar was fairly common. Mostly, it was just a simple countertop sink and cabinets in the corner of a living room, creating a convenience space where wives gathered chilled wines on weekends and husbands mixed drinks after work. 

Then, despite being great gathering hubs of residential entertaining (and decompressing), the home wet bar fell out of vogue. During the inevitable remodeling projects of outdated homes, wet bars were often replaced by the components of changing tastes, such as bigger TVs, stereo systems, and the accompanying entertainment cabinets.  

Recently, however, there’s been a resurgence. This wet bar comeback can give thanks in part to the popularity of craft cocktails and to the fact that during most of 2020’s pandemic peak, our favorite watering holes and restaurant bars were closed to indoor dining and drinking. Plus, here’s something that never goes out of vogue — our timeless attraction to simply enjoying the familiar comforts of home while imbibing on the good stuff and — even better — inviting friends to join in. 

Pictured above, this wet bar, installed in January, checks a lot of boxes, including countertop sink, built-in refrigerator and ice maker, and plenty of Moroccan-style cabinet space for bottles, glassware, utensils, and other essential ingredients. As a bonus, it also features a sitdown design, with a trio of barchairs and a roomy wraparound serving counter. 

This wet bar is part of a two-room guest house that was previously used as a yoga studio and sleeping quarters. During the transformation, Giffin & Crane brought the guest house (and main residence) up to date with the new owners’ taste for finishes — including floors, cabinets, paint, and stucco — and bigger modifications to bathrooms and the kitchen. Where the wet bar is now used to be a closet.   

“In the guest house, we turned the bedroom into an office and the main living space into an entertainment room with a card playing area, seating area, wine cellar, and that wet bar in the corner,” remembers Giffin & Crane Superintendent Jake Lewis, who oversaw the project. “It’s just a great sitting room for enjoying time with guests and listening to music.” 

Out the wet bar window are roses and a vegetable garden. It’s also just across the room from a pair of French doors that open to the pool patio, and short chip to a private golf course.  

The wet bar idea was a dream of the client, who’s a wine connoisseur. Giffin & Crane worked closely with John De Bastiani Interiors to make the client’s vision a reality. Cheers to that!

Finding the Work-From-Home Niche in Sunny Santa Barbara
This simple home office utilizes natural light in an existing living space.

A big part of the current surge of people moving to Santa Barbara has a lot to do with longing. Many of the newly arrived have actually been here before. Some were born and raised, then moved away for school or work. Others lived in Santa Barbara temporarily for college. Still more were married here or, growing up, visited on vacation. All of them, it seems, have since been longing to come back.

“For many, there’s always been that Rubik’s Cube,” says Josiah Hamilton, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway. “They’re wondering, ‘How do I get back to Santa Barbara?’”

As we all know, Santa Barbara is an appealing place to call home, with interesting history, culture, architectural design, and a vibrant countywide food-and-drink scene. And, of course, we have the mountains and the sea — plus those islands — all of it blessed with great weather pretty much all year long. 

“It’s a real lifestyle change for people coming from L.A. or the Bay Area,” says Hamilton, whose local family roots date back four generations. “Santa Barbara is a pretty good choice.” 

Ramping up last year during the peak of the pandemic, there’s been a big shift to remote working, remote learning, and just about remote everything. That makes a beach town like Santa Barbara become “even more appealing because the walls of commerce have disappeared,” adds Hamilton. 

It’s true, a lot of people have moved away from California to states with lower tax rates. But at the same time, now with the ability to work from home, people are also figuring out ways to remain in the Golden State, or to return. And it doesn’t hurt that L.A. is only a two-hour drive, and the Bay Area is about a six-hour road trip. Also, in recent years, Santa Barbara Airport has increased the number of flights to travel hubs and major destinations.

But this big shift of people leaving the big cities to settle in small towns isn’t exactly new, according to those who watch the trends. While the social distancing and work-from-home realities of 2020 certainly piqued interest in people wanting more elbow room than their metropolitan counterparts, this uptick dates back at least five years. Overall, during that time frame, growth in cities has trended slightly downward as suburban populations have sloped up.

Finding a path out of the concrete jungle has been easier as work-from-home resources — such as strong and dependable wireless services, for example — have become more abundant and affordable. Some employers have also become more lenient in recent years, allowing workers to punch in remotely at least once a week. As the pandemic shut down indoor gathering spaces, dedicated remote workers proved that many businesses could stay successful even without the traditional shared office space. 

“The pandemic has changed how we look at our homes,” says Hamilton. “Now, a home is less a place just to eat and sleep and be with your family. Your home is now your fortress, self-contained, where you have everything you need to live and work and play and raise a family and have people come over.” 

In that respect, when a home sells and its new owners arrive, they’re not just looking at the home office space, but also at the interior and exterior living spaces as places to be able to conduct business and take online classes. 

But the perfect at-home workspace setup is a rare product in the real estate market. Often, these spaces have to be built. While so-called Zoom rooms can be achieved with furniture and privacy features, new owners now often want to have the option of setting up their mobile desks in a private corner of the bedroom or outside in the quiet shade. 

For some, all the pieces come together. Santa Barbara’s newest residents have found their way back — or arrived for the very first time — to a smaller, more tight-knit community with great weather, schools, and places to work productively, reliably, and safely.

Employee Profile: Superintendent Nick Pendleton
Superintendent Nick Pendleton

Before him, many men in Nick Pendleton’s extended family were craftsmen. Some were simply handy with the endless projects associated with home or auto upkeep, while others — including his father, a general contractor — were professionals. 

Regardless of their day jobs, they were all mechanically inclined and enjoyed working with their hands,” Pendleton remembers. “Growing up around that, I learned to enjoy it too.” 

Pendleton graduated from Camarillo High, in Ventura County, and attended Moorpark College. After his dad passed away in 1998, he moved with his mom to the Washington D.C. area, where she had family. His uncle, a carpenter, helped get him a job in 2002 with Mauck Zantzinger & Associates, a general contractor specializing in high-end custom homes.

“I worked in the field as a carpenter for about three years,” he remembers. “Then they moved me up to project management. I understood the drawings, and I think they saw in me the willingness to take on a more managerial role. I had always envisioned that this field is what I would go into.” 

Pendleton also picked up good relational skills from a pair of early mentors, he says. “I do try to be diplomatic and fair with all parties on a project. Problems come up, and getting bent out of shape on a job site is not productive — it’s not going to help solve the problem.”

After more than 15 years with Mauck Zantzinger, Pendleton moved back to Ventura. “It’s always felt like home,” he says, adding that his weekend go-to is setting out on his mountain bike in the Los Padres National Forest backcountry or in Sycamore Canyon, near Point Mugu. These days, he rides a Specialized Epic Evo on serious trails. On a big job site with a lot of acreage between project buildings, you might spot him on a custom ride cobbled together with spare parts and a basket.  

“Life is work and some downtime and weekend trips to the backcountry are necessary,” he says. “I try to escape civilization for a bit when I can.” 

Careerwise, he knew exactly what he wanted to be doing when he returned to California. He scouted out the architects who were building the best custom homes in the region to ask which builders they liked working with. Giffin & Crane was on the shortlist. “Santa Barbara was where these kinds of projects were happening,” he remembers, “and I knew I didn’t want to work in L.A.” 

Pendleton came aboard in 2018 as a project manager. Giffin & Crane Executive Vice President Derek Shue said Pendleton’s experience back east played a big role in the decision. Plus, Giffin & Crane is similar in size and structure to Pendelton’s former employer. 

“I like the high-end residential market because the clients are in the position to build things the right way,” Pendleton says. “And I’ve always appreciated being able to build historically significant buildings true to their original design and being able to work with these architects in Santa Barbara. If you like building well and working alongside extremely talented people in a beautiful setting, this is the place to do it.”

Home is in the Kitchen

The kitchen has always been a central gathering place in any home. At its core, the kitchen is a hub that provides the basic human needs of food, water, and hang-out time with family and friends — a workstation with heat, refrigeration, counter space, and specialty tools to prepare and share culinary creativity. This has been — and will always be — the case. However, as the pandemic of 2020-21 shut down our favorite restaurants, many of us became more deeply reacquainted with our own kitchens as places of comfort, ateliers of creativity, and sources of sustenance.

Here’s a handful of some of our favorite new and remodeled kitchens. 

California Cottage: Working with the architect and builders as this remodel evolved, the owners stayed true to their vision of clean, minimalist living spaces. After reinforcing the building with foundational underpinnings and shear walls, crews vaulted the kitchen ceiling, installed radiant flooring throughout, and added square footage to the master suite, with French doors to the garden. Architecture and interiors by Mosaic Architects & Interiors. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.

Asian Contemporary: Blending Asian themes with what the owner describes as the best of craftsman style — long architectural lines, natural color palettes, and master workmanship — this all-new home featured four bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms in the foothills above Santa Barbara. Natural stone exterior ambiance informs interior spaces, as well, all of it faced with unobstructed views across the city’s waterfront. Drawn by architect Don Pederson, the master suite, kitchen, and great room occupy the top floor as guest bedrooms and an open living space and billiard room fill the ground floor. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.

Montecito Modern Craftsman: Built in the 1940s and updated a few times along the way, this classic craftsman offered a broad layout with enough square footage to hold its new owners’ extensive art collection. During its comprehensive remodel — with architectural design by Britt Jewett — the home became a piece of art itself, featuring handcrafted detail by some of Santa Barbara’s finest cabinetmakers, iron sculptors, stonemasons, and other artisans. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.

Singular Santa Barbara Modern: For this all-new home in the quiet foothills above the city, tall panes of curved glass guide the eye along the stunning expanse of the Santa Barbara Channel. Inside, all living spaces are on a single level, including three bedrooms, three baths, and a wide-open living room, kitchen, and dining area beneath high ceilings. Smooth-finished concrete seamlessly connects the home’s main interior gathering spaces to a welcoming front patio and infinity pool. Harrison Design led the project, with interior architecture by Mosiac Architects & Interiors. Photo by Jim Bartsch.

Poolside Santa Barbara

With summer right around the corner, cool pools are calling. Over the years, Giffin & Crane has built and remodeled dozens of family homes that take advantage of the Southern California views and semi-arid temperatures that tend to pull people outside. Life just gets better when there’s a clean, cool swimming pool nearby. Here’s a handful of some of our favorites. 

Covering 13,000 square feet on two and a half acres, this hilltop mansion by architect Don Nulty blends the state-of-the-art amenities of modern homebuilding with a timeless design rooted in early 20th Century estate architecture. Mediterranean lines with lots of arched window glass welcome long views across the Santa Barbara Channel as Moroccan accents highlight interior spaces. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.
Covering 5,500 square feet with four bedrooms and four baths, including a second-story master suite, this French-Italian farmhouse features imported limestone fireplace surrounds, hand-hewn oak beams from the 19th Century, and sprinklers and tempered window glass to meet strict building codes for mountainous areas prone to wildfire. Architecture by Chris Dentzel. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.
For this extensive remodel, Mosaic Architects & Interiors transformed a plain house into a home with conspicuous architectural highlights, indoor-outdoor connections, and a reimagined master suite. The main living area features reclaimed beams and wood flooring, plus an imported limestone fireplace sharing space with a three-radius archway. Upstairs, the mansard roof was opened up to create an oversized dormer, with 10-foot ceilings and a new floor plan to take in the view of the pool and mountains. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.
Returning from a trip to the tropics, the owners of this 1960s ranch home brought Caribbean flavor to an extensive, room-by-room remodel, headed up by architect Loren Solin. Fewer walls, more glass, and dormer windows enhance glorious vistas from the trussed, open-beam living spaces. Outside, there’s poolside accents, a metal roof, and colors adding more vibrancy to the desired flair. Photo by Jim Bartsch.   
This six bedroom, seven bath spread features double-framed exterior walls with rigid-panel reflective insulation to keep the home cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Its state-of-the-art solar system heats the pool, fuels super-efficient LED lighting, and generates surplus energy credits. All of it was composed inconspicuously inside a modern-day Mediterranean feel by architect Tom Meaney. Photo by Jim Bartsch.    

Santa Barbara Style: Exemplary Exteriors

It’s that time of year. Crisp air warms. New colors arrive. And the early months of an all-new lap around the sun draw us more often into the outdoor lifestyle Santa Barbara is famous for. It’s no wonder that the owners, architects, designers, and builders of our most cherished homes aren’t shy about outward appeal. Here’s a handful of exemplary exteriors.

California Spanish Ranch Home: With the Santa Ynez Mountains as a backdrop, this remodel — headed up by architect Hugh Twibell — pays homage to the traditional California hacienda and features a courtyard garden by Deanna Foster. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.

Montecito Foothills Entertainer: Inspired by the architecture of tropical plantations, the owners of this single-family residence wished to showcase furnishings and collections while slowly unveiling the property’s staggering mountain and coastline views. Architect Tom Meaney orchestrated the remodel. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.

Santa Barbara Beach House: Inside, the homeowner achieved an airy, open ambiance by removing posts and walls and installing bigger windows. Outside, Mother Nature does all the heavy lifting, with comforts and accents provided by landscape designer Alida Aldrich. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.

Santa Barbara Casita: Maintaining cozy ambiance, refurbished windows welcome natural light across kitchen and living room upgrades. Out back, an expanded deck and reimagined landscaping create a comfortable and private outdoor space. Landscaping by Blue Agave. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.

Tudor Renovation: This classic neighborhood home in Santa Barbara’s San Roque neighborhood features much of its original 1930s detail, plus just the right amount of welcoming greenage out front. Landscape design by Toni Heren. Photograph by Jim Bartsch.

A Treasure Trove of Detail
Entryway with stepping-stone pavers and a fountain-firepit feature.

Upon completion of a transformative remodel in Montecito, the expansive team of creative crewmembers — from owners and designers to engineers and builders — praised the project’s dedication to detail as much as its big-picture appeal. 

Even before crossing the threshold of this three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath, single-family residence, visitors are impressed on approach. Once through a gate from the quiet street, the privacy of the front yard centers on a unique footpath that stretches across shallow water toward the home’s main entryway. Builders might call it a water walkway, nothing more than an elaborate fountain with special features. But it’s really an alluring illusion — the symmetrical stepping-stone slabs appear to float upon a calm pool. Along the way, there’s a small landing to a welcoming patio and casual living space complete with cobblestones and plenty of custom-made weatherproof seating surrounding a cool fountain with a warm heart — a feature that’s part water, part fire, and all outdoor ambiance. As a whole, it makes for a lasting first impression. 

This welcoming front patio and walkway evolved as a collaboration of those creative forces. The homeowners had an idea. Designers and engineers translated the concept into a visible, measurable plan. Putting the pieces together, builders produced a final product. The result, much like any successful show of teamwork, exists as a creation greater than the sum of its parts.

Throughout, the home showcases several innovative details. Some are on display, such as the vanishing-edge pool out back. Others are hidden, such as the kitchen island’s heated countertop. Each of them brings clarity to the overall vision of a relaxed and comforting place to call home. 

Voice-activated sliding glass doors help create a seamless indoor-outdoor living space.

Big on automation, the homeowners rely on simple voice commands to activate that fountain out front, as well as interior heating, cooling, and lighting, motorized sliding glass doors, and the temperature of the backyard hot tub. The entire system can also be monitored and controlled via smartphone, from which the owners can conveniently adjust settings from the comfort of their vaulted living room or from halfway around the world. 

“Just about all the interesting details in the home look simple,” says Giffin & Crane Executive Vice President Derek Shue, who managed the project. “But making it all look simple — that was very difficult.”

Outside Spaces: Framing Beauty in Montecito
Front Door Approach With Mountainous Backdrop

When Andrea and Ron Hein first fell in love with their new home in Montecito, its allure wasn’t just clean craftsman lines throughout a bright modern layout. They were also attracted to its potential to fulfill a gold standard of Santa Barbara’s quality of life: outdoor living. 

“To us, the exterior was just as important as the interior,” Andrea said. Project lead and Giffin & Crane co-founder Bruce Giffin introduced the Heins to Kimberly True, whose True Nature landscape architecture and environmental consulting firm is based in Santa Barbara. 

“We told Kim that we wanted to entertain outside and just feel comfortable,” Andrea remembered. “We just sat down with her and talked through it. She really understood our vision.” 

“I drew up the concept and pretty much nailed it first try,” True said with a smile. “We started with a rough pencil stretch, then worked back into all the details.” Working with a blank canvas — the Heins had removed the old lawn and landscaping brick, and had regraded the yards to improve drainage — True took the style of the home to heart, she remembered. “There’s so much glass in the house, it made sense to create scenes outside these big windows.” 

Low-Maintenance Greenery With Outdoor Dining Patio

Surrounded by the pittosporum hedge historic to the neighborhood, True set about setting the outdoor stage to the mountain view out back — complete with a casual dining space — plus a Japanese garden outside the master bedroom. 

All the while, she was trading ideas and photographs with Andrea to fine tune the design as it grew from blueprint to reality, including a forward-thinking detail in making the front door easy to access as the Heins age comfortably through and beyond their golden years. 

“My favorite part of the project was that they were the codesigners,” True said. “It was really fun working with them.”

Private Zen Garden Outside Master Suite

Reflecting on Jobs Well Done: Top-10 Pics From 2020
Sunset reflection in the finished façade of a recently completed project. Photo: Bryan Boyd.

Giffin & Crane Executive Vice President Derek Shue recently scrolled through his social media series of favorite company photos, images taken by himself and several job site supervisors throughout 2020. He had amassed 300 shots. Turns out, jobsite supervisors can be pretty handy with a camera. It’s no wonder, though. Homebuilders — especially those who focus on high-end custom projects — are a creative bunch. Much more often than not, quality craftsmanship walks hand in hand with a strong eye for detail. And it shows. Here are a few handfuls of images that Shue considers top-notch among that original 300.

Floating bathroom vanity with custom lighting at a Mesa blufftop home. Photo: Bryan Boyd.

Mike Kelly Concrete crewmembers assemble the formwork for the walls of a garage in Montecito. Photo: Tom Stefl.

Structural steel supports the massive timber-framed roof at the round pen structure of a Hope Ranch equestrian estate. Photo: Nick Pendleton.

Juan, a painting foreman for Augustine Painting, preps cabinetry for finishing at an onsite spray booth. Photo: Dennis Derham.

Pasture seen beyond progress being made on the roof over a historical George Washington Smith renovation. Photo: Aaron Foster.

Custom chandelier above stairwell. Photo: Bryan Boyd.

Sheet metal cap applied by Tom Curry Roofing & Waterproofing to a new teak fence built by TrimWorks. Photo: Dennis Derham.

Details of the custom stainless steel hardware fabricated to support an awning structure. Metalwork by Chapala Iron. Photo: Jake Lewis.

Sunrise over the ocean from a Mesa blufftop project. Photo Bryan Boyd.

The G&C Questionnaire: Interior Designer Cheryl Neumann, Jordan Design Crew

Interior designer Cheryl Neumann says she’s never worked on a project that didn’t spill outside. That kind of experience comes in handy here in Santa Barbara, where outdoor living spaces provide year-round comfort and function, especially these days as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic. 

Pictured above, for example, this Giffin & Crane remodel features seamless transitions between interior and exterior spaces, highlighted by custom furniture designed to look good and withstand the sun, wind, and rain.  

Recently we caught up with Neumann, who partners with daughter Courtney Jordan Bindel and the Jordan Design Crew, for her take on work, talent, and some of the people she admires.    

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

Neumann: I always wanted to make everything more beautiful, even as a child.

What has been your favorite work-related field trip or vacation?

Working in Europe. Wandering the Huntington Gardens.

What is your favorite public space in Santa Barbara?

The Mission.

Where do you find design inspiration outside of home projects?


What do you most like about your work?

Working with teams of creative, talented people for wonderful, appreciative clients.

Go back in time and pick another profession.

I was a dancer for 25 years. I would do it again in my next life. Landscape architecture would be a strong second.

What is your current state of mind?


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Working and creating with my daughter . . . and I do that everyday!

What is your greatest fear?

Danger to those I hold dearest.

What is your greatest extravagance?


What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Honesty without tact. Pride.

Which talent would you most like to have?

To speak several languages.

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

To not get so excited when talking that I interrupt.

What is your most treasured possession?

A silver ring my daughter picked out for me when she was three years old. I have been wearing it ever since.

Which living person do you most admire?

Michelle Obama.

Which living person do you most despise?


What do you most value in your friends?

Loyalty and honesty.

Who are your favorite fictional characters?

Atticus Finch and Harry Potter.

Who are your heroes in real life?

RBG, Robert Kennedy, and Christo.

On what occasion do you lie?

To avoid hurting someone.

What is your most marked characteristic?

My enthusiasm.

What word or phase do you most overuse? 

“At the end of the day . . .”

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Bringing my daughter into the world.

What unasked question would you like to answer?

What is your hope for the future? 

Project Profile: Montecito Midcentury Craftsman

Tucked away near the center of an easy maze of Montecito hedgerows, Andrea and Ron Hein found their dream home. They had recently decided to leave Los Angeles and their 1926 Spanish-style home, searching for a quieter life in a smaller town, Andrea says. “We said, ‘Our next house is going to be our last house.’ We knew we wanted a midcentury modern — something bright and airy — and something within walking distance to the beach.” 

As fortune would have it, the house they ended up buying was the first one they looked at. “We saw nine midcentury moderns on that first weekend trip up to Santa Barbara,” Andrea remembers, “and we made an offer on this one during the drive back to L.A. We thought, ‘This is the perfect house with the perfect garage.’” 

For the Heins, that perfect garage was high on their wishlist. Afterall, Ron has a thing for immaculately restored sports cars. With a pair of hydraulic car lifts fitted into the roomy three-car space, there’s plenty of room for his all-original classics: 1963 289 Cobra; 1961 Porsche Roadster; 1957 Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce; 1965 Shelby G.T. 350; and a 1968 Ferrari Dino 206 G.T. 

Before the move to Montecito, Ron had spent 25 years tackling restoration projects, a hobby that demanded upward of five years on a single vehicle. But now that he has this elite handful — each in near-mint condition — safe and sound in their new home, he prefers to spend less time under the hood, he says, “and more time just driving them and talking walks to the beach with Andrea.” 

As one might expect, Ron’s garage received the same comprehensive attention to detail enjoyed by the rest of the property. Originally built in 1963, the home — situated on a flat half-acre lot — went through “a couple minor redos over the years,” says Andrea. This time around, it got an “80-percent strip-down,” with new plumbing, electrical, floors, finishes, and improvements to the foundation, just to name a handful of overhauls.     

“The house had very good bones and had been well designed by the original builder, but it needed upgrading and renovating,” Andrea says of the nine-month project. “We wanted to stay true to the mid-century modern character without having it look like a museum piece for that time period.” 

The Heins were introduced to building contractor Giffin & Crane through their real estate agent. “When we met with Bruce [Giffin], we got the right vibe,” Andrea remembers. “Immediately, he made us feel confident and comfortable.”

“And we wanted a first-class company with access to the best subcontractors in Santa Barbara,” added Ron. 

On approach, a welcoming garden design and finely finished hardscaping guides visitors to clean craftsman lines that open up considerably past the front door threshold. Inside, the ceiling vaults, running due north into the living room, where expansive floor-to-ceiling windows showcase Montecito Peak and surrounding canyons. 

The adjoining kitchen and dining area connect seamlessly to a quiet and comfortable outdoor living space surrounded by trees and hedges.  

The southern end of the home features an office, a guest suite with its own private patio, and a reimagined master bedroom. Originally a somewhat dark space with a standard ceiling, the master was opened up into the unused attic space. Now, with a newly vaulted ceiling and a set of windows aligned with the home’s overall design, the bedroom matches the spacious modern feel throughout. 

“In terms of layout,” Ron says, “there’s not one square foot of this house that does not work for us.” 

“The design evolved into exactly what we had envisioned from the beginning,” Andrea adds. “It’s a clean, comfortable, Zen-like space we plan to call home for many years to come.”

Cold & Wet: A Preseason Checklist
Copper gutters and rain chains ready for winter.

You wouldn’t know it from recent heatwaves, but September 1 marked the first day of Santa Barbara County’s water year. That means — sooner rather than later — seasonal storms are on the way. And the best time to get your home prepped for winter is before the cold and rain arrive. 

Even the best-built homes ought to get a preseason onceover. Catching and fixing potential problems early can save you lots of time and money down the road and will keep your home in better shape for years to come. Here’s our checklist —  

  • – Be aware of the drainage patterns around your property. Has landscaping or other garden work affected the way water is carried away from structures? For example, any built-up soil should be removed several inches below the weep screed or wood framing, and water should drain away from the structure.   
  • – In the garden and other areas around the property, uncover and clean out buried catch basins and drains. Make sure drainage pipes run freely. You can test them with water flow from a garden hose. 
  • – Inspect gutters, downspouts, drains, and basins to make sure they’re free of leaves and other debris that could cause clogs. If you haven’t already done so, consider installing gutter screens in order to reduce the accumulation of leaves and debris.
  • – Plants tend to grow more slowly in winter, and the advent of the rainy season means less watering. If your irrigation system is on an automatic timer, recalibrate it to reduce irrigation watering times and frequency. 
  • – Even though it rains in winter, it’s no time to be wasting water, inside or out. Attend to any leaky faucets in kitchens, baths, or outdoor water connections, including hose bibs. 
  • – If you have a basement or attic, bring a flashlight and check the corners to make sure there are no signs of a leak. If you see water damage, try to determine where the problem originates, and take immediate steps to remedy. Unattended leaks can cause costly long-term damage.
  • – To check your home’s resistance to cold weather, make a detailed inspection of doors and windows, inside and out. Check all other openings that might let in drafts, including vents, pipes, fireplaces, garages, crawl spaces, and attic stairs. Look carefully for ineffective seals, and repair or re-caulk all gaps. If you find worn insulation, replace it. Your goal should be a tight, energy-efficient home.
  • – Make sure the filters on your furnace are clean or replaced, and that any dust or accumulated dirt is vacuumed away. This is also an opportune time to have the furnace serviced by a professional.
  • – It’s also a good time to reacquaint yourself with all the utility shutoffs for your property, including circuit breakers, electrical shut-offs, and gas and water mains. 
  • – While you’re at it, think about safety. No one can predict an earthquake or fire, but there are some basic steps you can take to protect your home and belongings. For example, make sure your water heater is safety-strapped to the nearest wall. Do you have fire extinguishers on every floor? Are they charged to the appropriate level and easily accessible? Do you and every member of your household know how to use them?
  • – You should have a smoke detector on every floor, or in every wing of your residence. Install fresh batteries and test them all.

This checklist covers a lot of bases, and could make for an interesting weekend project. For some homes, it represents a good overall inspection. For others — particularly larger estates — it’s a solid start. Either way, getting to know your property better and preparing for the eneviatibilites of nature is always a good call.

Checking In: Finish Carpenter Jerry DeHoog
A sheetmetal worker puts a copper cap on a teak fence built by Trim Works.

As essential services during the pandemic, the real estate industry and attendant construction trades have been buoyed by the influx of homebuyers to Santa Barbara. These days, living in a densely populated Covid-19 hotspot, such as the Bay Area or Los Angeles, doesn’t seem as safe as Santa Barbara, which also boasts a more active outdoor lifestyle than the concrete confines of bigger cities. And it’s fairly common for a newly arrived homebuyer to invest in a remodel right away. 

“For sure, we’ve gotten busier during this time,” says Jerry DeHoog, owner of Trim Works, a company he launched in Santa Barbara in 2003 to focus on interior finish carpentry, mainly windows, doors, baseboard, and crown molding. (Recently, he also took on an oceanfront fence job (pictured above), featuring teak, stainless steel, and copper.)

DeHoog explains that one of the main reasons there’s been an uptick in business is that clients in the middle of a remodel have requested that their projects finish ahead of schedule so they can self-isolate and shelter in place.

“The market is hot right now,” adds Derek Shue, an executive vice president with Giffin & Crane General Contractors. “People are finding ways to get out of the cities. Sales are way up.” 

And it’s not just in Santa Barbara. Giffin & Crane is part of a peer group of homebuilders from across the country, including Seattle, Bakersfield, Austin, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Boston, among other areas. “Everyone is busy,” Shue said.  

DeHoog, who grew up on job sites surrounded by a family of builders before branching out on his own, has been in the trades long enough to see the cycles firsthand. He’s a big fan of staying busy, of course, but he’s also felt the downside. “In the past, whenever we’ve had a boom, it’s followed by a crash,” he says. “We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. My crew is always in the back of my mind.” 

In the meantime, the pandemic also presents unprecedented challenges for all the trades, from disruptions in supply chains to workers staying home to help care for young kids taking all their classes via Zoom. 

“Access [to a job site] can also be a challenge when clients are living on the property,” DeHoog said, “especially if they’re elderly or high-risk.” And as soon as he arrives with his crew, he adds, “it’s all about distancing and making sure everybody is wearing a face covering.” (A few years back, DeHoog noticed laborers wearing the gator-style face coverings — that fit entirely around the face, ears, and neck — to protect against dust and sawdust. Back in March, as Covid-19 first started closing in on Santa Barbara, he bought a bunch for his crew.)

As the other shoe has yet to drop, DeHoog is cranking ahead with “very little free time,” he says. He’s also wondering what’s to become of his annual teaching workshop in Santa Barbara City College’s Construction Technology Program. “I bring my trailer, the students help unload it, and I break out all the tools to give them a hands-on sense of the trade and show them really what it takes to do these big custom homes,” he says. 

This fall, however, he’s thinking it may not happen, at least not in person. He’ll know more later this month or early next. Until then — just like with a lot of things in the time of Covid-19 — it’s wait and see.

G&C Profile: Senior Estimator David Farrell
Senior Estimator David Farrell

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, David Farrell’s career in the building industry happened by a twist of fate. As the story goes, a neighbor who spotted him tinkering in the garage introduced Farrell to a friend who invited him to build homes in Malibu, where he learned the building trade from the ground up.

Having studied architecture in high school and college, Farrell developed a clear understanding of how a home should be constructed to become a living, functioning environment. “It’s been a long journey,” Farrell says, remembering his first job as a framer before branching out into project management and community development. “I’ve done a lot of things both inside and outside of the building industry, but I’m a builder to my core.”

One such development — Storke Ranch in western Goleta — brought Farrell aboard as a project manager. Commuting from the Ventura home he shares with his wife of 36 years, he spent his workweek in Santa Barbara, where he crossed paths with local builders, including Giffin & Crane.

Farrell remembered Giffin & Crane from back in his sales days, when the company was just starting out. Three decades later, he noticed they were still in the game. “That’s a good sign,” he says. So when a job opportunity with Giffin & Crane opened up, Farrell threw his hat in the ring. “I sought out Giffin & Crane because of their reputation in the community as the prime builder of custom homes,” says Farrell. “I had found a family of building professionals with core values that I wanted to be a part of.

In 2009, Farrell came aboard as an estimator, navigating clients through the complexities of permitting and budgeting. “There’s never a dull moment in working with thousands of products and building remarkable homes together,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of places like Santa Barbara — I like to call it authentic. Building here can be ridiculously difficult but it’s also what makes the community what it is.”

Like most dedicated professionals in his trade, Farrell can attest that work takes up much of his time. But he is also dedicated to outside pursuits that counterbalance inevitable job stress. Plus, they’re just plain fun.

In the Farrell garage, for example, there’s a BMW F 800 GS motorcycle. “It’s not your typical dirt bike” he says. It’s a “global-adventure bike,” designed for multi-day wilderness travel across remote acreage within the vast boundaries of the nearby Los Padres National Forest.

Off the bike, David and his wife Jodi share many interests, including mountain biking, hiking, surfing, fly fishing, and especially music. She’s the real musician in the family, a singer-songwriter and performer who has been a music teacher for more than 25 years. There’s always music in the Farrell home and a song on the way.

And when they’re not playing music, going on hikes, or enjoying quality beach time together, David and Jodi enjoy making time with friends and visiting their two grown children, son-in-law, and granddaughter.

G&C Profile: Estimator Matthew Morphy
Giffin & Crane Estimator Matthew Morphy

Born and raised in Pasadena, Matthew Morphy followed his father and brothers’ academic footsteps to the Carpinteria foothills, boarding at Cate School, a private college preparatory founded in 1910. Athletic and six-foot-three at the time, Morphy joined the volleyball team. “We weren’t very good,” he remembers, lamenting how the team “only won one match in three years.” A year after graduation, however, his competitive slump flipped upside down.

In 1985, as a six-foot-six freshman at Pepperdine University, Morphy walked onto the volleyball team on the last day of tryouts. By the end of his first collegiate season, Morphy’s personal record had gone from a single victory in three years to an NCAA national championship. Pepperdine defended that title in 1986.

Off the court, Morphy studied marketing and advertising. His first job right out of college was swinging a hammer for a framer in Pasadena. “I’ve always had a big interest in building things,” he says. “And I’ve always been a woodworker and do-it-yourselfer.” Soon enough, though, he found work in his field. After a handful of years in advertising, he started his own business in desktop publishing and took it to Ketchum, Idaho, where he lived for several years.

In 2000, Morphy landed in Santa Barbara with a handful of tech-job leads. Then the dot-com bubble popped, and all bets were off. After a stint as a fundraising director for Cate, Morphy worked for Sport Court of Southern California, selling and constructing residential tennis and basketball courts from Cambria to Ventura. That’s when he first crossed paths with Giffin & Crane.

Morphy also opened the Ohana Fun Company storefront in Carpintera, selling everything from marbles and board games to stand-up paddleboards and waterproof cameras. The company motto was “Fun for the whole family!” (Morphy’s own kids are Shelagh, a Cate graduate now at Northeastern University, and Makaio, who attends Bishop Garcia Diego High School.)

When Morphy came across an employment opportunity with Giffin & Crane, he pursued it. “I had some building experience with Sport Court, and I think my technology skills were a plus,” he remembers about interviewing with company co-founders Bruce and Geoff. “Attention to detail has always been very important to me.” He came aboard in 2016.

While fine-tuning spreadsheets is a big part of his job, Morphy also understands that estimators are often some of the initial company representatives to walk job sites with potential clients. “We try to bring our professionalism, organization, and confidence to make them comfortable,” he says.

Morphy, who recently married his favorite tennis and pickleball partner, has maintained his competitive streak, playing middle blocker for the Balboa Bay Volleyball Club against age-sorted teams from around the world. They go to the USA Nationals every year and have finished first several times. Morphy has also won consecutive gold medals with his team at the Huntsman World Senior Games. He doesn’t plan on slowing down.

“At Nationals, there are age divisions up to 78 and over,” he says. “I hope to keep it up — especially as the net gets lower!”

G&C Profile: Superintendent Jake Lewis
Giffin & Crane Superintendent Jake Lewis

When Jake Lewis was a kid growing up on the East Coast, his family had a summer tradition of road-tripping around the country to follow the Boston Red Sox and visit national parks. Along the way, his folks always stopped to check out “architectural gems,” remembers Lewis. To this he credits his lifelong fascination with how buildings are put together. “Plus,” he adds, “my parents renovated our homes when we were living in Massachusetts and [later in] Texas. I always enjoyed watching tradespeople working on those projects. My appreciation for well-built homes definitely comes from my parents.” 

After high school in Texas, Jake studied political science and environmental studies at the University of North Carolina — the nation’s first public university, chartered in 1789, and still ranked among the very best public colleges in the country — where he took a course in green architecture “that was really eye-opening,” he remembers. Since then, he’s taken a special interest in sustainable homebuilding.  

After graduating from UNC, Lewis was interested in trying something different, he says. “Many of my peers were moving to cities for corporate jobs, and I just had a feeling that a move like that was not the right next step for me. So in the fall of 2014, I connected with a friend who worked in the trades on Nantucket. I moved up there and began as a laborer and carpenter’s assistant, working on homes all over the island.” 

As it goes with young men in the trades, one job leads to the next, and after nine months on the island, he moved to Asheville, North Carolina, to join a framing crew for a local general contractor. 

“And less than a year later, I moved north to Virginia to build a pole barn on a family friend’s farm, an opportunity that put to use much of what I had learned over the past year and a half,” Lewis remembers. “Not only was the barn my first experience in project management, it was also when construction turned from being a job to a possible career.” As an added bonus, that project often included end-of-day beers with a buddy overlooking the Rivanna River.    

In October 2016, Lewis headed west with his girlfriend, Bryn, who was born in Santa Barbara. “I knew that I wanted to stay in construction,” he remembers. “My interest in project management motivated me to reply to an online ad, in 2017, for a superintendent position at Giffin & Crane. At the time, I knew very little other than that they built high-end homes. The staff’s humility and work-life balance stood out to me as important pillars of the company during the early stages of my interview process.” 

In August 2017, Jake came aboard as a superintendent. He also works in quality assurance, a program dedicated to revisisting completed projects after three months, and again after eleven months, reinspecting work and checking in with clients. “We make sure the homeowners are happy,” he says. 

As for Jake’s special interest in sustainable homebuilding, he appreciates the prospect of being on the cutting edge of green technology and working for clients who value high-quality, architecturally significant homes, he says.

“I’m working alongside professionals who are among the best at what they do,” he adds. “Nobody’s cutting any corners here. I’m really learning the right way to do things.”

The G&C Questionnaire: Clay Aurell, AIA
Oliver’s restaurant, Montecito. Designed by AB Design Studio. Built by Giffin & Crane.

The seed of an idea took root in 2005 as architects Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer found themselves in conversation about how architecture and community can make a difference in the world. They decided to collaborate. A partnership was born. Today, Santa Barbara-based AB Design Studio is a multidisciplinary firm with broad expertise in architecture, interior design, and urban planning. 

For the following Q&A, we caught up with Clay to cover a range of topics, including early inspirations, a 1963 couch on wheels, and how to calmly keep the bowling pins in the air during a global pandemic.

What drew you to architecture early on? 

Aurell: When I was a kid, my father was a contractor and I would spend time reading plans and studying the blueprints. I realized I could read the plans and visualize the building in 3D. When I was about 12, I studied a set of plans before going to the job site. The home was in the rough framing stage, but I walked around and knew where every room, bathroom, and closet was located. My dad was a bit dumbfounded and asked me about it. I just told him that I read the plans before coming out to the site and it just made sense. He looked at me funny, shrugged his shoulders, and went to tell some carpenters what to do next. That started my interest in building and design for sure.

What has been your favorite architectural field trip or vacation?

Upon graduation, I spent three months touring Europe. 14 countries and countless architectural masterpieces led me to appreciate the classic styles and the modern. I was especially interested in the urban fabric of several European towns and how most of these cities were planned by architects. Today, we are faced with the downtown Santa Barbara dilemma and I believe that the architects in the community have a strong role to play in what’s next for our community and the economic vitality of downtown.

What is your favorite public building in Santa Barbara?

Meridien Studios is high on my list. Just a great collection of small scale urban paseos that weave between these quaint studios. However, I have always been fond of the building at 35 W. Haley. We looked at it years ago as a home for our office. The building has a presence on the corner and the basement windows are adorned with decorative grills. There are a few classic moves, but in general, it is a simple building. However, on the inside, the first floor, which is elevated above the sidewalk, is a very voluminous space. The first time I walked into it, I was impressed with the scale. The large windows on the west side flood the building with natural light. What impressed me the most however were the decorative steel fluted columns that support the second floor. They were delicate but sturdy and they shot out of the floor to the top of the ceiling. It seemed out of place at first, which is probably what I appreciated about it — that someone took the time and effort to design structural columns that had beauty and an aesthetic quality.

Where do you find design inspiration outside of architecture?

Photography. I have spent time behind the camera for many years and have played with 35 mm film (including in the dark room), digital art, digital composition, and black-and-white photography. I feel like the viewfinder is a magical way to see something. I do this in architecture when designing — thinking about the end result and the “shot” that will happen when the project is done. There are so many moments that get caught with the lens and freeze a moment in time. You get to see that one moment, but the past and future is left to your own imagination.

What is your current state of mind?

Well, with the pandemic happening, my state of mind is a bit like a blender. There are moments of joy, sadness, frustration, fear, and excitement. It really is a time that we all need to be calm and carry on. I have stopped watching the news and instead catch a few articles here and there. I need to be focussed for my family and for my company and team members.  

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Years ago, we took a family trip. Sitting on a lake shore with the kids and family looking up at Mount Shasta was pretty magical. Not a care in the world. So, family and outdoors seems to get me close to that place.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is probably seeing something tragic happen to one of my kids that is life-altering. I have a strong connection to my two daughters. We are all healthy, so COVID-19 doesn’t scare me, but it is certainly something to be mindful of. I have had friends that have lost their children and it seems to be the most heartbreaking thing to go through.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Golf. I love to play and travel to different areas and play different courses. Right now, that is a good place to be — on a golf course away from others. But seriously, I simply enjoy being out on the course and walking in peace. I think of it as my therapy session each time I play.

What do you most like about your job?

I like the diversity of our work and our clients. We have some really great clients and some really great team members. I get exposed to so many different people and business ventures and that variety is very inspiring for me. The human connection is so incredibly valuable for all human beings and that is what makes this time so challenging right now. The loss of connections is palpable. Sure, there are Zoom meetings but you simply cannot fully replace the gathering around a design problem and sorting it out. The fallout from this social isolation is going to be massive in my opinion.

What do you most dislike about your job?

The pace. It seems like these days, everything has to be done yesterday. Design is an iterative process and takes considerable thought, introspection, study, research, due diligence, and sketching. HGTV has perverted the design process and turned it into simple 3D visualization with a limited palette and not a lot of creativity. Design is a process of creating from nothing.  Not regurgitating the same thing over and over. What will the new restaurant look like after Covid. Or stadiums? Nobody knows. But certainly HGTV isn’t going to solve that issue.  Architects, designers, builders are the ones who can think this way.

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

Ford v. Ferrari. When I was 13 years old, I saved some money and borrowed $500 from my dad and purchased a 1966 Ford Mustang. It didn’t run and was missing many parts, like half of the engine, the hood, and headlights. I spent three years “remodeling” this car, and on my16th birthday, I woke up, went to take my driver’s test, and then went home and dropped in the distributor, timed the engine, and drove MY mustang to school. I have always been a fan of the Shelby brand and the ‘60s Ford motorcars. When I watched the movie in the theaters during the holidays, I felt a visceral connection to the storyline and my 16th birthday. Each time I watch it, I am moved. We even named our new boxer puppy Shelby because of it. Too much?

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 

Patience. I have always been ambitious and a goal setter. I don’t feel like patience is something that I connect with. I can be patient, but as a guiding principle, that isn’t one for me. Right now, with COVID-19, I find myself keeping myself busy to keep my mind off of it all. I can still relax and take time for myself, but I would rather do something active. With this pandemic, my friends and I have figured out how to make hand sanitizer through my friends organic skin care company, Makes3 Organics. We are doing a “buy one, give one” program and it feels good to assist in some way to make a difference. During these uncertain times, it helps to do things that help others.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Juggling. My 12 year old daughter recently took on a challenge with her class. In about two days, she learned how to juggle and was super excited. I have always tried to do it, but simply do not have the hand coordination to get it right. It is like a weird disconnect for my brain. 

If you could change one thing about yourself?

I would like to read more books. I read a lot of code books, business books, and technical manuals. I don’t do a lot of pleasure reading. I remember about 10 years ago, I picked up the Stieg Larsson series and pounded out three books in just under two months. I absolutely could not put down “The Devil in the White City.” I start books, but if it doesn’t grab me in the first few pages, I lose interest.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I have had many along the way and at various stages in my life. At this point, I would have to say that I (and mostly my wife) have raised two amazing daughters. They are smart, conscientious, empathic and compassionate. They are authentic and kind to others and they are fun to be around. My wife and I commented the other night how well they have adjusted during the pandemic. Every morning, they get up, have breakfast and then go into their rooms and Zoom with their class most of the rest of the day. From time to time, they emerge for a snack, lunch (which they make) and to do other things. It feels like they have adapted quickly to this new normal and are doing well.

What is your most treasured possession?

My 1963 Lincoln Continental. It is long, gold, and convertible. Great for wine tasting or just a cruise down the beach. It literally floats down the road.

Which living person do you most admire?

Bono. I have been a huge fan of the band, but he has inspired me to think globally, locally and think about what is right and just. Recently, U2 donated 10M pounds to COVID relief. I appreciate his generosity and willingness to pay it forward and help other people who need it.  Plus, his music is pretty cool.

What do you most value in your friends?

Trust and Accountability. I love that many of my friends have an entrepreneurial spirit and though they may not own companies, they have that mindset. They are trustworthy and people I can count on. Within the past five years, I have met a few new friends and we have instantly become really close. We get together at least once per week to hang out (eight feet apart) and kick a soccer ball around on a large field. Then we share a few beers in the outdoors and share about what we are dealing with. Just the four of us — it is so incredibly valuable time together.

Who is your favorite fictional character?

Keyser Soze. The first time I saw that movie, I was amazed at how the storyline unfolded and the way in which he spun the story based on the items in his sightline. Cool story and ending.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Well, I mentioned Bono above, but next in line would be my dad. We had a bit of a tough growing up period, but at some point in my twenties, we reconciled and when I married my wife, he was the best man at my wedding. He loves to come see us and spend time with our kids and he is very helpful. As we have grown closer, I have gotten to know more about his life and his thoughts about what is happening in the world. He is extremely introspective and thoughtful of others. Inspirational.

On what occasion do you lie?

When I am trying to explain something to my kids that they are not ready or mature enough to hear. They are at that age where they are being exposed to more adult situations. There are simply some things that I don’t yet want them to know. Not yet.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Ambition. This has been part of me forever. Even at a young age, it was there on the soccer field, in the classroom, and in my part-time jobs. I am always striving to raise the bar.  I play soccer to this day and am striving to get better. Maybe this will subside at some point, but not today.

What word or phase do you most overuse?

I used to say “dude” a lot, but now I think the phrase that I overuse is probably, “Put that away!”  Now that I am nearly all day working from home, I get to experience being home all day with my family. I don’t need perfection at home, but when the kids leave dishes on the counter and shoes on the floor, I feel it is my job to teach them to clean up after themselves. Harsh, maybe, but now that we are all sharing this space more and more, we all need to do more to keep things kept.

What is your motto?

“Plan your work and work your plan.” This is very helpful in business, but now has extended into home projects, kids’ homework, etc. A good plan is a recipe for success. Think it out, write it out, and then work it and adjust as needed along the way. Just like life. Nobody knows what life is going to throw at you. Right now, during Covid, I see that making a plan makes the difference.  Even if it is just for the day, plan out what you can do and don’t worry about what you cannot do.  Stay in the positive and create what you can get done and then get it done. Stay on course. Maintain integrity in your plan. Keep moving. It certainly helps take your mind off of the current state of the world and helps give purpose to whatever it is that you’re up to.

Homebuilding in the Time of Coronavirus

With the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic, uncertainty is on the rise. But here’s one thing we know for sure: We’re all in this together. That’s our common strength, a bond we share through good times and bad. Especially here in Santa Barbara, we know the power of community resilience. Certainly, we’ve been tested before, by wildfires, floods, mudslides, and drought. And each time, our tight-knit community — made up of family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and strangers — has stepped up. We do what’s right for each other.

During the past several weeks, Giffin & Crane has been closely monitoring the fast-moving pandemic. Evaluating our operations daily, we’ve adjusted our approach in this business of homebuilding. We do this to follow important OSHA and CDC guidelines for the construction industry, whose workers deliver essential services.

But more importantly, we do this ethically and with an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our trusted clients, staff, subcontractors, building inspectors, and dozens of other hard-working men and women who step foot on a Giffin & Crane jobsite over the course of construction.   

Until further notice, our office is closed to visitors. We’ve staggered our office workdays, encouraged our staff to work from home, and required an increase in hygiene, housekeeping, and the physical distance between employees. All communications are handled remotely via phone and web-based conferencing. 

Among many other new mandates in the field, we’ve installed more hand-washing and sanitation stations. We tell all our staff and subs to stay home if they’re sick, and have reduced the number of crews on all projects to allow for greater spacing between workers.

We’ve made these adjustments — and many more — to keep our projects moving forward while protecting our staff, subs, and our community overall. Because at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. Stay safe.

Montecito Local Comes Home to Help
Giffin & Crane Superintendent Jim Vaughan

From a Giffin & Crane job site on Pepper Hill, where the view stretches from Montecito Peak to the Channel Islands, Jim Vaughan can see many of the stomping grounds of his youth. Growing up, he hiked the creeks and trails in the nearby mountains. Along the coast, he built beach bonfires and surfed with friends. In the quiet neighborhoods in between, he went to school, rode bikes through the hedgerows, and played lots of tennis. 

Like many families, the Vaughans moved to Montecito for its reputable schools and semi-rural tranquility. Jim’s dad had been a construction superintendent when he returned from the Vietnam War before shifting to commercial real estate. He eventually transitioned to residential real estate and, in 2008, founded Montecito Village Realty Group.

Jim and his big sister attended Montecito Union and Santa Barbara’s secondary schools. All the while, Jim was a competitive tennis player, putting in a lot of court time at Knowlwood Tennis Club and Birnam Wood Golf Club. On a tennis scholarship, he attended Southern Methodist University. 

After graduation, he played professionally for about a year and worked as a tennis pro at the Biltmore resort in Montecito until an injury hampered his athletic career. Fortunately, through his father’s background, Jim had a strong connection to the construction and real estate fields. He found a new direction. 

“I got into homebuilding through a year-long training program at Toll Brothers, a national firm,” Jim says. “I was brought up through management, and the next thing I knew, I had over a 100 homes behind me, including the company’s first modern architectural collection.” 

Living and working in Orange County at the time, his direction again took another turn — this time as the catastrophic debris flow of January 9, 2018, destroyed the neighborhoods of some of his childhood friends. 

Santa Barbara County’s worst natural disaster made an instant impact on his life, Jim remembers. “It became my clear directive to come home to see what I could do to help.” 

Back in his hometown, Jim was introduced to Giffn & Crane through a mutual friend. Jim knew the company by reputation. “Growing up in Montecito, it was pretty hard to miss knowing who Bruce and Geoff were.”  

“I didn’t even know they were hiring,” he remembers. “I guess they liked me — I was lucky enough to be brought on in June of 2018 as a superintendent.” He started as part of a company strike team in the aftermath of the debris flow, helping longtime clients recover from a range of damages.  

“I come from a production atmosphere, where time and cost efficiency are everything,” he says. “I would like to think I certainly bring a forward-pushing perspective to our projects.” 

Now on the Pepper Hill project — a full rebuild of a four-bedroom, single-family residence on nearly two acres — Jim pauses for a moment to take in the view and give credit to his mentors, past and present.

“Being a commercial and residential broker — and a builder in his past — my father certainly gave me my first taste of real estate development and what makes a good home,” he says before rattling off a substantial list of subsequent influencers, including company co-founders Bruce Giffin and Geoff Crane, plus Executive Vice President Derek Shue. “They’ve certainly shaped the way I execute my job and professional stature.”

Project Profile: Spanish Contemporary Jewelbox

View of backyard pool and patio.

To call the remodel of this traditional Spanish-style home in Montecito extensive or comprehensive or even whole-house doesn’t quite capture the before-and-after look and feel. Just ask the scores of creative people who had a hand in the two-and-a-half year project.

The adjective that pops up most? Transformative.

Built in 1982, the two-story home measured roughly 3,000 square feet, with two bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, an office, and an attached two-car garage. As the remodel unfolded, the square footage and floor plan remained the same, yet the home emerged with modern lines and a neutral pallet of color and texture throughout reimagined rooms that blend indoor-outdoor living.   

“The owners wanted a comfortable, casual beach environment that had recollections of the traditional Santa Barbara style,” remembers design architect Britt Jewett about one of their earliest meetings. “They wanted it updated and clean, streamlined and simplified.” Early on, he added, “We decided to take advantage of the bones of the house. We brought in steel windows that really enhanced the quality of light.” Those windows, manufactured in Ventura by Riviera Bronze, have less material than a wooden frame and utilize simple geometry to frame a view more aesthetically.

Out front, those views stretch from a comfortable patio alongside the main entryway, where a path of stepping-stones appear to float upon a calm poll. Custom seating surrounds a fountain that’s part water, part fire, and all outdoor ambiance. 

A simple voice command can turn that fountain on and off, as well as control dozens of home automation features, from interior heating, cooling, and lighting, to motorized sliding doors and the temperature of the backyard hottub. The entire system can be monitored and controlled via smartphone, from which the homeowners can conveniently adjust settings from the comfort of their vaulted living room or from halfway around the world. 

Out back, the original design had featured a wall separating the spacious living room from the private backyard and swimming pool. The remodel went in a new direction. 

“That was the single-most important decision of the entire project — to turn that wall into a glass door,” says Cheryl Nuemann, of the mother-daughter Jordan Design Crew, with Courtney Jordan Bindel. “We’re interior designers but we’ve never had a project that didn’t spill outside.”

In addition to modern amenities — such as kitchen appliances hidden in lighted cabinets of white oak — the owners emphasized their desire for seamless transitions between interior and outdoor spaces. The new motorized multi-slider glass door between the living room and backyard creates that smooth connection — whether it’s open or closed — as it frames the all-new vanishing-edge swimming pool and nearby cabana and sandstone outdoor kitchen. “And think of the landscaping as the wallpaper of this exceptional outside space,” Jewett said.

To successfully create and sustain the scene was no small feat of engineering, adds Derek Shue, a Giffin & Crane executive vice president and the project’s manager. “If the pool settles half an inch, it messes up the whole thing. It has to be perfect and stay perfect.”   

Inside, there’s furniture with fabric designed to withstand exposure to the elements (and the family dogs) but also to look and feel good. “It’s extra plush,” Nuemann says, adding that all the furniture in the house was designed and built custom, along with the rugs in the living room, master bedroom, and office. Other standouts include blown-glass light fixtures by Alison Berger Glassworks and a redesigned stone fireplace, by Pat Scott Masonry, repositioned to line up with the living room’s new overhead ridge beam, a structural feature that replaced the original, which had sagged a bit over the years.

Among many upgraded details that pay homage to the home’s original style include authentic ironwork with a pewter finish (instead of traditional black) and a modern kitchen with hand-glazed oversized Moorish tiles. The kitchen also showcases an island that’s been extended to serve as both an informal and formal dining area, with a heated countertop — a one-of-a-kind detail that was dreamed up and actualized during the course of the project.

“The scope of the project changed as we progressed,” remembers Jewett. “And we achieved an exceptional level of refinement that can be challenging to accomplish during a remodel, as we were inheriting an established structure. I enjoyed working with Jordan Design to maintain the vision and with Derek [Shue] as the vision was transferred physically to the site.”

G&C Founders Welcome New Generation of Leaders

In the spirit of continuing Giffin & Crane’s dedication to excellence, longtime project managers Eric Carlstedt and Derek Shue have become company partners and executive vice presidents. Both have been with Giffin & Crane General Contractors, LLC, for a decade. Each brings highly refined skill sets to the highest levels of custom homebuilding, from project management and employee operations to upfront team-building with clients, architects, designers, engineers, and experts in permitting and inspection. 

For Eric, who began as a part-time laborer while completing his degree in Public Policy, Planning and Management (plus a minor in economics), Giffin & Crane has always been the family business.

After meeting Geoff’s daughter, Karrie, in college, they moved to Santa Barbara, got married, and he began managing projects while absorbing knowledge and technique from his father-in-law. “We’ve always gotten along,” Eric says. “I’ve learned a lot of what I know from Geoff. And a lot of that has been by getting thrown into the deep end,” he adds with a smile.

About their recent arrival to the company’s executive ranks, Eric says, “Derek and I have been helping to keep the company’s promises for a long time. It felt like a really organic transition. And who better to take the helm than two guys that have been involved for years?”

Derek comes from a family of builders. “I’ve been on job sites since before I could walk and started working in the trades when I was 16,” he says. “The transition period means I’m training new project managers so I can spend more time working directly with clients, architects, and realtors.”

“It’s an exciting time,” Derek adds. “Taking the wheel of the most recognized custom contracting firm in Santa Barbara, Eric and I are well prepared. We’ve got the best of the best backing us, both in the office and out in the field. The excitement comes from knowing that the industry is ever-changing. Our newer generation of builders coupled with our experienced group of master builders makes for a powerful team.”

“These guys have been around long enough to know how to build not only high-quality homes, but more importantly, high-performing teams,” says Geoff, who plans to stay aboard as chief of operations for another five years or so. “They do it well and they’re very good at giving our clients the best service possible.”

Geoff adds, “There is still much to learn, especially with the advances in technology throughout the building industry, and I look forward to finishing out my building and business career helping Derek and Eric continue to carry the legacy of Giffin & Crane over the next few years and into the future. I truly love what I do and being a family-run business will give the guys a longtime advisor even after I’m out of day-to-day operations. I know that goes for Bruce as well.”

“Geoff and I are really pleased that Eric and Derek are our successors,” says Bruce, who, while seeing his current projects through to completion, will begin to step away from day-to-day company oversight in January 2020. “Derek and Eric are solid guys and they’re wise beyond their years.”

“They fully embrace the core values that Geoff and I founded the company on 33 years ago,” Bruce adds. “They’ve earned the opportunity to take Giffin & Crane forward another 30 years. I look ahead to see how they will continue to make the company even better builders for our community.”

The G&C Questionnaire: Margie Grace

Breaking away from a family tradition in the geological sciences, Margie Grace supplemented her UCSC coursework in earth and life sciences with classes in landscape architecture. That early interest forged a career. With close to 40 years in the business, Grace’s work honors her appreciation of her native Southern California. At the same time, work trips to Spain, Australia, and New Zealand, among other faraway places, have informed her projects here at home, where she’s considered an expert in combining the natural beauty and design of the Santa Barbara region. She has been honored with numerous design awards, including the prestigious International Landscape Designer of the Year award from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers — twice. In the following Q&A, Grace reflects on dirt, deadlines, the joy of a granddaughter, and her first book, due out early next year. 

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

Grace: I was studying geology. At the time there were no jobs in geology and we were a family of geologists — my mother, brother-in-law, future husband, and future father-in-law were all geologists, the first three only just newly out of school. The whole family had all our eggs in one basket, so to speak. I thought it prudent to diversify, so I looked around for what else I could do outside and get paid for. I’d always loved gardening and gardens, so I jumped into landscape maintenance, which led to landscape design, which led to getting my landscape-contractor license, which brought me to landscape design-build. It’s been 37 amazing years now – I’ve never looked back.

What has been your favorite work-related field trip or vacation?

Travelling in southern Spain – the Moorish gardens and architecture!

What is your favorite public landscape design in Santa Barbara? 

I’m not sure Lotusland is technically a public landscape, but it is open to the public — so I’m picking it as my answer. (Going with a stricter definition of public, it’s the Santa Barbara Courthouse.)

Where do you find design inspiration outside of landscape architecture? 

Nature — the master teacher and the wellspring of all inspiration, hands down.

What do you like most about your job?

What’s not to love? Dirt, rocks, plants. Dreaming, designing, drawing. Interesting people. Tremendous variety. It’s like being a kid in the sandbox every single day!

What do you dislike most about your job?

Time pressure. Deadlines. So many gardens, so little time! So many ideas — how to execute them all?!?

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

Restoring old homes.

What is your current state of mind? 

Lit up! I’m inspired. It’s a great big, wonderful, exciting world! I’ve got a grandbaby, a daughter-in-law and two grown sons I’m crazy about, a brilliant partner who amazes me every day, fabulous projects in the works and a book coming out in February — it doesn’t get better than that!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Time spent with my granddaughter.

What is your greatest fear?

Hmmmm. I fear the loss of civility/empathy/compassion/humanity. We may be on the brink of losing it now. Society will break down without it.

What is your greatest extravagance? 

Travel. We’ve got a great big, long list of places to go and things to see. Oh, and I splurge every year at the Lotusland plant auction.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 

(Big question. And a lot of ways to approach the question. I’ll go with the traditional seven virtues that oppose the seven deadly sins.) The most overrated virtue has to be temperance. You should definitely overdo from time to time — drink in all the beauty you can hold; play hooky on a gorgeous day; open the last bottle of wine even though it’s already late; dance all night; say yes to dessert. You get the gist.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be fabulous dancer.

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

I’d be fearless.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

Besides two amazing offspring, Grace Design Associates is my greatest achievement. I’ve had the honor and the pleasure to create beauty that will last for lifetimes — gardens that bring joy every day to those who use them.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My mother’s geology textbooks. Her notes in the margins. Her handwriting brings her memory close enough to touch.

Which living person do you most admire?

My big sis. She’s not afraid of nothin’.

What do you most value in your friends?

Humor and intelligence – they go together.

Who is your favorite fictional character? 

Glenda the Good Witch (in the Wizard of Oz).

Who are your heroes in real life?

The heroes of my youth, those incredibly courageous civil rights leaders: Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi. And my mom. She is the smartest and the most courageous person I have ever known.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’m hardworking.

What word or phase do you most overuse?

I’m afraid it’s vulgar – I can sound like a sailor with Tourette’s.

What is your motto?

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.

Any specific goals for 2020?

You bet! I always set goals for both GDA and life. We’ll continue to do the great design-build projects we’re known for. 

However, the big, hairy audacious goals this year are around my first book — Private Gardens of Santa Barbara: The Art of Outdoor Living — which is coming out in February. It’s a gorgeous coffee table book that brings you inside 18 of my favorite residential gardens designed and built for some of our very special clients. I have a ton of goals around that — where the book will be stocked; number of sales; who I’d like to review the book; lots of talks, book signings, open garden days, and more! It’s available for preorder on Amazon. 

For more on Margie and her projects, visit:


G&C Senior Superintendent Tom Stefl Puts in the Miles

Sure it’s easy to get Tom Stefl going about the dozens of projects he’s headed up for Giffin & Crane over the years. He likes what he does, and when you walk a job site with him, you can tell he’s proud of his achievements. But if you really want to put a smile on his face, ask him about his road bike. 

First of all, he explains, it’s custom-sized to match his unusual frame; he’s six foot seven, with long legs and a compact torso. Secondly, it’s titanium, with carbon-fiber wheels — which means it’s light, responsive, and fast — fitted by Santa Barbara’s Dave Lettieri, who raced in the 1988 Summer Olympics and later worked as a mechanic for the now-infamous Lance Armstrong.

Stefl has been cycling since high school, and he typically puts in about 100 miles a week. His favorite ride starts at home in Lompoc and heads out to the quiet scenery of Happy Canyon. Since 1989, he’s done about 50 “centuries,” 100-mile group rides. Just for fun. When he’s not on his bike, you can find Stefl running job sites for Giffin & Crane, where he’s been a team member for 26 years. 

He grew up in the San Joaquin Valley where he learned the construction trade while building dairy barns. Then, scooped up by Oklahoma Baptist University on a basketball scholarship, he earned an art degree, which he put to use for seven years in downtown Los Angeles as a line illustrator for a design firm. “I enjoyed it, and I was good at it,” he remembers. “But I got tired of sitting at a desk.”

He decided to get back into construction, focusing on high-end custom homebuilding. He landed work with an Arroyo Grande-based contractor building an estate home in Santa Barbara. Needless to say, he grew fond of the place. “I really enjoyed Santa Barbara,” he says. “So I decided to find the best builder in town and apply.”

“Tom sought us out in 1991,” remembers Bruce Giffin. “Back in the day, we were more hands-on. We framed and finished with our in-house crew, and Tom had a great deal of experience, not only in hands-on construction, but also design and illustrative work. That appealed to us. To top it off, he had the Central Valley farm-family work ethic ingrained in him by his folks.”

Starting out on Giffin & Crane’s carpentry crew, Stefl moved up to project management within a year, but he still put on his nail bags regularly to swing a hammer and show the upstarts a few tricks of the trade. “I really enjoyed teaching the younger guys,” he says, “and I still do that to some degree.”

Giffin appreciates Stefl’s influence on the next generation of builders: “Tom likes things done right, and he respects people that work hard,” Giffin says.

Stefl hit retirement age a few years back, but he says he’s happy to keep doing what he enjoys — on his bike and off.

At-Home Readiness for Fire and Water
With sundowner weather and winter on the way, now’s a good time to inspect your home and take protective measures.

With summer fading out, fall arrives with seasonal wind events followed by wet weather. Now is a good time of year to make brief inspections of your primary residence, checklist in hand. 

Marking peak wildfire season throughout Santa Barbara County, the fall months often bring formidable sundowners across the region. These hot winds out of the north are notorious for driving mountain wildfires into residential areas along the wildland-urban interface, or WUI (pronounced “WOO-ee” in firefighter circles).   

For residents living in or near the WUI, firefighting agencies urge steady vigilance year round, particularly during peak wildfire season. For easy-to-follow details, visit readyforwildfire.org, keeping three main protective measures in mind: 

  • – Defensible space
  • – Home hardening
  • – Fire-resistant landscaping  

In recent years, the most destructive firestorms in state history have been caused by the electrical arcing of power lines during high-wind events. Southern California Edison and PG&E have responded with a plan to shut down large sections of the electrical grid ahead of such events, depending on the forecast. In Santa Barbara County, this is called a PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff), and it’s already been implemented. 

In planning for these shutoffs around your property, consider this: 

  • – Santa Barbara County public-safety officials recommend that residents need to be prepared to endure an outage lasting as long as 5-7 days. 
  • – Be prepared for disruptions in communication services, water, sanitation, transportation, and at-home medical devices that require electricity. 
  • – Do you know how to operate your garage door and/or automatic driveway gate when there’s a power outage? If not, learn. 

For the full scope of PSPS readiness in Santa Barbara County, visit readysbc.org.

On a lighter note, is your house ready for a typical season of wet weather? This isn’t about flood insurance — though it’s not a bad idea to revisit your coverage if you haven’t looked at your policy in awhile — so much as taking easy steps toward protecting your home against less conspicuous water damage.    

  • – Take a look at your property’s drainage system to make sure rain gutters and catch basins are clear of leaves, dirt, and other debris that could cause clogging and backup.
  • – Ahead of winter rains, inspect the plaster weep screed at the perimeter of you home to ensure it’s not buried by soil or mulch, which could lead to rot as moisture from the soil or mulch soaks into the stucco. A weep screed allows moisture to drain and also prevents moisture from migrating into stucco walls. Water from built-up soil or mulch can wick as far as three feet into the stucco.
  • – Ensure that built-up soil immediately around your home is several inches below the weep screed or wood framing.
  • – A good rule of thumb is that the finish grade around your structures slopes away at a 1⁄4″-per-foot fall for every six feet.
  • – With colder days and rainy weather, reduce irrigation watering times and frequency.

Home is a place to take pride in. Treat it well and keep it safe, and it’ll do the same for you.

Lifelong Learning with Master Builder Dan Formanek
Senior Superintendent Dan Formanek

In 1990, as Giffin & Crane was expanding into the luxury homebuilding market in Santa Barbara, Dan Formanek joined the firm’s dedicated, growing team. He’s been with the company ever since, helping it to develop and maintain its edge in an industry constantly evolving with new tools and techniques.

Throughout the decades, Formanek has drawn from a broad skill set, its foundation established while he was growing up in Minnesota. In his early teens, he was painting houses with his older brother, and by the time he got his driver’s license, he was working for a neighbor — his high school industrial arts teacher who built homes during summer break.

“When I first learned construction, it was comprehensive,” Dan says of his time with the teacher. “We did most of the work ourselves — concrete, blockwork, framing, roofing, siding, drywall, finish work. My initial foray in homebuilding was really broad based, which has served me well in all my work since.” 

Right out of high school, Formanek left chilly Minnesota “on a lark,” he said, for the warmer climes of the American Southwest. He joined a friend, framing houses and laying tile in Tempe, Arizona, where it wasn’t uncommon for construction crews to punch in at daybreak during summertime heat waves. 

“We’d start as soon as we could see a pencil line on a piece of lumber, work eight hours straight, and retreat by 1:30 or 2:00, just before the hottest part of the day,” Formanek remembered.

From there, he did a stint painting houses in Alaska before heading back home for a few years of higher education. A lifelong singer, who started out in the church choir as a kid, Formanek pursued a vocals major in the music department at Minnesota State University Moorhead. These days, he’ll sing an occasional wedding or funeral, if only to keep his chops tuned-up.

Formanek’s creative talents shine not only through his music, but also on the job site, where his peers consider him nothing less than a master builder, especially when it comes to solving complex problems.   

“We’re not tract home builders; it’s all custom homes,” Formanik said. “So we’re doing a lot of site-specific research and development on every project. It’s about building on what you’ve learned in the past, integrating your new abilities — and all these new tools and techniques — to come up with solutions to puzzles that sometimes, at first glance, seem insurmountable.”

“Homebuilding is certainly an ongoing learning experience,” he added, making sure to point out that Giffin & Crane’s creative force is — and has always been — a team effort. “Everything is constantly changing with technology and materials. That’s part of the game. And together, we never stop learning new things.”

A Game of Time and Embers

December 2017, the Thomas Fire approaches Santa Barbara (Photo: J. Stoicheff)

As a builder working in the hills above Santa Barbara for 40 years, I’ve seen a number of wildfires come through town. I’ve seen houses go up in flames while leaving the vegetation around them standing. I’ve seen wildfires burn right up to homes and then move on without igniting them. I’ve seen homes spontaneously combust hours after the wildfire went by because they were so hot. 

I’ve rebuilt a lot of homes that were destroyed by wildfire and I’ve repaired a lot of homes that mostly survived. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. And what I’ve come to believe is that it’s a game of time and embers.

As wildfire approaches, you need to buy time. You do that by making your home heat- and fire-resistant. You also need to reduce the opportunity for embers to get into your home. If you do those two things — and you get lucky — your home just might survive the next wildfire in your neighborhood.

But isn’t the state-mandated building code for high-fire areas good enough? Not yet. I suggest approaches that go above and beyond those regulations. Fortunately, most of my suggestions do not add much in costs. They also have the benefit of making your home more energy efficient and comfortable. So even if you’re fortunate enough to not have to experience catastrophic wildfire firsthand, you’ll reap the benefits in your everyday living.

Heat Resistance

In a nutshell, it’s all about insulation, insulation, insulation — even in the spaces that don’t call for it, such as outside covered patios, stucco columns, and parapet walls. Every wood wall, every ceiling — whether inside or out — and every wood cavity should get insulation to reduce the transfer of heat. Let me repeat: Insulate every cavity. 

Then the next best thing to do during new construction or an extensive remodel is to apply a layer of one-inch-thick, foil-faced radiant insulation over all of your plywood wall sheathing before the exterior of your home is stuccoed. This will add R-6 in insulation value to your walls and — more importantly — reflect heat away as wildfire closes in. It also has the benefit of making your home much more comfortable when the weather is hot. It’s easy to do and adds very little cost to a new home. Your stucco contractor just needs to use longer nails to get through the extra thickness of foam to fasten the lathe to the plywood sheathing. 

Foil-faced insulation surrounding aluminum-clad windows and doors (Photo: B. Giffin)

Windows need to be dual-glazed and preferably made of wood with clad aluminum exteriors. Single glazing fails. Vinyl cladding melts.  

A high-performance dual-glazed, aluminum-clad window. (Photo: B. Giffin)

Ember Resistance

During firestorms, winds can be so strong that embers get pushed into openings in a home, including attic vents, crawl space vents, eave vents, or even under doors.  

To counteract this, many contractors build sealed, insulated, and conditioned attics and crawl spaces, thus negating the need for vents. There’s substantial technique involved in constructing these spaces so they don’t create rot, so make sure your builder understands the science of building them. Besides being ember-resistant and energy efficient, conditioned attics and crawl spaces reduce the opportunities for rodents and other pests to get into your home. 

Additionally, if you’re going to have exposed wood on the exterior of your home, there are a couple of options to reduce the chances of it catching fire. If it’s new wood, you can order it from the lumber yard to be treated with a fire-resistant chemical. If it’s existing wood, intumescent paint can be applied. 

Overall, combining these simple techniques on top of what’s already code-required will significantly improve the chances of your home surviving a wildfire. 

— Bruce Giffin

Better Building with Matterport 3-D Technology
The dollhouse view of a finished home photographed with a Matterport camera.

As technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent decades, the most forward-thinking professional tradespeople have infused their traditional hands-on workmanship with a whole host of modern tools, from accounting software to computer-aided design. On that cutting edge is Matterport, an advanced camera system that captures imagery and measurements, then processes the data to create editable and shareable three-dimensional rendering of the photographed location. We caught up with Giffin & Crane Executive Vice President Eric Carlstedt for more about the technology and how it appeals to builders.   

How would you describe the Matterport technology to the layperson?

It’s a camera with a few extra attributes. It takes 360-degree pictures, logs coordinates when it takes a photo, and is able to measure its distance from surrounding objects. When you take multiple pictures of a space, it is able to use the information to create a 3-D model of the area you can then view through your computer or mobile device. It also creates a cloud model that provides extremely accurate measurements that anyone proficient in CAD technology, such as architects or designers, can use in their design process.

Where did you first experience Matterport and what was your impression?

We first came across it a couple years back at the Procore Groundbreak Construction Technology Conference in Austin. We have always heavily photographed our projects during construction and usually generate hardbound books as well as data files of all the photos. They were shot and organized in a way that easily allowed us to always go back to see what’s behind the finishes — but the process was painstaking!

The Matterport system seemed to do what we were doing but do it so much more quickly. Plus, you don’t need to go find the book — all the models are on the cloud and all our guys have mobile devices that allow them to view the models right in the field.

What was it about the technology that appealed to you as a builder?

In building, information is everything, and assumptions can be deadly. Matterport made it very easy to gather a massive amount of useful information in a short amount of time. I think technology is at its best when it both improves your final product while also increasing the efficiency and ease of your process. If we get a better final product and more time to focus on other important details, I’m in!

The G&C Questionnaire — Artist Tara Burnley

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Here on the artist’s workbench, Tara Burnley meticulously restores antique ceiling panels in a Santa Barbara residence during an extensive remodel.

After earning an art degree and a minor in art history from UCSB, the paintings of Tara Burnley caught the eye of an older woman who specialized in restoring authentic finish detail to remodeled Montecito mansions. On the job, Burnley put her college degree to work, painting ceiling murals, faux-finishing original stucco walls, and antiquing and distressing cabinets and furniture, among other highly specialized skills. More recently, she’s shifted off the job sites into another lifelong interest — psychology and psychotherapy. In the following questionnaire, we learn more about Burnley’s fear of a certain sea monster and her winged perspective of dear life itself.     

G&C: What has been your favorite work-related field trip or vacation?

Burnley: Down to Hollywood to do a kitchen and living room with gloss black splatter paint on white ceilings. I did a Jackson Pollock splatter technique with Dexter-style plastic prepping on all the walls and cabinets. I had to wear a painter’s spray suit to protect myself. And I was alone in the house, so I got to jam my tunes loud — very freeing; I recommend it!

What is your favorite public art in Santa Barbara?

The Chumash sundial mosaics down on the Waterfront.

Where do you find artistic inspiration outside of work?

In nature.

What do you like most about your job?

Projects are continuously changing.

What do you dislike most about your job?

Having to sometimes work above my head on ceiling murals — not great for the neck.

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

I’m in it now — psychotherapy.

What is your current state of mind?


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Out on the water with my friends.

What is your greatest fear?

Great white sharks — Ha! I have a history with them.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Sleeping in.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?


Which talent would you most like to have?

Musical talent.

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

Silence my highly critical internal voice.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Learning true empathy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My past.

Which living person do you most admire?

Gloria Steinem.

What do you most value in your friends?

Their eternal and unwavering support.

Who is your favorite fictional character?


Who are your heroes in real life?

Anyone who takes their suffering and turns it into wisdom.

What is your most marked characteristic?


What word or phase do you most overuse?

“All good!”

What is your motto?

Take the hawk’s perspective. (Fly high above to gain perspective on your life.)

The G&C Questionnaire — Kim True, True Nature Design
MID-CENTURY CRAFTSMAN: Landscaping and hardscaping by True Nature Design.

After graduating with an Environmental Studies degree from UCSB and interning with Frank Fuji at Lotusland, Kimberly True got a job drafting with Grant Castleberg and Phil Suding before going back to school to earn a Master’s in landscape architecture. During that advance study, she says, “I had the wonderful pleasure of working with Bob Perry, who literally wrote the book on drought-tolerant plants, and I think my background in environmental studies, ecology, hydrology, and horticulture has led me to my current enthusiasm for water-wise planting design.” She also credits her stint as a volunteer wildland firefighter with influencing her expertise in designs that fit the Santa Barbara region. In 2010, she opened True Nature Design.

What drew you to landscape design early on?  My dad was raised in the Salinas Valley during the Great Depression, and as a result of living on many farms and ranches, he was a fantastic gardener. We always had large vegetable gardens and beautiful ornamental plants. My dad and I would drive to Big Bear and collect rocks, and built many decorative rock garden beds together. I designed and built my first little garden at age seven, to the delight of my parents. My dad was also a wonderful artist and encouraged my interest in art. I took drawing and oil-painting classes as a kid, and would spend hours drawing. I suppose landscape design is the fusion of passion for plants and gardens, and love of art and drawing. My first formal job in landscape architecture was hand-drafting planting plans (which is a lost art) at Castleberg Associates in Santa Barbara, a perfect marriage of my favorite things.  

What has been your favorite work-related field trip or vacation? I was fortunate to experience a study abroad quarter in Italy while working on my advanced degree. We lived for three months in a hilltop village in Tuscany and visited different gardens and regions each week.

What is your favorite public landscape design in Santa Barbara? There are so many! I have always loved Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens. The Courthouse gardens, of course. I love the scale of El Paseo courtyard. It’s hard to pick a favorite!

Where do you find design inspiration outside of landscape architecture? I am definitely most inspired by nature. Mother Nature is the most talented landscape designer. It is often the architecture of mountains, the sounds of water, and the arrangement of plants in a wild landscape which provides inspiration on plant combinations, colors, scale, texture, and use of accents.

What do you most like about your job? It is different and challenging every day. Every project is different and poses a whole new set of problems to solve and things to create.

What do you most dislike about your job? Being on the computer all the time. When I first started it was all hand drafting, which felt so much more creative. I still do almost all of my conceptual plans by hand, and my initial design work by hand. The computer has made things easier in some regards, but the sitting and drafting by mouse can get fatiguing.

If you had to go back to pick another profession, what would it be? Something related to travel and being outside, like a backcountry ranger or nature photographer, or wilderness travel guide of some sort. I was an ecotourism guide in Costa Rica in my twenties, and I absolutely loved that.

What is your current state of mind? Positive and hopeful. I am a tireless optimist.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Sitting on a warm beach with someone I love.

What is your greatest fear? Being hit by a car operated by someone looking at their phone while walking or riding my bike.   

What is your greatest extravagance? My massage therapist.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Of Aristotle’s 12 Virtues, maybe Temperance. You can never have too many plants or chocolate. I think we’d have a better world if everyone followed the other 11 virtues.  

Which talent would you most like to have? Balance.

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

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Probably earning my Master’s degree. That was a lot of work and dedication, and very little sleep. I was awarded Dean’s Outstanding Student for the whole department, which really meant a lot.

What is your most treasured possession? Probably my Toyota Tacoma truck. I know that’s silly, but it gets me out into beautiful places where there are few people. It also holds all of my toys like camping gear, mountain bike, and kayaks, and lets me go play outside. It’s not so much the truck itself, but where it can take me and the experiences I am able to have because of that.  

Which living person do you most admire? It was Michelle Obama until the Swedish climate-activist Greta Thunberg came along. I love Michelle Obama’s grace, and Greta’s passion. Two strong women who are making positive changes in our world.

What do you most value in your friends? Reliability. I don’t have a huge number of friends, but of the close ones, I know without a doubt that we’d do anything for each other.

Who is your favorite fictional character? Dana Scully.

Who are your heroes in real life? Anyone who is trying to make the world a better place.

What is your most marked characteristic? My laugh (so I’m told).

What word or phrase do you most overuse? “like”. I grew up in the 80’s and still haven’t shaken that one!

What is your motto? Dream big. You can’t get anywhere without a dream. Follow it!

Better Building with Procore
ALWAYS TRANSITIONING: Solid and sheathed, with windows and doors, it’s time for the mechanical trades to get to work. The Procore platform helps coordinate. (Photo: Shue)

Back when phone calls and fax machines were the most advanced connectors between custom homebuilders and their clients and subcontractors, Craig “Tooey” Courtemanche had an idea. He was one of those clients, living in Silicon Valley while building a new home in Santa Barbara for his young family. He felt disconnected from the project and noticed that, in general, the large and highly specialized teams that must come together to pull off homebuilding efficiency were rary on the same page when it came to daily operations. With his background in software development, Courtemanche set out to streamline that very complex process. The result was Procore, now headquartered in Carpinteria. Giffin & Crane has been utilizing Procore since before the beginning. For some feedback from the field, let’s touch base with Giffin & Crane Executive Vice President Derek Shue.  

When did G&C first start using Procore, and what was it about the software that was compelling?

Derek Shue: We first started using Procore back in 2002, back then it was a program called Site Pro. In the early 2000s, there were not many software programs out there geared towards the management of construction projects. Always looking for new opportunities to serve our clients, and seeing an opportunity to work with a local company, [co-founder and CEO] Bruce Giffin  met with Procore CEO Tooey Courtemanche to find out more.

How does the Procore system help during a project, in a day-to-day fashion?

With most construction projects now, there is an overwhelming amount of information that needs to be tracked, organized, distributed, and revised on a daily basis. Procore allows us to do all of this from a single platform and maintain access to this info for as long as we need. It allows us to track and manage digital drawings, project photos, change orders, subcontractor work orders, RFIs (Request for Information), emails, meeting agendas — the list keeps going! Also, with all of the info being generated and stored digitally, we are able to free ourselves from the mountains of paperwork a construction project can create.

How about long-term? What features does the software offer that can help a builder manage or revisit a project that has been completed for some time?

There are always questions that come up toward the end of a long-term project — or even years after completion — that previously would need research and review through boxes of folders and binders. On Procore, with meeting notes, RFIs, subcontracts, etc., all found in one place, we can go back and find that information in half the time. We’ve had projects from 12 to 15 years ago where we went back into the Procore archive to get information for clients. It’s a pretty amazing tool.

How about for your clients, is Procore helpful to the homeowner? If so, how so?

In this new age in technology and accessibility, we can give our clients the ability to keep track of their project at any time. Our clients have access to their project notes, logs, photo streams, customized and automated reports, construction documents, schedules, and drawings, all online and even from their mobile devices. They can log in with the Procore mobile app and view photos of their project similar to the way they would scroll through Instagram, even allowing for comments and @mentions to tag specific people.

Anything you’d like to add?

We are also starting to utilize Procore’s integration with DocuSign, giving our clients the ease of signing contracts or change orders with the click of a mouse or swipe of the finger.

A Fine Artist in the Trades: Tara Burnley’s Colorful Life
Tara Burnley and her mural, Brophy Bros. restaurant, Ventura, 2007.

Maybe Tara Burnley’s life as a surfer prepared her for a successful fine-arts path in the construction industry. Think about it: Growing up in the subtropical waters of her native Florida, with a big move to sun-soaked Southern California, she learned a lot about color, lines, detail on the horizon, and — what any good surfer grows to appreciate — patience.

After moving to the Golden State and working as a lifeguard and junior-lifeguard instructor at Point Magu and Leo Carrillo state parks — while living in her 1965 split-window VW van — she landed at UCSB to major in art, with a minor in art history. Her peers — even some of her professors — said she would never make any money with art.

Then, she said, an older woman who specialized in home finishing saw some of Burnley’s paintings. “She took me under her wing,” Burnley said. “The next thing I know, I’m up on scaffolding in a Montecito mansion with an ocean view. I never even knew that line of work existed.”

Burnley learned the faux-finishing, antiquing, and distressing of cabinets, doors, furniture, and exposed interior beams. She learned to treat new wrought iron to make it look aged and rusty. She primed and color-matched cracked plaster walls. She also learned stenciling and how to paint murals across big ceilings.

Eventually, she branched out on her own, including some high-end signage and mural projects in the hotel and restaurant realms, in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles. She joined Augustine Painting in 2012, coming in on custom-finish jobs and, these days, doing a lot of color consulting for clients approaching the final stages of an extensive remodel or all-new construction.

Outside of  special projects for Augustine, Burnley works as a marriage and family therapist, with a degree from Pacifica Graduate Institute. “I had always been interested in psychology,” she said. “And I also knew I couldn’t be painting like that [in the trades] forever.”

At home painting on her own clock, she said she enjoys oil on canvas, building colors on colors — Maybe like the colorful layering she’s created with her own life.

This stenciled wood panel is a restoration Burnley did on an old ceiling from an Italian church.

Schwan Brothers Excavation: Four Decades in the Dirt

To hear James Schwan tell it, his family’s excavation and demolition business unofficially started in 1976 with a little Ferguson skip loader and a two-and-a-half-ton International dump truck. That was 42 years ago, and if memory serves, his first job — which he landed by running an ad in the newspaper — was to grade a parking lot on the Mesa, where McDonald’s is today. He thinks he may have removed too much dirt and left the lot about a foot deeper than necessary. “I really didn’t know what I was doing,” he remembers with a big laugh. But he knew he could figure it out. Earlier in his life, he had witnessed an flower child living in a van launch a successful tractor business, and he thought, “If that hippie can do it, so can I!”

A few years later, with younger brothers Tom and Garry in the mix, Schwan Brothers Excavating Contractors, Inc. became official. When their dad retired after 30 years as a surveyor, he helped run the office. These days, James’s son, Jason, a civil engineer out of Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, drives that desk. On paper, James Schwan is the company co-founder. But in the field recently, he said his title is “Cat Skinner,” meaning the person who operates heavy machinery, in particular a Caterpillar tractor.   

Over the decades, Schwan (picture above) has worked on a number of projects with Giffin & Crane. “It’s just so many, I can’t remember them unless I drive by them now,” he says. While the company has worked as far out of town as Vandenberg and Santa Maria, the vast majority of their projects — from road-building and excavation to demolition and hauling — have been along Santa Barbara’s South Coast. “Montecito has kept us busy most of the time,” he says. As the economy picked up over the past few years, business got even busier.

Then came the devastating debris flow of January 9, 2018, the aftermath of which has meant months of long overtime, clearing out mud-filled properties, moving boulders the same size as his tractors, and tearing down red-tagged mansions filled with snapped oak trees. Like most who live or work in Montecito, Schwan was one degree of separation from somebody killed that morning — Dr. Mark Montgomery was his hand surgeon.

These days, the cleanup and demo work in Montecito is slowly giving way to the community’s rebuilding phase. Schwan’s most recent job puts him daily on top of a hill behind Summerland, where he’s running the Cat, cutting and filling an empty lot in preparation for a brand-new home. From up there, the ocean view fills the entire field of human vision. Schwan takes a long look. “This is a good place to end the year,” he says.

From Client to Collaborator: Hall Pardoe Design

Founded by mother/daughter creative team Jill Hall and Elyse Pardoe, Hall Pardoe Design branched out long ago out from its original homebase in Los Angeles. That was a good day for Santa Barbara. Ever since, their tastes and talents have connected with the region’s natural beauty and sophisticated building practices. For a bit more background on their teamwork with Giffin & Crane, we caught up with Eylse.

G&C: How long has your company been designing homes in Santa Barbara?  

Elyse Pardoe: Hall Pardoe Design began serving Santa Barbara area 17 years ago. Prior to that, it was based in the Los Angeles area. We now have clients up and down the Central Coast of California.

How about outside the region?

We have also worked on design for a few projects out of the state and country, as second projects, for some Santa Barbara clients.

When did you first start working with Giffin & Crane?

We began collaborating with Giffin and Crane 15 years ago, after interviewing contractors to build our personal home.

Why did you go with Giffin & Crane?

It was a very clear and easy decision after meeting with Bruce. My first impressions of Bruce proved to be remarkably correct: honest, straightforward, hard working, and ethical, and our creative processes lined up seamlessly.

Which led to more work.

Yes, it was an easy transition from working together on our personal home to bringing that collaboration to clients!

A good example is the single-family residence pictured above. A decade ago, the original home was destroyed by the Tea Fire (along with more than 200 others). Its foundation remained structurally sound, however, and would serve as the new home’s footprint. Highlight of the rebuild include an upstairs master suite over the semi-detached two-car garage. The required breezeway between allows firefighters, trucks, and equipment better access across the property if it were ever threatened again by wildfire. The home also features the very latest in fire safety — including sprinklers, tempered glass, stucco siding, a slate roof, and very little exterior wood — while maintaining an authentic look among beautiful natural surroundings.





Fast Build for a Good Cause: CALM Showhouse

Extraordinary builds call for extraordinary coordination. While we firmly believe that all our custom homes and remodels are extraordinary projects, a particular job back in 2004 exemplifies a grand coming together of countless skill sets on a very tight deadline. Plus, it was for a good cause.

The project launched with Traditional Home magazine teaming up with Harrison Design to conceive a custom showhouse to benefit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) in Santa Barbara, a nonprofit center for child-abuse prevention and treatment. Giffin & Crane came aboard as the builder, joined by famed interior designer Barry Dixon, out of Virginia, and Santa Barbara-based landscape architect Katie O’Reilly Rogers. The goal: Get it built in one year.

Before breaking ground, a clear and single vision of the home had to be shared and approved by all parties, with comprehensive design and planning components complete in advance. “Careful up front review and acceptance was critical,” remembers Geoff Crane, adding that cash flow was another critical component. Tradespeople who work fast while maintaining excellent quality ought to be appropriately — and quickly — compensated quickly.

In this case, trades that normally would have had their own space along a comfortable schedule were forced to overlap. Bidders were given this fact up front as we selected seasoned leaders able to coordinate a busy job site with long hours. Patience was key, as was the ability to placate the occasional frustrations inevitable in this new territory. “Everyone checks their ego at the gate,” Crane says. “In order to keep moving forward, we all need to work together candidly.”

The result was a six-bedroom, eight-bath single-family residence across 8,500 square feet, located on 11 acres with ocean and mountain views through oak woodlands. Harrison’s design in the Mission Revival Style showcases Dixon’s Eastern and Western influences and indoor-outdoor fusion.




From Concrete Laborer to Company President


By the time Antonio Jesus Gijón launched AJ Precision Concrete in 2001, he already had 17 years of experience in the trade. A few years later, he signed his first subcontracting project with Giffin & Crane, the all-new construction of a 4,200-square-foot private residence on Eucalyptus Hill, pictured above.

The tough-to-reach parcel was situated on a steep hillside — the extra-deep foundational footings and heavy duty retaining walls demanded the full range of Gijón’s two decades of professional expertise. Clearly, he’d come a long way since setting out at the age of 16 to look for work thousands of miles away from home.  

In 1983, Gijón and a friend immigrated to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, arriving in Santa Barbara with little more than the experience they had working on rural farms. “I was good with a shovel,” Gijón remembers. In 1984, he started as a laborer with David Bradley Concrete, which most notably built the foundations for the Gregg Motors car dealership and the Hampton Inn.

Four years into the trade, building his skill set along the way, Gijón took a union job with Lash Construction, where he worked as a concrete finisher until 1992. “It was very interesting work,” he says. “For me, it’s always about being a good finisher.”

By the time he started with Concrete Impressions, in 1992, he was running projects as a foreman and starting to think he could run his own show. In 2001, Gijón and his younger brother, Efrien, pulled the trigger.  

Gijón remembers that business took about six months to ramp up, and over the years, he’s expanded his workforce as more project came in. These days — based out of his home office on Santa Barbara’s Westside — Gijón’s up to 18 employees, enough to handle about three or four projects at a time, mostly along the South Coast, with the occasional job in Ventura or “over the hill” in the Santa Ynez Valley, he says. “We’re as good on foundation as we are on custom finish work.”




Core Strength: Delta Welding and Fabrication

Andrew Vonnegut grew up in Monterey County, where the family business was a steel fabrication company, located along Highway 101 just south of Salinas. Vonnegut left home to attend UCSB and the University of Minnesota, but he had learned enough about the trade growing up to recognize a good deal when he saw one.

In 2012, he and Kim Kotnick purchased Delta Welding and Fabrication, which had already been in business 20 years. Today, its seven ironworkers and three managers operate out of large shop next door to Channel City Lumber, in Goleta. Like many top-quality trade shops along the South Coast, Delta prefers to do business locally. “Most of our projects are in Goleta, Santa Barbara, and Montecito,” says Vonnegut. “And we have a number of projects in Hollister Ranch and do some select work in the Carpinteria and Buellton areas.”  

We caught up with Vonnegut to get the latest on Delta.  

G&C: Talk a bit about the transition happening now.

Vonnegut: Kim and I recently sold Delta Welding to one of our former employees, Peter Doctors, and his wife, Kimberly Garden. Peter is a civil engineer who had been working with us for a few years. He has an ideal background and personality to lead Delta, and the transition has been really easy because he was already involved with most of our projects and clients.

What strengths do Peter and Kimberly bring to the company?

Peter is a civil engineer, and structural engineering is a subset of civil. We would not have considered selling, but Peter is in many ways a much better fit for the company than I ever was. As I understand it, there are very few engineers running companies like this. Peter loves to build things, not just design them, so it’s a natural fit and an advantage for Delta and our clients. Kimberly is a super-talented business and marketing professional — a great asset for the business.

Are you going to work as a consultant?

Yes, for as long as Peter and Kimberly want me to or feel that I can add some value. I love building things and plan to stay in the trades even if in a different area than steel.

Thinking back, when did you first work a Giffin & Crane project and what was the nature of the work?

Our first Giffin & Crane job was a combination of structural and architectural steel in Sycamore Canyon. We knew of Giffin & Crane’s reputation and had been trying to work with them for some time. We finally convinced them to give Delta a chance, and since then we’ve worked together on numerous projects. We appreciate Giffin & Crane’s high-quality work, attention to detail, and professionalism. We have been fortunate to work with them from the design stage through execution — this benefits the owners and everyone else involved in the project.

How would you describe Delta’s working relationship with G&C over the years?

Every construction project has challenges and problems to solve. Giffin & Crane staff are experienced, committed, professional, and solution-focused, which really makes them stand out in this industry and a pleasure to work with.

Thanks, Andrew, and good luck.


The G&C Questionnaire — Elyse Pardoe, Hall Pardoe Design

Surrounded by oaks, the outdoor living room of this French farmhouse (pictured) enjoys mountain views and a seasonal creek, notes designer Elyse Pardoe. The property’s ambiance is rural and quiet, yet shops shops and restaurants are just a short walk away, she adds. Such are the perks of geography and climate while making a home in Santa Barbara, and Pardoe has an experienced eye for bringing together sophisticated architecture and design, inside and out, with the region’s natural beauty. Her company, Hall Pardoe Design — founded with her mother, Jill Hall — offers design/build services, interiors, and staging. We caught up with her to talk about the family’s multigenerational artistic bent and finding peace in the chaos of a creative life.

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

Pardoe: I grew up surrounded by design. My grandmother was an artist and had an array of artist friends that peppered my thoughts with ideas. My mother started out in set design and later moved to interior design. We joined forces and continued to do building and interior design together.

What has been your favorite work-related field trip or vacation?

I am incapable of choosing one. My two favorites were a trip to Italy and a trip to France with my mother, exploring every tiny and large detail of design.

What is your favorite public space in Santa Barbara?

Architect Britt Jewett’s office building.

Another location you find pleasing to the eye?

Post Ranch, Big Sur.

Where do you find design inspiration outside of work?

Everywhere in nature, so I can steal ideas and bring as much of what I feel there indoors.

What do you most like about your job?

Manifesting the ideas in my head and seeing them come to life.

What do you most dislike about your job?

Witnessing the waste of materials.

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

I had another profession before design, working with children. I would have to say, I would return to that.

What is your current state of mind?

Peaceful amongst the chaos of creativity.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Finding balance in all things in life.

What is your greatest fear?

That we as a people will not learn to care for the planet properly before it is too late.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Meandering through nature as if I had no responsibilities.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?


Which talent would you most like to have?

The ability to sing on key.

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

That is a difficult one. I am a constant work in progress and embrace growth immensely. I also know that there are two sides to many “flaws” that enable the desired side, and if given up, one must lose both sides.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Learning to listen and interpret a clients words and apply it in a way that meets their desires.

What is your most treasured possession?

My grandmother’s books.

Which living person do you most admire?

My husband who has morals that seem somehow outdated these days and the patience of a saint.

What do you most value in your friends?

Honest intimacy.

Who is your favorite fictional character?

I’m stumped. I think my mind is drawn to real life characters.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Also, a difficult one. I am hard pressed to select a few. Anyone who is genuinely kind is a hero to me.

On what occasion do you lie?

Possibly when the truth would be too painful for someone to hear.

What is your most marked characteristic?


What word or phase do you most overuse?

Can’t say I have one.

What is your motto?

Be authentic in expressing yourself in every area of life.


The G&C Questionnaire — Alida Aldrich, landscape designer

Since first launching her landscape design career in 1982 in Los Angeles, Alida Aldrich has stayed true to three pillars of her craft: respect for a site’s existing landscape; careful consideration of surrounding architecture; and above all, a loyalty to client vision. Throughout Santa Barbara and Montecito — where she relocated her headquarters in 1996 — The Aldrich Company’s time-tested approach is well-suited to the region’s picturesque parcels, architectural review, and homeowners’ sophisticated and discerning taste. And it shows. Aldrich has won design awards from the Montecito Association, Santa Barbara Beautiful, and — four years running — international “Best of Houzz” accolades. Her services include complete conceptual design, full working drawings, installation oversight, and maintenance supervision. For more, visit her site: http://www.aldrich-landscapes.com

We caught up with Aldrich to hear about bit more about Central Park influences, the boon of being her own boss, and a certain Supreme Court justice.


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

Aldrich: Decades ago, having developed a passion for working in my own garden, I enrolled in the Landscape Architectural Program at UCLA (with tree and plant courses at Pierce College, in the San Fernando Valley). That formal education gave me the confidence to open my own landscape design studio.

What has been your favorite work-related field trip or vacation?

New York City’s Central Park. Within the larger 843-acre park, there are numerous smaller parks, each with its own distinct design character. It’s remarkable how Fredrick Law Olmstead’s original designs continued to thrive, offering pleasure to city dwellers for more than 160 years.

What is your favorite public landscape design in Santa Barbara?

Alice Keck Memorial Park is a perfectly scaled jewel. Everyone can stroll through to see various examples of the Mediterranean plant palette best-suited to our region.  

Where do you find design inspiration outside of work?

By seeing other landscape designers’ and architects’ work on my walks around different neighborhoods in Santa Barbara. Also from magazines, and online articles and photos.

What do you most like about your job?

I treasure setting my own calendar and being my own boss.

What do you most dislike about your job?

Failure of others to do their work properly and timely. There are many trades involved in installing a garden design. One trade dropping the ball can throw the whole project off kilter.

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

I’d choose anything having to do with music. Music — another art form — compliments my creative nature.

What is your current state of mind?


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t believe there is such a thing — it would be a fool’s errand to try.

What is your greatest fear?


What is your greatest extravagance?

Travel. I have been fortunate to have lived and visited a number of locales around the world. It’s a marvelous way for personal and professional expansion.

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

Routine. It’s lethal.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Temperance. We’re only here for one go around — no sense in holding back!

Which talent would you most like to have?

Playing an instrument.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Educating myself and starting and running a successful landscape design business for many years.

What is your most treasured possession?

Friends. You simply cannot get thru life without them.

What do you most value in your friends?


Which living person do you most admire?


Who is your favorite fictional character?

Miss Piggy.

Who are your heroes in real life?

First responders.

On what occasion do you lie?

Only as a last resort to lessen someone’s pain.

What is your most marked characteristic?


What word or phase do you most overuse?


What is your motto?

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us show up and get to work.’

— American painter and photographer Chuck Close.




Montecito Mediterranean: From Inspiration to Reality

It started with a photo book, page after page of images of Italian countryside homes, the sort of old-world abodes that awaken certain feelings — comfort, simple beauty, and a sense of place. The book was required viewing, an assignment of sorts from a longtime Giffin & Crane client with whom we shared a considerable body of work. This project, however, would be our biggest collaboration yet.

“She was hoping to invoke some of the same feelings of the homes in the book with her own home here in Montecito,” remembers Project Manager Derek Shue.

The client’s relationship with Giffin & Crane had grown since an early — and successful — kitchen remodel, then an upgrade of the home’s detached guest cottage. This big next step would be a down-to-the-studs remodel of the four-bedroom, six-bathroom main house. To overcome challenges head-on, the homeowners teamed up early with Shue, Bruce Giffin, and architect Tom Meaney, who has a knack for transforming disjointed layouts into flowing living spaces with sophisticated lines.       

“We met every other week to go through the numerous details found around the house and how they intersected each other,” Shue says. “Occasionally, the client would arrive with some antique architectural piece that she would want integrated into the design — it was fun to figure out those kind of details.”

Along the way, the project evolved as the clients adjusted their ideas based on site constraints and budget. Working together, the team was able to open up interior flow without the added expense of significant feats of engineering. And down the homestretch, custom paint and stain finishes dominated much of the final workload, with Shue — who had worked as a painter and finisher early in his career — rubbing elbows with Santa Barbara’s Augustine Painting to develop samples. Interior doors, for example, underwent an eight-part process to win over the clients.    

“While we are building their homes, we are a big part of the lives of our clients, sometimes for a year or more,” Shue reflects. “Making sure to make the process as painless as possible and helping guide them through is very important.”




Plants as Art: Steve Hanson Landscaping

XERISCAPE DESIGN AT CIMA DEL MUNDO: “I’m impressed that my clientele has taken water issues seriously,” says Steve Hanson. “It’s almost prestigious now to opt for drought-tolerant landscaping and water-saving irrigation systems.”

At the age of 14, after moving around the state a lot with the family, Steve Hanson landed in Santa Barbara, a freshman at Santa Barbara High School who liked to draw and surf. When he graduated in 1978, he accepted the senior-class art award with a smile and wasted little time diving deeper into his talents. Focussing on abstract painting, he took art classes at Santa Barbara City College. He also turned pro as a competitive surfer, sponsored by the venerable Channel Islands Surfboards.

“I had some success in the water,” he remembers of his three-year stint in the professional ranks. But he also considered a longer view of his life down the road. By 1987, he had graduated with a fine arts degree from California Institute of the Arts, near Los Angeles. Back in Santa Barbara he got a job working for Don and Dave Harris, landscape installers who worked for designer Ray Sodomka at the Turk Hessellund full-service nursery on Coast Village Road in Montecito. “I learned a lot from those guys,” Hanson says, adding that he enjoyed the heavy lifting of landscaping work. “I liked digging and getting my hands dirty.”

At the same time, Hanson was showing — and selling — his art through his connections to the Los Angeles art scene. Soon enough, a sensible path played out before him, leading him to UCSB to secure an advanced degree in fine arts. “My goal was to teach art at the university level and keep painting,” he says. “It seemed like the perfect combination,” he added, and a career track not uncommon for many dedicated working artists. Life had other plans, however.

Hanson married, and the prospect of becoming a family man energized him into looking into more lucrative lines of work. He realized that he could parlay his artistic sensibilities into landscaping design and installation. Steve Hanson Landscaping become official — with his wife Stephanie heading up the administrative side — in the mid-’90s. In 2000, he became a licenced contractor. That’s when things really took off, he says. These days, Steve Hanson Landscaping has 110 employees and offers a spectrum of services, from hardscaping and fencing to installation and maintenance. “The success I’ve had has surpassed my expectations,” he reflects, emphasizing that the all good fortune has been less about himself and what he’s done and all about the company’s collective teamwork on any given day.

Looking up from his busy schedule, Hanson finds himself reaching for a paintbrush. “I’m still connected to the art community,” he says. “The goal is to get back to that someday.”  


Locally Sourced: Amassing Santa Barbara Talent  

Santa Barbara is filled with world-class artisans in the skilled trades — from welders and glassmakers to stonemasons and cabinetmakers, just to name a handful. Over the years, Giffin & Crane has made it a point to work with these fine craftspeople, to introduce them to our clients so that homebuilding designs and wishlists can evolve from idea to reality.

Many of our clients possess the resources to hire highly specialized tradespeople from around the world. Sometimes they do. But more often than not, they work with us to draw from Santa Barbara’s incredible pool of creative talent. Both parties benefit — artisans get to apply and hone their skills on challenging projects, and the homeowners receive a custom product that can be found nowhere else on Earth.

About 10 years ago, for instance, we had the pleasure of working with a newly married couple relocating to Santa Barbara from the Midwest. They purchased a Montecito home with a classic craftsman design highlighted with hacienda stylings (pictured above). The home’s roomy layout offered plenty of space for the owners’ extensive art and furniture collection, but its age — about 70 years old — was starting to show, especially on its original sandstone foundation and structural beamwork, much of which had been poorly fastened to begin with. In California’s earthquake country, that’s an issue.

Stabilizing the building — with engineer Thom Hume running point — was just the first round of a comprehensive remodel. Once that was complete, we opened the front door to a group of artisans, including but not limited to welder Gerry Endeman of Elephant Iron, cabinetmaker Charlie Starbuck of Starbuck Minikin, bronze and metalworker Phil Brainard, glass-artist Brian McNally, and the stonemasons at Da Ros Masonry.

The owners — both of them art aficionados — appreciated the creative energy our team subcontractors brought to the project’s finishing touches. The home itself became a piece of art, thanks to details handcrafted by some of Santa Barbara’s finest.


Personal Portfolio: Project Manager Derek Shue

Faced with substandard framing, poor ventilation, and a few previous slapdash remodels, the new owners of a 1930s estate home (pictured) initially started in on an all-new master suite. They soon realized a whole-house renovation was in order. Giffin & Crane’s Derek Shue remembers it well as he joined designers and trusted superintendents to reconfigured the floor plain with better flow and to introduce modern elements, including finishes and ceiling treatments. We caught up with Shue for more detail on the teamwork involved.

What was special about this project?

Derek Shue: This was my first project with Giffin & Crane. Beforehand, I had been commuting up to Monterey and the Bay Area for about six months to work on projects up there during the recession. When I came aboard, I was excited to go to work for G&C to show them what I was capable of.

Anything  particularly challenging about the project?   

The front part of the home was built in the early 1900s and the back half was added on some time in the 1980s. There was quite the mix of challenges. We uncovered many throughout the course of the project. Many needed to be fixed with on-site engineering and design modifications.

What’s the best way to get through those challenges?

By regularly meeting with our design team of Jason Grant [of J Grant Design Studio] and [Jill Hall and Elyse Pardoe of] Hall Pardoe Design, along with Bruce Giffin. Together we were able to find and address these problems and to quickly come up with ways to integrate the fixes into the design of the house. I was brought into the project after it had already started. But at the time, it was on pause because of design revisions. Once I came on board and was able to get going with the design team, it was full speed ahead, working in areas where we could work as other areas were being figured out.

How important was it to have a team to collaborate with?

Very important. As this was my first project with G&C, I didn’t want to screw up!  I leaned on my subcontractors, other superintendents, and the design team as much as I could in order to make sure I turned out the best home possible for our clients.

Did the project stay the course or evolve along the way?

I don’t think I have ever worked on a residential construction project that hasn’t evolved in some way.

What was the big takeaway for you on this project?

Plumb, level, and square are very important. But when working on older homes sometimes a level is no substitute for simply sighting down a wall or across corners that intersect each other to make sure everything is inline and even.

Thanks, Derek.


Let it Flow: Honoring Builder and Artist Bill Adkins


Homebuilders stand on the shoulders of the builders who taught them the trades. Skills pass through, and as each generation gathers new layers of knowledge — of design, materials, and building codes — the end result, especially in the case of a custom home, is a safer and more efficient, comfortable, and beautiful space to be in.

Back and forth across the States in his pickup truck early on, company cofounder Bruce Giffin cut his teeth in construction under many established builders, including J.W. “Bill” Adkins (pictured above, right, with Bruce in June 2018). Between jobs in 1979, Bruce was driving through downtown Santa Barbara when he noticed Adkins’s shop. He pulled over and asked for work, remembering, “I think I was looking for a father figure, and he was looking for a laborer.” They worked together for about a year, but the lessons learned would last a lifetime.

“Bill taught me to think outside the box,” Bruce remembers. “And who says the box has to be square?”

Bruce only got fired once in his life, and that was immediately after laughing at Bill — known for processing jobsite frustrations via bursts of screaming rage — when he blew a hydraulic hose on his old tractor after a tough day of digging. A few years later, Bill hired Bruce again, adding another layer of knowledge to the young builder’s skill set.    

By then, Adkins had established his own construction company after 12 years of swinging a hammer for contractor E.M. Clark. “He fired me,” remembers Adkins. “It was the best thing he ever did for me. I came home and felt sorry for myself for about 16 seconds and then went out and got my contractors licence.” Adkins took on residential projects along the South Coast, with occasional jobs in Santa Ynez and Ventura County, building on knowledge he learned from his grandfather — also a builder — who raised him in his native Lompoc, and from his stint in the U.S. Navy at Port Hueneme, where he learned to operate heavy machinery with United States Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the Seabees.  

Adkins transitioned to commercial building as his patience wore thin with discerning homeowners — “One time I argued for four hours over a 1/16th of an inch!” — and in 1983 co-founded with his wife Martha a downtown shop called the Hardwood Mill, where they sold exotic hardwood and did custom milling. Bill retired from construction in the late ‘80s and they retired the millshop in 2001 after gradually transforming it into an eclectic and compelling creative atelier, where Bill makes what he calls “junk art” and Martha commands a hobby space of sewing machines and tall shelves loaded with fabrics. They call it The LoftIt’s filled with Martha’s crafts and Bill’s sculptures, which he tinkers together with woodworking, welding, and metal-fabrication equipment.

“I’m fascinated with imagination and all that crap,” he says. “Why not just let it flow?”   


G&C Questionnaire: Landscape Architect Leland Walmsley

For Leland Walmsley, landscape architecture began with his grandmother, Margaret Sears, who started practicing the craft professionally in the early 1900s with Florence Yoch & Associates, in Pasadena. She often took young Leland to visit gardens throughout Southern California. Her notable work included the garden at the Il Brolino estate in Montecito. She also worked on the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, an outdoor space (pictured) that Walmsley would redesign decades later, after earning a Graduate Certificate for Landscape Architecture from UCLA in 2002 and launching his own company, everGREEN, in 2004. We caught up with Leland recently to talk about that early influence and a range of topics beyond his professional portfolio.  


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

Walmsley: Going to early California gardens and drawing with my grandmother.

What has been your favorite architectural field trip or vacation?

College semester in Paris.

What is your favorite public landscape design in Santa Barbara?

La Casa del Herrero, in Montecito.

Where do you find design inspiration outside of landscape architecture?


What do you most like about your job?

Healing damaged landscapes.

What do you most dislike about your job?

Clients who want to hire unlicensed contractors.

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

A game warden in Africa.

What is your current state of mind?


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Living in my personal garden of Eden with nearby surf.

What is your greatest fear?

Climate change deniers.

What is your greatest extravagance?


What do you consider the most overrated virtue?


Which talent would you most like to have?


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

Better knees.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Winning an international competition for ambulance design for Daimler-Benz when I was eight.

What is your most treasured possession?

My stand-up paddle board.

Which living person do you most admire?

My wife.

Which living person do you most despise?

The President.

What do you most value in your friends?

Honesty and sense of humor.

Who is your favorite fictional character?

Bugs Bunny.

Who are your heroes in real life?

John Muir, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nikola Tesla.

On what occasion do you lie?

I don’t.

What is your most marked characteristic?


What word or phase do you most overuse?

“I understand.”

What is your motto?

There is no try — do or do not do.  


Makeover for a Midtown Casita

Halfway through a long career as an emergency room nurse, Irene Ewing found a home to call her own. Built in the 1920s, the 1,100-square-foot cottage in the Samarkan neighborhood exuded plenty of old-fashioned charm, but like any house that’s been up and running for close to a century, a bit of triage was in order.

Improving the kitchen became priority number one, Ewing remembers, then the rest of the house would fall in line, including the floors, doors, fireplace, and a fresh coat of paint. Initially, she planned to tackle that long to-do list one project at a time. But she soon realized it would likely drag on. “I said to myself, ‘I can’t do it piecemeal. I’m going to take out some equity and just get it done.’”

At the time, Ewing remembers seeing a fair amount of Giffin & Crane advertisements in newspapers and magazines. “I’m detail-oriented,” she said, “and I was drawn to the attention to detail I saw in the pictures of these huge estates they built. But honestly, I didn’t think Giffin & Crane would want to work on my little casita. But I called them anyway.”  

The remodel started in the kitchen. Relocating the door and removing a wall opened it up considerably, making room for more counter space. She chose granite countertops — in esmeralda green — and scored matching backsplash tiles at a vintage home supply shop. New quaker-style cabinets matched the interior’s craftsman theme.

Crews also refinished the original hardwood floors and built-in cabinets throughout the home, installed wainscoting, and opened up the small living room by removing shelving around the fireplace and installing a matching mantel that Ewing had found secondhand.      

One of Ewing’s favorite touches is how one of the carpenters cut her front and back doors in half to create dutch doors. When the top half of the front door is open, it draws the eye through the house to the open back door, which leads to the property’s hidden outdoor living space — a small dining deck overlooking garden walls and stone paths through grasses, shrubs, and trees assembled by landscape designer Billy Goodnick. Ewing smiled at the bees and lush greenery, pointing out orange, grapefruit, and pear trees. “I’ll probably come back as a horticulturalist in a next life,” she said.

Mostly unseen, but still important, the home got better ventilation throughout its crawlspace, and a finished garage. Out front, curb appeal peaks with new garage door and a custom driveway gate to match the railing on the front porch, which Ewing had redone in distressed bricks patterned after designs she’d seen in the neighborhood on her morning walks.  

“It was a big investment,” she say about the project overall. “I just wanted to spend my hard-earned money well.”  


Master Lensman: Architectural Photographer Jim Bartsch

Originally from Loveland, Colorado, Jim Bartsch was introduced to photography when he worked for Eastman Kodak. “They had an employee sale on 110 model cameras,” he remembers, “and I thought I should have one.” Photography became such a fun hobby, Bartsch upgraded to a 35mm camera system, and when people started complimenting him on his images, he entered photo contests and did well, further stoking his passion for the craft. From there, his path lead to Santa Barbara.

G&C: Tell us about your formal training?

Bartsch: I attended Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara from 1985-88. My major emphasized industrial and scientific photography. My thought was to be a corporate photographer until I discovered architectural photography soon after I graduated. I was fortunate to be hired by a company that did high-end real estate brochures. That gave me a lot of experience and helped me transition to doing photography for contractors, architects, and interior designers. I also found a niche in doing photography of hotels.

How was your transition from film to digital?

My transition was made much easier because I scanned my film for three years prior to the onset of digital photography. This gave me valuable experience in dealing with digital image files. Digital photography opened up many techniques that allowed me to produce higher quality photography. Photography today is half shooting and half computer work. If a photographer does not enjoy working on a computer it puts them at a major disadvantage, or they have to hire someone to do that work for them.

Any other kinds of photography you find particularly interesting?

I like to do travel photography, especially of African wildlife. My wife and I have made three trips to Africa over the past ten years. I also thoroughly enjoyed photography in Iceland and India.

How did you first get work with Giffin & Crane?

I don’t recall. It’s been at least 20 years since I started doing their photography.

How many homes have you shot?

I’ve often wondered that. I know it is many thousands. Also I’ve wondered what is the real estate value of all the homes I’ve photographed. It’s billions and billions of dollars. Last year I shot one house valued at $350 million in Bel Air. Last week I shot a $100 million house in Los Angeles.

Do you find yourself shooting when you’re off the clock, like during vacation or sitting down to a nice plate of food?

My wife is in charge of photographing the food. When I’m not working I don’t tend to take many personal photos.

Anything you’d like to add?

I have shot many amazing homes for Giffin & Crane. All of them are of meticulous quality. They are always a pleasure to photograph. I’m always impressed by the close relationships they have with their clients. That’s not always the case for contractors to have friendly relationships with clients after building their homes.


An Eye on the Future: Rebuilding Montecito

As Montecito slowly recovers from the mud and debris floods of January 9, residents and local leaders have been looking toward their future with more optimism than one might expect from a community still coping in the aftermath of widespread devastation. They’re starting to come together in public and private groups large and small to ask important questions. Here’s a big one: If we determine it’s prudent to rebuild damaged neighborhoods, how can we make these family homes more resilient and — while we’re at it — more energy-efficient?

At Giffin & Crane, we’ve discovered part of the answer to that question while spearheading more than 20 cleanup efforts in Montecito. As of late February, government agencies had made 60,000 truck trips to clear out clogged debris basins in the foothill; they estimate there’s at least as much material on private property. With our clients we often ask: Does it all need to be moved? The answer is probably not. In some cases, rebuilding a home on top of five feet of readily available fill puts it on higher ground.

Other homeowners are considering taking advantage of the hundreds of large boulders that the debris flow deposited on their properties (similar to the boulder field pictured below, along Montecito Creek). They like the look of this native stone as reinforced perimeter walls to protect their homes from future flooding.

When it comes to building energy-efficient homes, Giffin & Crane has been ahead of the curve for years, seeking out and integrating the very latest in green building materials and technology — from spray-foam insulation to solar-heated swimming pools to smart-home systems that control temperature and lighting around the clock.

Nearly 600 homes were impacted by the January 9 natural disaster — 241 were red-tagged (unsafe for occupancy) and 152 were yellow-tagged (limited access).  As the community of Montecito rebuilds itself, it’s bound to proceed with the future in mind. That means looking forward creatively to design and construct the very best homes to create something even better than what was there before.  




Catching up with Assistant Project Manager Rudy Raygoza

Santa Barbara-native Rudy Raygoza started working for Pyramid Tile & Marble straight out of high school. For 17 years, his work put him on some of Santa Barbara’s finest properties, some of them built by Giffin & Crane. “I realized that Giffin & Crane was an exceptional company,” he said, adding, “I always noticed that their projects were run a lot smoother and more efficiently.” Also during his time at Pyramid, Raygoza took night classes in computer-aided

drafting, earned an undergraduate degree, then an advanced degree in business administration.

In 2017, he responded to a G&C employment ad, and landed the job in the spring. We caught up with Raygoza (pictured above) to talk briefly about his work in Montecito’s disaster area.

G&C: Regarding what you’re doing now in the disaster area, what are the range of your responsibilities?

Raygoza: Working for many years all over Santa Barbara, I am aware of the immaculate architecture in this town. When I was able to get to the storm-damaged homes my heart sank. The damage was so tremendous that you are truly left speechless. My responsibilities have been to assess the damage, strategize with my team to create a great game plan, and to execute that plan, while at the same time being that person the clients can count on through this difficult process.

What sort of difficulties or challenges have you experienced?

When we began work on the storm-damaged properties, we were having difficulty finding areas where we could take the mud and dirt. Many areas were, only taking clean dirt, and most of what came down the mountain has lots of debris and boulders in it. We have been having to sift though the dirt to separate debris and leave clean dirt to move out. Another challenge we are facing is trying not to haul things away too quickly, since the boulders and dirt on the properties could possibly be used for future storm protection.

Have you seen an upside to working in the disaster area?

It can be difficult to find anything positive through these hard times. One thing I have noticed, however, is that subcontracting companies are able to put differences aside and work together on the same projects to help out this community. I believe we all understand that we are all in this together.

Progress and Renewal in the Wake of Disaster

It’s been nearly six weeks since the catastrophic 1/9 Debris Flow destroyed hundreds of Montecito homes, some of them belonging to a few of our longtime clients. As authorities started lifting evacuation orders, we accompanied homeowners fortunate enough to have homes to return to. All of us were entering new territory, and it was difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the mudflow and the wreckage left in its wake. While some of our clients had just a few inches of mud in the driveway, others found their properties buried four feet deep across multiple acres. Either way, it was time to get to work. All of us together, learning as we go.  

The first order of business, in some cases, was to call in heavy machinery to clear access paths from the street to the garage, front door, and around the home. This made way for licensed professionals to access the systems, such as power, water, gas, and sewer. We’ve been able to shore up structural instabilities, and send in hand crews (pictured above) to dig out mud from inside a home, being careful to remove it from the exterior of the wall, as well, so that pressure is relieved equally. We’d like to thank the structural engineers out there for that safety tip.

Shovelful by shovelful, truckload by truckload, greater Montecito is slowly returning to some sense of normalcy. Just getting started was a huge step psychologically. Every little bit of progress is progress. Sure helps that the people of Montecito and beyond are banding together (below) to take on the heavy lifting, in all its forms. It takes a community to rebuild a community; we’re just getting started.

Standing with the Community through Fire and Flood


The past two months have been very difficult for Santa Barbara, especially in Montecito, a community Giffin & Crane has been part of for more than 30 years. In December, the Thomas Fire — California’s largest wildfire in recorded history — ravaged the steep coastal mountains above Montecito, stripping the canyons of vegetation and destabilizing several square miles of boulder-filled watershed. A few weeks later, in the early morning hours of January 9, 2018, a powerful rainstorm turned Montecito’s canyons and creeks into torrents of mud, boulders, and uprooted trees. The destruction was catastrophic — dozens of homes were destroyed, hundreds were damaged, and 21 people were fatally injured. To everybody in the wake of the devastation, we extend our deepest condolences and all of our strength and patience in the months and years of rebuilding to come. And to every first responder: We say thank you.

The majority of our clients live in Montecito, and in the immediate aftermath of the storm, we worried about their safety and whereabouts. With great relief, we soon learned that all of them survived the flooding. A handful, however, lost their homes. As custom homebuilders, we understand that very house and its surrounding property is a very personal, one-of-kind extension of the families who brought us aboard to help build their dreams. We’re very proud to be part of those projects, and we’re determined to help rebuild this very special community.  

An Extra Step Against Wildfire

Building a fire-resistant home above and beyond California’s wildfire code is a great first step toward extra peace of mind. Also, maintaining appropriate, well-trimmed landscaping  — called “defensible space” —  around that home is another proactive move homeowners can make to buffer houses and outbuildings, plus it helps firefighters do their jobs by providing safe access to and around properties. And here in Santa Barbara and Montecito, many homeowners, especially those in the rugged foothills, opt for yet another layer of protection — private fire-protection services.

For nearly a decade, insurance firm AIG has been collaborating with Montecito Fire Protection District to pretreat high-traffic roadside areas, such as trailheads and turnouts, with a nontoxic, biodegradable fire-retardant spray called Phos-Chek. The company is one of many that also provide specialized protection of private property, responding to wind-driven events, such as the Thomas Fire, on a variety of levels. During a fire, for example, private teams stay abreast of the blaze by tuning into radio chatter and attending daily briefings lead by incident commanders; then they report back to homeowners. When situations get critical, it’s not uncommon to find private crews carefully protecting homes alongside publicly funded firefighting agencies. AIG alone has about 75 clients in the Montecito district, according to Chief Chip Hickman.  

Other outfits spotted recently during the peak of Thomas Fire’s move through Santa Barbara’s front country included Sacramento-based Mt. Adams Wildfire, whose workers coated structures with white foam (pictured above) as safeguard against drifting embers. Goleta-based Consumer Fire Products was also in the area, as was Wildfire Defense Systems, Capstone, and Firestorm. As long as private teams are properly trained, says Santa Barbara County Fire Department Captain Dave Zaniboni, extra boots on the ground can be helpful.



Wildfire, Building Code, and the Astute Homeowner

Throughout much of the West, a yearlong fire season is the new normal, unfortunately. Case in point: the Thomas Fire, which started on December 4 in Ventura County near Fillmore and consumed tens of thousands of acres and hundreds of homes on its way to Santa Barbara County, where it ravaged the rugged foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains between Carpinteria and the City of Santa Barbara. As of this writing, incident commanders are projecting full containment sometime early next year. As the occasional and intense has become more common and destructive, homebuilding has had to adapt. For some backstory on evolving building codes and some tips on home protection, we called a representative with Montecito Fire Protection District.

Giffin & Crane: What’s the big picture of the rules of homebuilding related to wildfire?

Montecito Fire Protection District: The Office of the State Fire Marshal comes up with the fire code and sends it out every three years to various agencies and they are able to amend it as it pertains to their particular district.

For example?

Well, the state says all new homes in California —since 2010 — shall be sprinklered. [Here in Montecito] we go one step further because of our wildfire history, which dates back decades. We require all brand new structures, regardless of use —whether it’s a shed or a hobby room or a gym or whatever — to be sprinklered.

What other features must a new home have in a wildfire region?

A home needs to breathe, so it has vents beneath the home and in the attic. But embers would come in through the vents, and homes have burned from the inside. So now homes must has special vents that stop embers with a mesh — and when an ember hits it, the matrix actually closes down so the ember can’t penetrate into that space.

Above and beyond the building code, what can a homeowners do to protect their residences?

Landscaping. There are certain plants that are more fire resistant. Some plants are really oily and can be highly combustible. But a certain succulent or cactus that has a high moisture content less susceptible to fire. Fireproof landscaping is a really common theme in California.

So they can kind of take that extra step by planting the right vegetation?

Absolutely. That’s a huge part of it. And that’s definitely something that we like to work with homeowners on, in the selection of certain plants and where to plant them. But that’s not required. That’s just a recommendation.

Let’s close with your thoughts on homeowners properly maintaining their properties.  

Look at plants and trees around your home, and make sure it doesn’t look like a jungle. Don’t have lumber or firewood piled up next to your home. Maintain defensible space because the reality is if I go to a fire as part of a strike team to do structural protection on a home, I evaluate the home to find out if we can properly defend it. I have to determine whether or not we are going to engage on this home. If somebody has done their defensible space around the home, and we can prep and defend the home, we’re going to do that. Or maybe the property is maintained in such great shape that we are not concerned about it. But the ones that haven’t done their vegetation clearing around their home, unfortunately we don’t have the time in those situations to prep it for them. So unfortunately they’re probably going to lose their home.

For more information visit montecitofire.com.



Fine-Tuning the Charm of a Midtown Cottage

Bay Area-residents Toni Heren and her husband always longed to return to Santa Barbara, a town they’d fallen in love with while attending UCSB many years ago. In 2011, they jumped on an opportunity to purchase a small vacation home in the San Roque neighborhood off Upper State Street. “It was beyond our budget but we loved it,” remembers Toni. “It was just a charming little house with incredible privacy.”

Built in 1936, the 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage (pictured above) had been maintained fairly well — in fact, a previous owner had Giffin & Crane remodel the kitchen and master bath in the 1990s — but the Herens wanted to give it their own touch while tackling an emergent issue with the foundation. They called Bruce Giffin very early on, remembers Toni, and started working with him and his crews right away.

In addition to that big fix — reinforcing the foundation to lift and secure one corner of the home that had started to sink slightly — crews on the inside restored the Douglas fir beams and gables in the living room. They also repaired the original brick fireplace, refinished hardwood flooring, and replaced contemporary lighting fixtures with traditional counterparts, among other upgrades. Off the guest bedroom, they installed matching French doors to the garden. All said, the project took about six months.

All along, the Herens, who were living in the Bay Area, stayed tuned-in via weekly updates from Bruce, detailing what had been completed, what his crews were in the middle of, and what would come next. “They were extremely good about that,” remembers Heren. “And we really enjoyed working with them overall.”  


From Part-Time Cottage to Full-Time Home

Designer and antique collector Lee Kirch originally envisioned this property as a part-time residence in Montecito. However, it needed work. She called Giffin & Crane and architect Jane Snyder, already on speed-dial from Kirch’s previous project. Following Kirch’s vision of clean, minimalist living, highlights included vaulting the kitchen ceiling and adding square footage to the master suite. Here’s Kirch with more detail about the project’s backstory and a few of the challenges met along the way.

How did Giffin & Crane become the builder of this project?

Kirch: I was fortunate enough to work with Giffin & Crane on a project I was designing for a client nearby. It was a success, and I enjoyed working with G&C enough to contact them when I decided to do the remodel on my place.

What about Jane Snyder and Mosaic Architects?   

Jane actually did a home for me in Vail, Colorado, and also the project [I mentioned above]. When my remodel came up, I reached out again. Giffin & Crane and Jane Snyder make a good team. I find it easy to feed my ideas to Jane and she turns them into reality, with G&C to complete the  circle.  

What sort of customer service did G&C bring to the table?

Geoff Crane is a reliable and talented person to work with.  I am very specific with my input — sometimes to a fault! — and working with me can be a challenge. The team and I were very successful in completing a project we all can be proud of. There were structural issues with this home, and resolving them was a difficult task to overcome. But we were quite successful.

How would you describe the extent of the remodel?  

It was extensive. What I thought was going to be a somewhat simple remodel turned into a full-blown redo from top to bottom.  

What was it that made you decide it needed work, and what was the basic to-do list?  

The house had good bones, and it’s a great location. It was a one-level dwelling with north- and south-facing windows — perfect light for me. But it needed to be updated. The house was dated and basic maintenance had been somewhat neglected. We found foundation issues not meeting code, drainage was an issue, utility lines needed to be brought up to code. Along with all the design ideas I had in mind, the challenges became significant. But I had immediately seen the potential to turn this home into a little jewel. Mission accomplished.

The timeframe must have gotten pushed out a bit.  

The timeframe changed as the [amount of required] work changed. The quality of workmanship G&C brings to the table really shows in the finished project. This takes time to accomplish, and had we not had the structural issues, I do think we would have had this project completed on time. The fun part of the project — of any building project, really —is in the details, and Giffin & Crane knows how to execute the details. Their workmanship is impeccable.  

Anything you’d like to add?

I originally planned to make this a part-time residence. I can honestly say it has become more and more difficult to leave the comfort of this home. It is a joy to live here.



Architect Chris Dentzel: Collaboration is the Key

The design standards that make Santa Barbara such a pleasure to the eye are some of the most formidable in the state. Just ask any locally based builder or designer, such as architect Chris Dentzel. Oftentimes, he says, the key to success rests with bringing all parties together, early and often, to create “shared understanding.” For more on that, keep reading.

Giffin & Crane: Where do you get new clients, and what sort of discussions do you have with them initially?

Chris Dentzel: A new client will come from either a contractor or a real estate agent or a prior client, somebody directly related to a project I’ve done before. In the first discussion I have with them, I ask their thoughts on design and building and ask if they’ve already spoken to a contractor. It’s about fifty-fifty: Half say they haven’t given a thought [to speaking with a contractor] and the other half say they’ve already met with one or have a few names in mind. For me, the way I like to work, it’s always better having a contractor as a sounding board in the earliest stages of design. I try to encourage that. That’s how I like to work.

Do you give clients a heads-up on Santa Barbara’s architectural standards and its planning and permitting processes?
Most, but not all, clients already know that Santa Barbara is a more difficult environment to design and build in. That’s also part of the first meeting, to get them acquainted with the design and build process. Sometimes they’ve heard about it and are concerned or apprehensive. Other times they know nothing. As far as Santa Barbara goes, building permits are pretty much nuts and bolts — you follow the code, you get the permit. But the plan-review process, the following of different community plans, that’s a whole other deal. It’s thorny and strewn with little landmines.

Lastly, what kind of characteristics do you see in the most successful design-build teams?
Communication and interest. A shared understanding that there’s value in early design-build discussions. I believe in the collaborative process. Not all contractors are interested in that . . . and it really takes a caring and interested client to make it happen.

Thanks, Chris.

Living in the line of wildfire

DEFENSIBLE SPACE: Not only is this all-new G&C home (above, upper right) built to California’s strict fire code, its low, green, and succulent-rich landscaping provides a buffer against wildfire.

Living in the foothills along the South Coast of Santa Barbara, particularly Montecito, clearly has its upside: long views across the city and on out to sea; a steeply rugged backdrop of sandstone peaks; and all of it soaked in Mediterranean microclimates approaching perfection. Every year, however, as days get dry and winds pick up, we’re reminded that not all is perfect in paradise. That same mix of enchanting climate and landscape is also home to the region’s most common natural disaster: wildfire.

Fortunately, greater Santa Barbara has some of the best multi-agency firefighting cooperation in the state, if not the country. On October 29, 2015, in the canyons above Montecito, for example, the early morning Gibraltar Fire — driven by hot winds gusting to 40 mph — lived a very short life as crews from Montecito Fire Protection District, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the U.S. Forest Service, and other agencies contained the blaze to just 21 remote acres of chaparral before it raced down-slope, where it would have mounted a very serious threat to San Ysidro Ranch, Lotusland, and billions of dollars worth of surrounding real estate.

Certainly, homes built to code — stucco and tile, tempered glass and sprinklers, and with little to no exterior wood, for starters — are made to fend off super-high temperatures and deadly embers. As Montecito is home to many of our all-new estates and extensive renovations, Giffin & Crane is keenly familiar with California’s strict building code in aptly named Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.

Above and beyond building code, however, exists another layer of protection every homeowner is bound to follow: maintaining defensible space around their homes.

“We have several programs designed to assist property owners,” says Wildland Fire Specialist Maeve Juerez with Montecito Fire Protection District. “One program allows us to bring in fire crews to remove flammable vegetation around structures and remove dead trees from [a] property that could cause access [and] egress issues if they were to fall.”

Like building a fire-resistant home, creating and maintaining these important buffers isn’t cheap. Fortunately, adds Juerez, her Montecito Fire “works really hard to ensure that everyone is not only educated in fire prevention but also has the ability to accomplish defensible space. Often we encounter property owners who simply do not meet compliance because they cannot physically do the work or afford to pay someone to do it for them. We will always work with property owners to ensure that the work is completed, because even one property [lacking] defensible space can affect the surrounding properties.”

For more information, check out Montecito Fire’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

On Topic with Tom Meaney

In California, particularly in Santa Barbara, the rules and regulations of homebuilding can present a tough challenge for those embarking on a major renovation or completely new construction. Fortunately, the town is home to architects and builders especially adept at overcoming the hurdles of planning and permitting. They’re here to help. Architect Tom Meaney, for example, is a proponent of building a team that can focus on the most important question: How do we provide the client with what she or he desires? For Meaney, part of the answer to that questions rests with maximizing communication from the outset. He also enjoys bringing other realms of creativity to the table.

Giffin & Crane: Hi, Tom. Let’s say you have a client new to Santa Barbara and new to hiring an architect. What guidance do you offer right away?

Tom Meaney: We’ll meet on the property and talk about what the issues will be regarding the process of the governmental agencies, their review process, and the timeline involved. And we can bring in a builder to talk about what the cost limitations are regarding the remodel or the new construction, and the timeline that’s associated with that. We try to get a rough idea of the process, from any special designs to construction, both in time and money, from the very outset, to get additional information to see whether or not they’re comfortable with any issues before them.

As you bring in a builder, what sort of characteristics would you anticipate from a successful design/build team?

Tom: I’d say communication is critical. Doing your best without ego. Respecting the input and expertise from your fellow team members. As long as we all have the client’s interest as the most important element of our teamwork, then I think we all work toward a successful project together, for the benefit of the client.

Okay, let’s shift gears for this last question. You’re a classically trained architect; how does that transfer to the Digital Age?

Tom: Well, I think the technology definitely makes some things faster and easier. But also, for me, communicating with hand drawings is still a pretty powerful tool. You know, what I find from clients is that if they know an architect has the ability to draw, to paint [or create fine art with chalk, pictured below], and to increase the level of artistic approach, those are things that can make the project better.

After the Jesusita Fire: Rebuilding Peace of Mind

Melissa and Christian Stepien made it out safely. Their home, unfortunately, was completely destroyed. The Jesusita Fire — a wind-driven blaze that scorched 80 homes and nearly 9,000 acres in the foothills above Santa Barbara in 2009 — burned so intensely through the Stepien house that even its foundation had to be abandoned. They were left with three acres of charred earth and a few big oaks. When it came time to regroup and get their heads around the complete rebuild of the place they called home, they found Bruce Giffin through a friend’s recommendation.

“We heard a lot of good things about Bruce,” remembers Melissa. “And it turned out to be a good decision — he was excellent.”

Just six months earlier, the Tea Fire destroyed more than 200 homes a few miles away, and those families offered lot of support and advice for the victims of Jesusita. Bruce, as well, was sympathetic and patient with the Stepiens, remembers Christian. “He was very gracious and at the same time always on top of the project, holding weekly meetings with us and keeping his crew on point.”

Bound by building code but offered a bit of leeway in expanding their new home’s square footage, the Stepiens went with the house’s original architect, Hugh Twibell, who drew new plans on top of the existing footprint while making the living room (pictured above) and kitchen (below) slightly bigger, adding more office space, and most significantly, raising the ceilings — with written approval from surrounding neighbors — about two feet to provide more spacious comfort.

For details, Bruce drove Melissa and Chris to other Giffin & Crane projects to show them an array of home features to see what they liked. They brought in Genny Cummings with Indigo Interiors. Then finally, for flagstone pathways and world-class landscaping, horticulturist Carol Bornstein dreamed up a drought-tolerant design dominated by natives. Soon, the birds — notably quail, hawks, owls, and vultures — came back in healthy numbers, plus lots of photo-worthy wildlife, including deer, bobcat, and fox. Views take the eye from Cathedral Peak down into Rattlesnake Canyon and on out to the ocean and mountains of Gaviota.

All said, their new home — a California Spanish ranch with hacienda traditions — covers roughly 4,000 square feet with three bedrooms, three and a half baths, and two offices. All of it conforms to state fire code, which calls for tempered glass, sprinklers, stucco, and heavily treated eves, among many details designed to save lives and structures. For added peace of mind, the backyard features a two-inch waterline with a valve that’ll hold a firehose.

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

One Family, Two Businesses: Expert Stonework Dating Back Nearly 100 Years

Family lore dates the Santa Barbara arrival of stonemason and musician Antonio Da Ros to 1920, give or take. The youngest of 12, he left his native Italy on or around 1912 to join his uncle in New York, building brownstones along the Hudson River by day and playing saxophone by night. Working his way across the country with his trade and talent, including a stint in the copper mines of Jerome, Arizona, Da Ros came to Santa Barbara because he’d heard the Marisol Hotel — located where Alice Keck Peck Memorial Garden is today — was looking to put together a house band. Antonio got the gig. At the same time, he launched what is now Da Ros Masonry.

Naturally, his line of work required the accumulation of masonry materials, and according to his grandson, Peter Da Ros, who now runs Da Ros Masonry, Antonio “had a yard here [on the Lower Eastside] with piles of rock and brick and stuff like that.” He sold surplus material on an honor system, wherein customers would weigh what they needed and drop payment in a bucket next to the scale. That original yard — given to Antonio in exchange for forgiving an unpaid masonry bill — is where the business stands today, at the corner of Nopal and Mason streets. “Our roots are really in the stone industry,” says Peter.

When Antonio passed away in 1941 — from lung disease after being sprayed with mustard gas during the Battle of Verdun, in World War I — his son, Ozzie, took over the business, spent three years in World War II, and in 1958 launched Da Ros Stone; a decade later he changed the name to Santa Barbara Stone. Ozzie’s daughter (Peter’s older sister) runs the operation. “I’ve always been a numbers person,” she says.

The stonework of three generations of the Da Ros family and their crews can be spotted pretty much everywhere you look in Santa Barbara, from Clark Estate and Lotusland to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and UCSB’s Robertson Gymnasium. Da Ros has also worked very closely with Giffin & Crane on a number of Montecito estates, including one of our earliest high-end custom homes, in the Ennisbrook community, nearly 30 years ago. Giffin & Crane excel at exemplary homes built to last; Da Ros’s stonework is often the perfect fit.

“Bruce and Geoff understand the different aspects of the industry, and they value other people’s opinions,” says Peter. “They are very organized, top-quality professionals.”
That’s high praise coming from a man who started in the building business while still in high school, about 50 years ago, alongside his father. Ozzie’s 96 now, and according to Peter, he’s doing alright. “He’ll probably outlive us all.”

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

Getting Down to Details with G&C’s Dan Formanek

A Giffin & Crane project on Santa Barbara’s historic Crocker Row set the bar very high for the city’s inaugural Edwards/Plunkett Award, in 2015, for exemplary design for the renovation, restoration, or rehabilitation of an historic structure. The 3,700-square-foot vacation home was one of five built on Garden Street in the 1890s by William Crocker, son of railroad financier Charles Crocker. Much of its original detail had been obscured by upgrades over the years or damaged by the 1925 earthquake. Giffin & Crane’s job — in unison with Harrison Design architects and a host of related experts and historians — was to help manifest the most recent owner’s desire to restore the 120-year-old house as close as possible to original form, while following current safety code and adding a few modern conveniences.

The endeavor’s outset involved the compilation of the historic record of ownership and the various changes that had been made to the home throughout the decades. Only then was it time to “peel back the layers,” according to project superintendent Dan Formanek (below), a master builder with Giffin & Crane since 1990.  “We took the house apart, piece by piece. Stripped it completely,” leaving a shell of interior studs and, after removing the plaster, an exterior of original board sheeting. “The building was among the first wood-framed plaster homes in Santa Barbara,” he added. “It was a unique construction for the time.”

As crews exposed the bones of the home, more of its history came to light. For example, after removing layers of flooring, they could tell by past wear and tear that the downstairs floor plan had been rearranged slightly. Doors, fireplace mantels, and the interior staircase and baluster were stored off-site among other major features, including nearly 30 original windows, which proved a particularly delicate problem. The old linseed oil putty adhering the glass to the sashes was dry and brittle. Guided by an expert window restorer, Formanek and his crew placed each window inside a heated box, softening the putty slowly and uniformly until “we could get a tool under it and remove it,” he said.

Start to finish, Giffin & Crane spent about three years on the house, Formanek said, taking into consideration that the project was prolonged by a few substantial changes, one of which was the addition of an air-conditioning system with hidden vents, so as to not distract from the home’s vintage appeal.

“The whole project was us using a lot of interesting out-of-the-box ideas to accomplish things,” Formanek said. “Like that old adage: It you can imagine it, you can make it happen.”

It’s all About Teamwork: Tony Spann on Design/Build

A few months back, we sat down with architect Tony Spann (pictured) for our Giffin & Crane Questionnaire, if only to learn a little more about the man outside his prolific career. This time, we’re getting more specific, gathering a few of his insights on building in Santa Barbara and the benefits of design/build teamwork.


G&C: What sort of guidance do you provide for new clients?

Spann: Clients always ask, “What’s it going to cost?” And architects can get in trouble when they talk about costs. We’d rather have a general contractor talk about that. They’re much better at it. We can get clients broad brushstrokes, but when it comes down to the specifics — especially when they’re on a tight budget — we really try to get them to bring in a contractor as soon as possible.

How’s it different building a home in Santa Barbara? 

Here’s one example: In L.A., for instance, almost every general contractor we’ve worked with has an estimating department — two or three people, and all they do is estimate. In Santa Barbara there’re only a few contractors with estimating departments, and that’s where we try to steer our new clients.

What are some characteristics of a successful design/build team?

The most successful design/build team includes the owner, so that he or she can learn how the process works. The three major factors in construction are schedule, quality, and price. A reduced price might expedite the schedule but reduce the quality, for example. And once you start having those conversations with the client on board, the project becomes very successful. When you have a client that doesn’t really understand what design/build is and thinks it’s just a way to save money, that’s when things tend to go south.

So you prefer a setting that keeps them face-to-face with the process and with the numbers. 

Yes. Clients ask, “What can I do to the house and how much will it cost?” We can answer the first part of that, and a contractor can answer the second part of that, really quickly. And what we’ve seen is that whenever a client has a really tight budget, as a team we can tell them that their desires and budget are far apart and we can reconnect those concerns through design/build. Once you start educating the client on that, everything usually comes together.

Thanks, Tony. 


Tom Henson worked alongside architect Peter Becker for 15 years, collaborating dozens of projects, from small additions and remodels to extensive renovations and (pictured) all-new estate homes. Becker passed away in 2016, leaving his firm — Becker Henson Niksto Architects — in the able hands of Henson and Jacob Niksto, who work out of downtown Santa Barbara’s historic Flying A Studio.

As you’ll read below about Henson, childhood playthings planted the design seed very early on, and his scholarly pursuits sent him to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for a double-major in structural engineering and architecture, which turned out to be highly complementary skill sets in Santa Barbara’s high-end realm of homebuilding. You’ll also read about his creative zone of happiness and where he ranks is friend and mentor Peter Becker, a man with whom he spent fifeteen “of the happiest, most fulfilling years of my life,” he said.  



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

Henson: I’ve been excited about architecture and design for as long as I can remember. I think it started with Lincoln Logs in Kindergarten.

What has been your favorite architectural field trip or vacation? A trip to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The Newport Mansions in Rhode Island would be a close second.

What is your favorite public building in Santa Barbara? The Santa Barbara Courthouse. It’s beautiful and substantial, but still joyful and whimsical in places.

Where do you find inspiration outside of architecture? Almost everywhere.

What do you most like about your job? The euphoria that comes from persevering until the “perfect design” emerges from what at first seems an insurmountable collection of regulatory, structural, budgetary, and other constraints.

What do you most dislike about your job? Seeing a project compromised by certain codes and regulations created with good intentions but, in the end, do more harm than good.

Go back and pick another profession. Probably landscape architecture. It’s the same idea as architecture, but turned inside-out, and with living building blocks.

What is your current state of mind? Determined, happy, sometimes frenetic.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? I’m happiest when I’m “in the zone” creating beautiful things, preferably in a team effort.

What is your greatest fear? Losing my abilities.

What is your greatest extravagance? My (entry-level) BMW.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?  Moderation. It’s better to strive for excellence.

Which talent would you most like to have? Ease of public speaking.

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

What do you consider your greatest achievement? My work.

What is your most treasured possession? My home.

Which living person do you most admire? Right now, Angela Merkel. I love her intelligence and her quiet resolve.

Which living person do you most despise? It’s better not to despise anyone.

What do you most value in your friends? Strong character and drive toward excellence, paired with humility.

Who is your favorite fictional character? Jean-Luc Picard [Captain of the starship USS Enterprise-D].

Who are your heroes in real life? Peter Becker

On what occasion do you lie? Almost never. But maybe to protect loved ones from things that would hurt them for no purpose.

What is your most marked characteristic? This one stumped me. I like to keep a low profile.

What word or phrase do you most overuse? “That being said . . .”

What is your motto? Never, never, never give up.


Let There Be Light: Plug In with Turner Electric

Now the purveyor of electrical systems and lighting design for many of Santa Barbara’s most exquisite custom homes, Turner Electric had the humblest of beginnings. In 1981, Paul Turner opened shop in his backyard on the Westside. He had developed a strong taste for the trade overseas as he picked up work during a bit of traveling after college at UCSB. A few years later as business grew — back then he was mainly wiring up tract homes — Brian Frederick came aboard; they’d met at Graybar Electric Company supply shop in Goleta, where Brian worked. Brian wanted to get out from behind the counter. Paul needed another set of hands in the field. An apprenticeship was born.

By the mid-80s, they’d opened shop in Goleta, then they moved downtown about a decade later. Back then, Turner Electric did a few jobs with a young and growing Giffin & Crane, but they really hit it off professionally about 15 years ago on a big, high-end project in Montecito called Cima Del Mondo (pictured, above and below). Since then, Turner Electric has worked on dozens of Giffin & Crane projects, from small remodels to brand new estate homes. Along the way, Brian has risen through the ranks, from helper to project manager to multiple-job coordinator. While the company has worked on offices, retail stores, hospitals, and projects in the hospitality industry, the thrust of the business has always remained in custom homebuilding.

“For the past 15 years, we’ve concentrated on high-end residential,” says Brian, who became a partner in 2012 and is now president of the company, as Paul is mostly retired. “What sets us apart is we’re really detail-oriented and we do a lot of design work. We figure things out [on the job site] so they [Giffn & Crane] don’t have to drag in the electrical engineers whenever there’s an issue that needs to be resolved. And we’re able to really fine-tune what the owner [of the home] needs.”

Brian points out that lighting is the biggest and most obvious benefit a homeowner gets out of a vast and complicated electrical system. Light is what happens when they walk into a room and flip a switch, and it’s important to get it right.

“Giffin & Crane always does quality work, and that’s important to us,” Brian says. “Everybody works as a team, and everybody fosters that environment of teamwork. Plus, Giffin & Crane gets really great projects.”



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

The G&C Questionnaire — Britton Jewett, AIA

Britt Jewett’s father was an architect, and from him he learned to draw and define his own style at a young age. “I was aware that I possessed an artistic gift,” Jewett remembers. “It has been the principal lens through which I see myself and the world. As an architect I approach my profession as an artist first.”

After formal schooling at Ohio State, Jewett headed to California, where, after a joyful stint with Charles Moore, he refined his understanding of architectural space while working with Barry Berkus on everything from residential interiors to urban planning. In Santa Barbara, Jewett oversaw the restoration of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Hall of Records. He also began exploring design themes outside traditional architecture, such as set design and installations for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

To expand his skill set and flexibility, he opened Studio 7, which he describes as “a collaborative design studio to afford me the freedom to work on a variety of projects not supported in a traditional office structure. The collaborative experience connects me with a wide range of artists and design professionals that inform and deepen my range of experience. My practice includes remodels (such as the modern Craftsman, pictured above) and new residences, specialty structures, architectural interiors, furniture, and lighting.”


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

Jewett: My father was an amusement park architect. I learned from him to appreciate the feeling of moving through a physical environment; my work hasn’t been nearly as animated though.


What’s been your favorite architectural field trip? 

Two of my college professors were fellows of Frank Lloyd Wright; they lead a two-day tour of significant works throughout the Midwest. It was rare and intimate.


What’s your favorite public building in Santa Barbara? 

The courthouse is my favorite building, not for its obvious decorative style but for its success as social and community resource.


Where do you find inspiration outside of architecture? 

Public sculpture and installation art, especially the work of Richard Serra.


What do you most like about your job? 

I like the scale of buildings. Balancing the form outside and experience inside is a rewarding challenge.


What do you most dislike about your job?

I don’t like doing billing. Donations haven’t been enough, though, so it is a necessary evil for me.


Go back and pick another profession. 

I would be a sculptor, producing environmental or public art.


What is your current state of mind? 

I am being towed up the first hill of a roller coaster.


What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

I am laughing in a room of laughter.


What is your greatest fear? 

Spending more than a day being wrong terrifies me.


What is your greatest extravagance? 

I love my space at the Meridian Studios, and I do my best to keep it feeling extravagant.


What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 

Mass acceptance is overrated. Let your freak flag fly.


Which talent would you most like to have? 

No one would argue that I could be better organized.


What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

I continue to work on overcoming the fear of dreaming big.


What is your most treasured possession? 

Lifestyle is more important to me than physical possessions.


Which living person do you most admire? 

I don’t know. I am fascinated by Martha Stewart’s journey, though.


Which living person do you most despise? 

I’d rather not start an argument.


What do you most value in your friends? 

I value loyalty.


Who is your favorite fictional character? 

The Dude, and I don’t have a close second.


Who are your heroes in real life? 

People that operate outside the box but still have a balanced life.


On what occasion do you lie? 

I’m not honest with myself about how complicated I make things.


What is your most marked characteristic? 

Perseverance. I don’t give up easily.


What word or phase do you most overuse? 

“Let’s go backward for a minute.”


What is your motto? 

I worked with a Swiss architect that would close each meeting with the phrase “as always we will do our best” in his Swiss accent. It makes me smile.

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.

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.)


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)








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)



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.



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)



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)


“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.)

A Natural Fit: Custom Lines for a Creekside Stunner


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)





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 tommeaney.com. 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.


Elephant Iron: The Welder and the Zookeeper Unite

Lepere Elephant Iron 04

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)

Warm-Blanket Inspiration for a Montecito Remodel
Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 1.17.47 PM

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.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 1.16.51 PM

(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

All in the Details: Finish Carpentry with Trim Works

Jones 6. 27. 08 109

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)

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.


Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.30.43 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.31.01 PM

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.

‪ Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.31.22 PM

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.


Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.33.58 PM

(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

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)

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.
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 11.12.36 AM

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.


Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 11.12.59 AM

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)

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

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 2.20.26 PM

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)



Getting Good (Up)grades at Crane Country Day School

Art Room

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.)

Parking Lot

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)


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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.06.35 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.07.00 PM

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)

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.08.03 PM


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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 3.05.22 PM

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)


A Personal Shangri-La

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 10.08.46 AM copy

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.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 10.11.26 AM copy

“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.


Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 10.12.26 AM copy

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.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 10.10.32 AM copy

(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral Zumwalt)

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)

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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 1.42.00 PM

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.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 1.30.20 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 1.25.50 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 1.25.02 PM

(By Keith Hamm, with photos by Coral VonZumwalt)

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

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 3.18.47 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 3.18.16 PM

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)

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.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 4.36.23 PM

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.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 4.37.07 PM

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

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)


Build with Us

Remodel with Us

Call Us


Send Us a Message

Thank you.
Your message has been sent.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form