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.)


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