Subscribe   About         Contact
Facebook           Pinterest  

Join Our Mailing List

Sign Up
Santa Barbara's guide to what's new and undiscovered for home and garden, entertaining, and fashion. Brush up on local happenings, boutique finds, cooking classes, or browse the archives below for resources that provide everything that you need for Santa Barbara living.

Montecito House Showcases Local Contemporary Artists

The roots of Nancy and Michael Gifford’s stunning, light-filled Montecito home filled with contemporary art evolved from a simple adobe packing shed on a fifty acre lemon orchard that was part of a turn of the century estate.

No surface is left uncovered in the Gifford home.  The entrance hall showcases works by Saul Gray-Hildenbrand, Alexis Pittmon, Frances Scorzelli, Julia Ford, Dan Levin and Brad Howe.

Over the years, the original thick-walled adobe was slowly expanded to suit the needs of various owners: first as a garage, then as a music room and later as an enlarged living quarters now including four bedrooms, four and half baths, an office and art studio.

“When we purchased the house from a sculptor, we didn’t change the footprint but we did reconfigure the interior spaces.  He had already converted and enlarged the garage into a sixteen foot high studio,” says Nancy Gifford, a former high fashion model who is now a contemporary artist in her own right.

The glass walled living room, dining room and master bedroom look out to a magenta iron sculpture by SBCC Professor Ed Inks.  The wood construction on the wall is “Vessels” by Nancy and hangs aside her collection of Buddha heads.

After two years of renovation the couple finally began the fun task of decorating.  Their collection evolved organically out of Nancy’s immersion in the local art scene.  “We had no idea that we were going to fill the house with the artwork of local artists.” she says.  “But I spent those two years during the renovation visiting studios in Santa Barbara and now have the work of more than sixty artists.”  The pieces on display include whimsical drawings, bold paintings, quirky assemblages and both indoor and outdoor sculpture.

The biggest obstacle was finding the artists who were doing the more edgy work that suits the couple’s personal taste.  When Nancy began her search, she found there were few galleries locally that handled many of these mid-career contemporary artists.  She did her own investigative work.  “The best way to find a good artist is to ask other artists,” she says, “they all know each other.” Her first studio visit was to Colin Fraser Gray.  He told her about Julia Ford, so Nancy sought her out and continued her search from there. 

Just a few of the artists represented in the collection include Richard Aber, Tony Askew, Ken Bortolazzo, Hilary Brace, Jane Callister, Virginia McCracken, Rafael Perea de la Cabada, Peggy Ferris, Penelope Gottlieb, Mike Irwin, Hugh Margerum, Keith Puccinelli, Dane Goodman, Marie Schoeff, Philip Argent, Dug Uyesaka, Susan Tibbles, Philip Koplin, Cass Ensberg, Maria Rendon, Wayne Hoffman, Steven Soria, Jonny Troyna, Jens Pederson, Marlene Struss, Warren Schultheis, Joan Rosenberg-Dent, James Van Arsdale, Kimberly Hahn, Chris Rupp, Mary Heebner, John Moses, Zack Paul, Barry Spacks, Neal Crosbie, Anne Luther, Julika Lackner, Ed Lister, Nevin Littlehale, Jack Mohr, Sue Savage, Sally Hamilton, Bob Mask, Linda Saccoccio, Jean-Pierre Hebert, Liz Brady, Nance Cole, Barbara Parmet, Patrick Turner, Nell Campbell, Gail Pine, Ed Inks, Carlos Grano, Ethan Turpin and Dorothy Churchill-Johnson, etc.


A large head made of tea bags by Santa Barbara City College graduate Chloe Gray rests unexpectedly on a platter in the center of the large circular UFO dining table by Ferruccio Laviani for Emmemobili, imported from Italy.  Other works in the dining room are by Penelope Gottlieb, Cass Ensberg, Philip Argent, Zack Paul, Peggy Ferris, Nancy Gifford (“Rip in Time” on back wall) and “The Priest” by Henry Rasmussen (right wall).

Only the most astute observer of the works on the walls will notice the tiny map pins that identify each piece displayed in the 6,400 square foot space.  Interior designer Joani Stewart-Georgi, ASID, IIDA of Montana Avenue Interiors in Marina Del Rey was responsible for the modern furnishings that blend with the neutral palette of white, beige and gray.

Natural materials used throughout include massive amounts of glass, blonde woods, pale plush fabrics and cool travertine marble floors. Paint surfaces were created to Nancy Gifford’s specifications.  For the crisp museum effect in the interior, titanium was mixed into the white paint.  For the exterior, at least a dozen trials were needed to finally obtain a neutral N7 artist gray.  Most commercial grays have either too much blue or green that is enhanced by the sun.  Dunn Edwards has the formulas listed under “Gifford White” and “Gifford Gay”.


Living room furnishings include Quadra 2 sofa from Poltruna Frau; swivel chairs from DIVA on Robertson and Saarinen womb chairs by Knoll Studio from DWR covered in a reproduction of the original boucle fabric in mushroom shade from the 1920’s.  Artwork from the left is by Henry Rasmussen, Brad Howe, Kathy Kissik, Philip Argent and Rafael Perea de la Cabada.


An art tableau includes stripe oil painting “Che” by Leah Modigliani and a limited edition of “The Insomnia Drawings” by Louise Bourgeois. 


Ellen P. Bildsten, A.I.A., LEED AP, was the architect of record who designed a perfect setting for Nancy and Michael Gifford’s Montecito home.  She also returned to design the lap pool courtyard and three car garage.

The gardens were designed by Nancy but she is quick to give credit to head gardener Augustin Vega and his brother David Vega for bringing her vision to life.  “Augustin is a rose specialist extraordinaire and David meticulously measured between each succulent in order to create a diagonal grid pattern on the terraces until the plants mature.”  From the roof deck, looking down at the entrance gardens, the design could be mistaken for one of Nancy’s formalist art constructions.


Artist and Santa Barbara arts patron Nancy Gifford in her home studio.

The residence is often used for fundraising events for non-profit organizations, while museum councils from as far away as Laguna Beach and Tacoma,WA, are frequent visitors.  “We are not a commercial gallery, but many people who visit fall in love with a particular piece of art,” she says.  It’s about encouraging people to buy locally and giving them a place to discover artists previously unknown to them.”

As a result of her activities Nancy Gifford now sits on the boards of the Contemporary Arts Forum, The Arts Fund of Santa Barbara, The Advisory Council for Westmont Museum of Art and is a founding member of the Contemporaries of Santa Barbara Museum of Art.


Even the kitchen, designed by Santa Barbara Kitchens, features art including works by Jeff Koons, Virginia McCracken, Neal Crosbie, Julia Ford, and Gail Pine.  The wall relief sculpture by Inga Guzyte is constructed entirely from used skateboards.  Shark stools by BonTempi flank the sleek, glass counter.

“When we came to Santa Barbara we knew we wanted a contemporary house, but we didn’t know how hard it would be to find one”, she says.  “We looked at more than one hundred houses before settling on this one.  I got the added bonus of having an existing art studio on the property.”  Not only did the Giffords succeed in finding a contemporary house, but one perfectly suited to showcase their constantly changing collection that supports the talented – and now better known – artists of Santa Barbara.


Story by Leslie A. Westbrook
Photography Ciro Coelho
This feature originally appeared in the February, 2012 issue of California Homes Magazine.

Writer: Leslie Westbrook

Photographer: Ciro Coelho

Nancy Gifford:

General Contractor:
Douglas LaBarre /LaBarre Land & Development

Feature courtesy of California Homes Editor-in-Chief, Susan McFadden.

Visit the California Homes Magazine website:



Share This:
Share this via email Share this on Facebook