The House That Kinka Usher Built


Kinka Usher may not be a household name, but the images he’s created in commercials and videos are not only brilliant but unforgettable. The house he created for himself in the hills above Santa Barbara and Montecito is equally brilliant, informed by memories of visits to the Alhambra in Andalucia as a child– a spectacular dwelling firmly rooted (intentionally or not) in the architectural history of Montecito and Santa Barbara. It came on the market last week to considerable fanfare, asking $35,000,000 and represented by BIlly Rose, the founder and president of The Agency.

Usher deployed the latest construction technology and steel framing in this homage to the Alhambra, the legendary palace/fortress complex above Granada in Southern Spain, built over the 13th to 15th Centuries by the the Nasrids, Muslim rulers of the area until its capture by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella (perhaps better known here as those friends of Columbus.)

Like the original, the exterior walls are a deep but faded red; the interiors take notes from the original’s intensely decorated surfaces and repeated arches. Below, the main entry colonnade has inset “carpets” of antique mosaic.

Late in the 19th Century, Santa Barbara and Montecitio would fall under the spell of architect and painter George Washington Smith, a romantic who fell in love with the area around Granada and brought an Andalucian Revival architecture to the area, building handsome, picturesque white houses for the rich, decorated with mosaics and tiles in the style of villages her had visited. While Andalucia’s villages were built of whitewashed stone, Smith’s versions were built with a new technology– dimensional cast terracotta tile that enable him to build lightweight, fireproof structures clad in stucco and whitewash, a technique that would spread down the coast to Los Angeles. Best of all, the tile was easily cut, allowing for concealed plumbing, gas, and electrical lines. It was spawn an economic engine in California’s Central Valley, producing a range of products from the ubiquitous terracotta roof tile to mail-order catalogues full of architectural details.

Smith never built a version of the Alhambra, but he’d certainly visited it. He could only dream of the advantages designers and builders have today in steel and sheets of glass, and indeed this house is closer to William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon, built a few decades later.

Below, supported by steel columns and framing, the central pavilion-like block contains the main gathering space and the master suite just above. As befits someone in highly collaborative media, almost every area of the house has a meeting-ready conference area.

The cooling sounds of water are as much a part of this house as the courtyards of the Alhambra.

Usher once considered becoming a chef, and the kitchen is a cook’s dream, a cinematic, out-scaled space with seating, dining/meeting areas looking out to the ocean.

Occupying the entire second level of the central pavilion– and including a hamman inspired bath– the immense master suite and terrace is yest another multi-purpose space. More to the point, it shows how life has been transformed by technology. The office goes everywhere, accessible from your laptop and PDA, in venues like this where entertaining and collaboration are often seamlessly intertwined.

More: Go to the listing for 848 Hot Springs Road for additional information and images of this extraordinary property.

Photo Credit: Marc Angeles for The Agency