Cristal's Blog


April 17, 2023

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The iconic architect Wallace Neff made a significant contribution to the California style of architecture, particularly in the high-end communities of Los Angeles, and as far afield as Ojai and Santa Barbara. His innovative designs were inspired by Spanish Colonial Revival, Normandy and Tudor architecture, among others, and were known for their integration of indoor and outdoor living spaces, modern amenities, and natural surroundings. Neff's designs are not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional, practical, and designed to be comfortable.

Vintage postcard featuring Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in a rowboat in the pool of Pickfair, their Beverly Hills home
Image: Flickr

One of the First Architects for Hollywood Stars

The architect Wallace Neff built more than 500 homes for celebrities and dignitaries during and after Hollywood's Golden Era, from 1920 through 1972. Drawing from the imagery of the Spanish, Italian, French, and English, he became one of the preeminent architects of Hollywood stars. Even today, celebrities seek out homes he designed

For beloved film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, the legendary architect remodeled a mock-Tudor style Beverly Hills home. "The Pickford House," perhaps better known as Pickfair, a 56-acre Beverly Hills estate built in the 1920s, quickly became a popular gathering place for Hollywood's elite, including Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Albert Einstein, until it was demolished by new owners, actress Pia Zadora, and her husband, in 1989-90. Neff's designs remain highly coveted among today's Hollywood luminaries, from Darryl Zanuck and Bob Newhart to Madonna and Diane Keaton. Back when they were a couple, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston owned a Neff design originally built in 1934 for Oscar winner Fredric March, star of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

A vintage black and white photograph of Pickfair, with automobiles from the golden age in front
Pickfair: Home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Image: Flickr

Neff's Influence on California Style

Neff is often credited with creating California-style homes with vaulted ceilings, courtyards, lush landscapes, and lots of glass. In his designs, it's easy to see that the MIT-trained architect took a page from Frank Lloyd Wright's philosophy of organic architecture. Like Wright, Neff's homes were designed to blend in with the natural environment, featuring large windows and doors that open onto terraces and gardens, creating a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor living spaces.

A stunning Wallace Neff designed home in Hope Ranch, Santa Barbara, with a separate guest huose and green lawn surrounded by foliage and a pink sunset

Neff’s Modern Masterpiece in Santa Barbara

One of Neff's most famous designs is located on a blufftop in Santa Barbara's Hope Ranch, resting on 1.5 acres above a private beach. The Dramatic Blufftop Ocean-View Hope Ranch Estate compound pictured above is currently on the market. Known as "The Straus House," originally commissioned by Robert K. Straus, heir to the Macy's fortune, this incredible compound was designed to blend in with the natural environment while taking advantage of the area's mild Mediterranean climate. It features large windows and doors that open onto terraces and gardens, creating a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor living spaces.

Completed in 1970, the coastal stunner made a splash when it was first unveiled more than 50 years ago. Featured in Architectural Digest, the eye-popping estate has since changed hands and undergone a massive decade-long renovation, emerging as a painstakingly preserved yet modern masterpiece.

Built in an H design, the floor plan features five bedrooms located on either side of a massive, central living space. Standing out as the centerpiece is a sizable living room with a soaring wood-beamed ceiling, an oversized fireplace, and walls of glass showcasing breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, and the Channel Islands. The estate also includes a sizable, detached guest house.

The living room of a luxury estate with floor to ceiling widows that open up to a breathtaking view of the Pacific

Exceptional amenities include a screening room, mosaic-tiled spa, and wine cellar. Yet other stylish attributes include a professional chef's kitchen replete with top-of-the-line appliances, and a subterranean guest suite hidden beneath the home's backyard.

Wallace Neff's designs incorporate many innovative elements and were built to withstand the test of time. These homes are still admired and cherished today, standing as a testament to Neff's legacy as a pioneering architect. His work continues to inspire architects and homeowners today, and his legacy lives on in the many beautiful homes and buildings he created.

Considering buying or selling a home here? If you’re looking for a Wallace Neff original, please call me at (805) 886-9378 or email me at I look forward to putting my knowledge, contacts, and energy toward finding your perfect home sweet home.

Other Resources:

What Makes a “Luxury Home”?
Maximizing Profit When Selling a Home
Is Wellness Real Estate the Next Trillion-Dollar Trend?

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Client Reviews

“It was an emotional experience selling our mother’s home in Montecito that we all loved so much but Cristal made the process easier on our whole family by guiding us through the transaction every step of the way. She knows the market so well and everything she recommended was on point including the asking price, painting, and staging the home, which looked beautiful and helped the buyer envision her new home. We sold it the first day it hit the market with an offer above asking! Cristal did an incredible job communicating with us and the buyer to ensure that the transaction would run smoothly. We highly recommend using Cristal, she was a pleasure to work with! ”

- J & A

“Cristal is a pleasure to work with! Her knowledge of the local real estate market coupled with her amazing listening skills resulted in her showing us an array of homes that were all excellent choices. Her low-pressure patient attitude made us feel extremely comfortable with the whole process. I cannot recommend her highly enough.”

- M.F.

“Cristal Clarke is #1 in her field - and you don't become #1 by luck. Cristal works harder, and longer, and with more charm and patience than any real estate agent I have ever worked with in the past; her calendar has no weekend, her days have no clocks, her only concern is selling your property as soon as possible and for the best price on the market. Am I a fan? You bet!”

- P.B.

“We have used Cristal now several times and cannot express how grateful we are for her expertise, dedication, and unwavering support throughout the entire home-buying process. Cristal is knowledgeable, patient and attentive. Her attention to detail is remarkable, and she consistently went above and beyond to provide us with all the information and resources we needed to make informed decisions. Cristal is a skillful negotiator and advocate. She can navigate complex negotiations with professionalism and grace and felt like a true partner to us in the home-buying process. Cristal has a genuine passion for real estate and a deep commitment to her clients' satisfaction. I cannot speak highly enough of Cristal and her exceptional service. She is a true expert in her field and her dedication to excellence, combined with unwavering support is the reason we choose to work with her for all our real estate buying needs.”

- T.C.

“Cristal is a top-notch realtor who sold my home before it ever went on the market. I had two competing offers that enabled me to get top dollar for my home. Not only is Cristal superb but her team is extraordinary. I cannot say enough about Cristal and her team. They are simply phenomenal, the consummate professionals, who took care of every possible detail, making the sale and transition period, smooth from our end. They are also lovely, caring people, who knew all the right professionals, to get the job done. Thank you, everyone!”

- D.R.

“I could list lots of cool adjectives to describe Cristal. All good by the way. But, that is not why I or anyone should hire Cristal. My reason for hiring her, which proved to be correct, is very simple. She got the job done. And, she does it time and time again and with zero issues. And, that is why she is one of the top agents in the country. End of subject. ”

- M.A.

“Working with Cristal was a complete pleasure. Cristal was extremely patient with us as we evaluated nearly 2 dozen homes over a span of 2 years. Her knowledge of the market is unmatched. Cristal provided us with exceptional counsel as we evaluated opportunities and negotiated pricing. The closing process was handled thoroughly and efficiently. We could not be happier with our purchase and even more happy to now call Cristal our friend.”

- D.K.

“Cristal Clarke has conducted numerous real estate transactions for me beginning 13 years ago with the purchase of a Lemon Ranch. She has handled both large and small purchases and sales with equal dedication. As a negotiator, you can’t find anyone better. Her transactions are always conducted in the most appropriate and professional manner. Cristal has considerable knowledge of the Santa Barbara market.”

- S.N. Decker Ph.D.

“Living in Europe, we were to say the least, unaccustomed to the nuances of Real Estate acquisition in California and Cristal steered us through the process with absolute professionalism and personal attention to detail at every turn. Her in-depth knowledge of the market place combined with enthusiasm and drive was the only reason we secured the property of our dreams and will be forever grateful. If you are looking for personal discrete and private representation of the highest quality we suggest you look no further than Cristal Clarke.”

- Johan and Paula van den Berg

“Cristal is very straightforward, cheerful, helpful, professional and trustworthy….we felt very lucky to work with her.”

- John and Lacey Williams

“After considering our many choices, we are grateful it was Cristal Clarke of Sotheby’s International who represented the sale of our Montecito cottage. We are familiar with Cristal’s reputation of hard work and dedication to clients, but it was her attention to detail that made our experience so positive. She offered suggestions for staging the property, worked in harmony with potential buyers and was even able to secure back up offers. The sale of our cottage was completed much sooner than we expected, due in great part to Cristal’s professional skills and support. We highly recommend Cristal as a first choice for anyone needing representation with real estate.”

- Michael & Nancy Lee

“Our experience in working with Cristal Clarke resulted in the successful and discrete acquisition of a property which was not yet on the open market. Her knowledge of the Montecito/Santa Barbara area and vast expertise blended with her passion for real estate and architecture, provided us with the very highest level of professionalism and personalized services. Cristal exhibited a rare combination of excellent communications, attention to detail, creativity and patience.”

- Richard and Catherine Frinier

“Cristal really breaks the mold. She knows every nook and cranny of this real estate market, understands value, and follows up on everything, all the time. She was incredibly patient with our two year quest to find the perfect house. Every house hunting trip from across the country was well planned, and our time was never wasted. On top of her professionalism and expertise, she is delightful to spend time with. We are thrilled with the home we purchased, and grateful to Cristal for so wisely advising us through this process, right through to the close and beyond.”

- Laurie Siegel

“We met Cristal first in the course of renting a winter home (for three years), then buying a house using her as our agent. She was amazingly good at listening to our wants and showing us homes that fit our needs. Her mastery of the paperwork was perfect. Most importantly, there was never a situation where we doubted her straightforwardness or integrity. If we do another real estate transaction in Montecito (which I doubt, we’re happy with what we purchased), without question we’d use Cristal again.”

- Ken Saffir

“Susan and I just want to thank you for your efforts in the sale of our home. You are really quite amazing. Your competence, persistence, optimism and humor made the entire process effortless. Every problem that arose, you somehow fixed; any obstacle, you overcame. We have bought and sold many homes. It has never been such a painless and enjoyable process!”

- Michael & Susan Marquart

“A little something about “our” realtor, Cristal Clarke. My wife and I came to Santa Barbara about fifteen years ago looking for a seasonal home from which to enjoy the weather and amenities of the central coast. Being in the real estate business myself I was familiar with agents and brokers so entered the market with open eyes. We “flipped” a few houses in the early years, dealing with various agents and finally ended up in Montecito. That’s when good fortune put us together with Cristal. To say we were impressed is to put it mildly. Cristal really knows the market. She is familiar with the area, its history and trends. When we have questions about a particular property she either has the answers immediately or gets back to us by phone or email. There is no waiting or wondering with Cristal. She is an agent who is “on top of it.” Her recommendations as to price points, contractors, inspectors and title agents have proven to be exceptional, showing great insight and the highest professional standards. We consider ourselves exceedingly fortunate to say that Cristal Clarke is our realtor and would recommend her services to any serious buyer or seller.”

- Rob & Judi Kelch