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Santa Barbara and Montecito Landscape Design

April 3, 2020

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A contemporary home for sale in Montecito with a lovely garden that matches the style of the house

An architectural style is a specific way a building was designed that is characterized by unique and notable qualities. Santa Barbara and Montecito landscape design styles include elements like form, method of construction, materials, and regional character.

An ever-evolving art, architectural styles convey the history, culture, and development of a community. Santa Barbara and Montecito communities are filled with many different architectural styles. Perfect examples are Spanish Colonial Revival, Victorian, and Craftsman, Mid-century Modern and Contemporary. Homeowners need to realize that just as a building needs a design plan, so does the property around your Montecito or Santa Barbara home.

According to California’s renowned and innovative 20th-century landscape architect, Thomas Dolliver Church, “Style and design aren’t just a pretty face for a garden.”

Church had a long, distinguished, and productive career, with more than 4,000 projects as a landscape architect. He also wrote several influential and popular landscape design books, including Gardens Are for People (1955) and Your Private World: A Study of Intimate Gardens (1969).

The pioneer landscape designer of the Modernist design known as the 'California Style' also declared, “the only limit to your garden is the boundaries of your imagination.”

Santa Barbara and Montecito homeowners live in the perfect environment to allow their imaginations to soar when it comes to home gardens and landscaping. Our mild, mostly sunny coastal region’s temperate Mediterranean climate makes it a natural home for lush foliage and gorgeous blooms.

Here are some of the architectural styles we enjoy in Montecito and Santa Barbara, with important information on landscaping for that particular style:

The front of an expansive contemporary home for sale in Santa Barbara


Put simply, contemporary homes, like the European-Inspired Montecito Contemporary Estate listed in my portfolio of fine homes, reflect the architecture of today. While you may think that definition makes it synonymous with modern architecture, that’s actually a common misconception. Modern architecture refers to a style that was popularized from the 1920s to 1950s, one that embraced clean lines and stark minimalism. Contemporary architecture goes beyond that to define the ever-evolving architectural styles of the 21st century.

The backyard and pool of a Montecito home for sale

Contemporary house landscaping or gardens include wonderful designs incorporating a swimming pool, like the image above. As you can see, the sleek style is also complemented by side benches or pool chairs, and a rather dramatic fire pit. These accouterments give an authentic look of the contemporary style and up-to-date landscape view.


The Modern (or “Modernist”) house is most typically a post-and-beam structure with a flat or broad low-pitched gable or shed roof like the picture of my new listing, Iconic Modernism by Barton Myers, at the top of this post. Exposed structure, an expressive use of modern materials, and the incorporation of landscaped areas, sometimes inside the house, are the main contributing elements to the architectural character of Modernism.

The backyard of a beautiful modern home by  Barton Myers

An overview of Santa Barbara and Montecito landscape design and architectural styles wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the notable collection of modern homes. Echoing the sleek and minimalist aesthetic of these properties are rock gardens and Asian-inspired landscapes, as pictured here.

Perfect example of Spanish  Colonial Revival architecture complete with red roof tiles

Spanish Colonial Revival

Spanish Colonial Revival includes the stylized version of the architectural genre shown above in my listing Spanish Colonial Revival Beauty on the Santa Barbara Riviera. It is inarguably the most prevalent architectural style in the area. This is not only because of Santa Barbara’s roots as a Spanish mission but also because Spanish Colonial Revival was the style that the city actually chose to rebuild in after the 1925 earthquake. Red-tiled roofs, stucco, and wrought iron detailing are some of the style’s common features, though it must be noted that Spanish Colonial Revival is something of an umbrella term that encompasses a wide array of architectural influences, including Pueblo, Moorish, Baroque, and Romanesque.

Santa Barbara and Montecito landscape design has evolved to complement the Spanish flavor of this prevalent architectural style. You’ll find that many of these particular homes will be showcased with a Mediterranean-inspired landscape. Palms, olive and citrus trees are among the unifying elements, with the added advantage of blending well with the native vegetation. 

Victorian and Craftsman

Would-be buyers interested in the real estate Santa Barbara has to offer will also find quite a few homes from the very eclectic Victorian period and a significant number of Craftsman bungalows. There are elaborate Queen Annes and Italianate houses as well as elegant French Second Empire residences and homes that boast a blend of the myriad influences and building trends of the age.

It’s not unusual for English-style gardens to be part of the unique features of these properties, albeit with a tropical influence in keeping with the natural setting. Landscaping for these homes should follow all the modern principles of landscape design that are explained above.

Striking Mid Century Modern home for sale in Montecito


Basically, a Mid-century modern home is a 1950s or 60s ranch-style residence that has been “modernized” into a more contemporary home in some way. Usually, at a minimum, the term implies that the home has been opened up-that walls have removed so that the floor plan is more “open,” taking advantage of the inside/outside lifestyle so popular in the part of the world. The striking Mid-century modern home on Santa Barbara’s Riviera, pictured above, is a great example.

Rather than installing the standard lawn, some owners and landscape designers today are using outdoor spaces to both complement and contrast the homes' architectural and interior aesthetic. Trees and shrubs are considered sculptural elements, while planting beds repeat geometric lines. One-story Mid-century modern homes often have an atrium or central courtyard patios, which are true outdoor rooms.

As a whole, Santa Barbara and Montecito landscape design styles are as varied as the area’s terrain and distinct selection of neighborhoods. Properties here are unique and have their own one-of-a-kind selection of features customized according to their owners' particular tastes.

Take a look at all of my exclusive listings and browse the Santa Barbara real estate MLS to preview currently available properties throughout the region. Need more insights on the different communities here? Explore my site and contact me via phone, +1 (805) 886-9378, or through my email at at your convenience. I look forward to helping you make the right choice in Santa Barbara and Montecito.

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“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