Masterfully constructed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, Hotel Californian is a harmonious addition to Santa Barbara’s architectural landscape, yet is a major landmark in the evolution of the city’s hospitality scene.

The 121-key hotel lies on the edge of the city’s ‘Funk Zone’ – an area spanning the ocean and Highway 101 that has transformed from an industrial zone to an ever-evolving artistic neighbourhood awash with bars, galleries and boutiques.

For Michael Rosenfield, CEO of Woodridge Capital Partners and founder and developer of Hotel Californian, this spirit of innovation offered the perfect climate for a hotel with a fresh, contemporary approach. His vision has been realised with the help of a talented design team, including local architectural firm, DesignArc, and celebrated designer, Martyn Lawrence Bullard.

Hotel Californian was originally constructed in 1925 as part of a wave of Spanish Colonial Revival structures in California’s coastal cities, but was destroyed by an earthquake soon after opening. In 2012, the majority of the hotel was demolished once again in order to begin its reinvention, but its original facade has been artfully preserved and reintegrated, setting the tone for the structure’s faithful reconstruction.

For LA-based interior designer, Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the project presented an opportunity to carve a new kind of hospitality experience in a city he has real affection for. “This project has been a special one for me, firstly because I love Santa Barbara; the history and culture of this special Californian beach resort,” he says. “It has been a wonderful restoration of a once grand hotel that had fallen into disrepair, and now is a sparkling jewel in the city. 

“It’s also amazing because we have set a new standard in the city for a modern hotel experience that captures the essence of the place, yet brings in a worldly experience, class and atmosphere.

“The crowd at the hotel is international, as well as Hollywood weekenders and Californian site seekers. We have guests from all over the world visiting the historic sites as well as the wind district and the beaches. All age groups and families make the hotel a cornucopia of wonderful energy and a luxurious modern meeting place for the most memorable vacations.”

Hotel Californian comprises a host of facilities, including a casual eaterie – ‘Goat Tree’, sleek Mediterranean restaurant – ‘Blackbird’, a fashion boutique, Turkish-inspired spa, a ballroom, and a rooftop pool and event deck with panoramic views of the coastline and the Santa Ynez Mountains.

"Moroccan-inspired tile wainscoting, bronze oil-rubbed bath fixtures and mashrabiya patterned bathroom vanities and closet doors create a modern take on seaside Santa Barbara"

The hotel’s architectural heritage features prominently within the interior scheme, but Martyn has integrated contemporary touchpoints to create fresh, bold look. Within the guest accommodation, for example, Moroccan-inspired tile wainscoting, bronze oil-rubbed bath fixtures and mashrabiya patterned bathroom vanities and closet doors create a modern take on seaside Santa Barbara. 

Hotel Californian’s luxurious Majorelle spa, meanwhile, is named for a distinctly Moroccan blue often found in the traditional tiles, windows and doorways of Marrakesh. The soothing, yet revitalising hue has been widely integrated within the spa’s interior to aid the wellness experience.

“Santa Barbara has a rich history of Spanish colonial architecture which was influenced by Hispano Moorish design in the 19th century,” Martyn explains. “As such, I used this colourful history as a base for the interior architecture, yet to shake it up and modernise the vibe, I added mid-century furnishings inspired by Gio Ponti and for surprise factor I mixed in quirky Portuguese antiques with edgy art we custom designed for the space. 

“The hotel’s colour palette was chosen under restrictions of historically used colors in the area. I decided the black and white palette was both dramatic and historically correct, but also gave an easy back drop to mix other colors and flavours into the public spaces and hotel rooms. Bold, historic yet fresh; exactly what I needed as my backdrop for this edgy take on a classic hotel.

“The result is unexpected, yet sympathetic to the local vibe, raising the decorative standard and giving a fresh take on the Santa Barbara’s classic look.”

Though each space presents its own unique aesthetic, a common denominator throughout the hotel is its wonderfully rich use of pattern. From ceiling stencils around light fixtures to painted border on the walls, pattern brings definition to the architecture and creates a strong signature. 

"For me, it’s an understanding of mixing palettes carefully, using two color highlights with a good base color, providing both drama and symmetry"

“The mix of pattern has been described as fearless,” affirms Martyn. “For me, it’s an understanding of mixing palettes carefully, using two color highlights with a good base color, providing both drama and symmetry.

“I used over one million tiles in the project – encaustic, glazed and marble – wainscoting the guest room walls in Moorish designed tile work and graphic, monochromatic designs in the public spaces on floors and walls.

“Hand printed textiles add color and texture, from linens to velvets and leather, while custom wallpaper is used to great effect in the ballroom where I mixed seven different designs to create a fantastical orientalist look inspired by the rooms of Renzo Mongiardino.”

This richly woven tapestry of pattern, colour and custom furnishings is the key to Hotel Californian’s accessible yet highly luxurious feel. Above all, Martyn’s interior scheme pays respect to the architectural heritage of the city, while chanelling the vibrancy and artistic spirit of the local community through its bold and refreshing outlook.