The glamour-forward designer revives a storied Santa Barbara playground with Moroccan tiles and $4,000 shower heads.
Hollywood has been escaping to Santa Barbara since before pictures had sound, but the newly renovated Hotel Californian will be a worthy retreat for anyone still seeking Los Angeles-level glamour.
The 1925 Spanish Colonial hotel is fresh off an eight-year overhaul that rendered its interiors unrecognizable—in a delightful way. Celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard used the city’s architectural influence as groundwork, then broke the mold with Moroccan and Moorish designs and Art Deco furnishings.
The end result is a glam, velvet-swathed playground that looks at points more Hollywood than Santa Barbara. “I wanted to shake up the traditional palette so often seen in the area or at beach resorts, creating a more memorable experience and ambiance,” said Bullard, who has designed homes for Kylie Jenner and multiple Kardashians.
Whereas other beach hotels might feature a swell of rattan pieces, sea-blue art, and white linens, Hotel Californian favors graphic wallpapers, gold snake sconces, and emerald green club chairs. Bullard said he looked to the great hotels by Gio Ponti in 1950s, where the Italian architect invigorated period buildings with custom modern furniture.
Like Ponti’s designs, Bullard tempered a mix of mid-century shaped furnishings with Moroccan accessories and quirky Portuguese antiques. “The balance that seems odd at first really works in bridging the architectural style of the hotel and surrounding historic area with a breath of fresh air,” he said.
The 121 guest rooms feature four separate designs with monochromatic bases and pops of jewel tones and studded leather. The variety “stirs the emotions and attaches to your memory,” said Bullard, the way a “good hotel and vacation should.”
The hotel, particularly the Moroccan-style spa, also features several custom tile patterns to honor the arabesques of the Santa Barbara Mission.
“The tile work really gives a different personality to each space and does exactly the trick I wanted, which is to make you want to see your friend or neighbor’s room to see which one you prefer better,” said Bullard. “There’s nothing like curiosity to promote return customers.”
For art, Bullard worked with voila! in L.A. to make custom piece for the hotel. Traditional California schemes, such as Santa Barbara scenery and monuments, ground the hotel’s sense of place. But motifs of blue whales flying above piers to tattoos on movie stars work to defy drowsy stereotypes.
From statement ceilings to dramatic black and red cocktail bar, the change in style befits the neighborhood. Hotel Californian overlooks the beach and the Funk Zone, a stretch famed for its galleries and nightlife, and its reopening in April was fêted with a secret John Mayer set at an Alice In Wonderland-themed party, packed with noms d’importance.
Just consider Santa Barbara sleepy no more. “It’s the way I see the future of Santa Barbara,” Bullard says. “Honoring the past yet moving stylishly into the 21st century with passion and pride.”