Montecito Homes: Take a closer look at small-town celebrities like Oprah and Ariana Grande Love

Ariana Grande. Jennifer Aniston. Ellen Degeneres. The list of celebrities who have paid tens of millions for a place in Montecito, California is long and varied, young and old. But even if you’ve only heard of Montecito in the context of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s move, you’ve probably wondered what exactly is so appealing in a small town with less than 10,000 people.

Located about 80 miles on the west side of Los Angeles, Montecito is the smaller neighbor of Santa Barbara, a city that covers about four times as much land and has a population ten times larger. Settled by Spain in the 18th century, Santa Barbara’s rich history and culturally significant structures attract many visitors, but because few Spanish settlers built in Montecito, it has historically received fewer tourists. It seems the city – for the most part – would like it to stay that way. Despite increased attention in recent years, there are far fewer lodging options in Montecito than in Santa Barbara. The hotels that do exist tend to cost over $1,000 a night.

In a Montecito home designed by Atelier AM, a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi looms beyond the entryway. Painting by Morris Louis.

Pictured: Stephen Kent Johnson; Styling: Michael Bargo

A Murano glass chandelier by Seguso presides over the dining room. Bespoke whitewashed walnut table by L’Artigiano Studio; 18th century Italian chairs; bronze boat sculpture by Edouard Marcel Sandoz.

Pictured: Stephen Kent Johnson; Styling: Michael Bargo

Even if the oversized celebrity population is slightly perplexed (Meg Ryan and Natalie Portman have also owned Montecito homes, to name a few others), it’s not exactly out of the blue. Attracting America’s most glamorous personalities is actually a long-standing tradition in the city — in fact, Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy honeymooned here at the still-operating San Ysidero Ranch. In 1999, Los Angeles Magazine reported a kind of “turf war” between the residents of Montecito and the “LA guys” flooding their humble town. Celebrities – like Rob Lowe, who is mentioned in the article – had started to adjust there (rather than just visiting) in much higher numbers.

Many waves of famous settlers have arrived in the 23 years since this article, and with younger figures like Ariana Grande making Montecito their home, it doesn’t seem like the town is just a fad. As Initiated reported in an article about Montecito last year, locals are generally unfazed by the presence of famous people. It’s probably a draw for celebrities looking for a quieter lifestyle, and the fact that the town is less than two hours from Hollywood by car doesn’t hurt. Montecito may not have as vivid a history as Santa Barbara, but the two share a bond with architect George Washington Smith. Smith left an indelible mark on the area in the early 20th century, creating dozens of residential projects in Santa Barbara County, all in the Spanish Colonial style that still dominates the area today. Many of Smith’s homes still exist, including a cottage that Larry David paid $5.7 million for earlier this year.

In Paltrow’s dining room, a Thomas Newman Studio chandelier crowns a Martin Massé table for Kolkhoze; 18th century mantlepiece from Château Domingue; accessories from RW Guild.

Photo: Yoshihiro Makino; Styling: Colin King

Whether or not celebrities opt for an authentic century-old home, many new builds in the area recreate the refined yet relaxed atmosphere of the area’s historic residences. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Montecito pad, featured in AD earlier this year, looks stately enough to date from the early 1900s, but it’s actually a brand new one. Firms AD100 Roman and Williams and Romanek Design Studio worked on the project, opting for antique mantels, hand-painted wallpapers and pewter-finished bronze doors to ensure the house speaks to the soul of its frame.

All the architectural beauty of the region is a mere added bonus to the natural splendor of the region. The Californian city enjoys a Mediterranean climate, which allows gardening all year round. Scooter Braun’s Montecito House, which AD filmed in 2018, could well be the perfect example, from its century-old trees to its perfectly maintained rosebushes.

Leave a Comment