Thanks to the aesthetic ingenuity of British-born, Los Angeles–based designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard – considered to be one of the best interior designers due to his unique design approach to each project – a 1925 Southern California hotel has been reborn as a luxe 21st-century urban retreat. Downtown Santa Barbara’s Hotel Californian originally opened only days before a massive earthquake destroyed large swathes of the city, much of the new building included. This is the latest Martyn Bullard luxury hotel project.

Hotel Californian Santa Barbara

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 neighborhood awash with bars, galleries, and boutiques.

For the rooms, suites and other spaces and amenities — including a rooftop pool and terrace, a ballroom, a gourmet bakery and café and a Mediterranean restaurant helmed by an alum of Napa’s French Laundry — Bullard custom designed nearly every element. Using the region’s local vernacular architecture as a jumping-off point, he created a version of Spanish Colonial that draws heavily from North Africa, swinging to the southern portion of the Iberian Peninsula and its telltale Moorish influences.

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This hospitality furniture combination with accent furnishings of an Italian mid-century-modern style, some of the actual vintage pieces, others designed by him in homage to the period. Here, Bullard takes us on a tour of the old-meets-new hotel’s globe-spanning design.

Martyn Bullard luxury hotel at Santa Barbara

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The goal was to create a new standard of hotel design for Santa Barbara, incorporating the feeling of the historic building, even though only a relatively small portion of its exterior was kept, and constructing around that a resort that felt original to the site yet fresh in its outlook and aesthetic level. The idea is one of restoration, something that disguises the fact that the property is almost a completely new build.

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The hotel interior design style was derived from the Spanish Colonial architecture that defines the aesthetic of Santa Barbara, whose beautiful mission was a major point of departure for the design. An eclectic mix of Moroccan influences was added – tile wainscoting, bronze oil-rubbed bath fixtures, and mashrabiya patterned bathroom vanities – pairing them with Italian mid-century furnishings and original, edgy art.

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Almost everything in the hotel is bespoke — the furniture, the fabrics, the wallpapers. Even the almost one million encaustic tiles used throughout the public areas and guest rooms were all custom designed, colored and manufactured for this project.

Hotel Californian at Santa Barbara outdoors

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