For a year now we’ve been tracking Brooklyn-based architect Roberto Sosa around the far reaches of the US, from the Hudson Valley to the wild northern coast of Maui where he’s designed gardens for his remodeled Hawaiian beach cottages and rambling country farms. A few days ago he alerted us to his latest project in yet another corner of the country: a Spanish Colonial house and gardens, designed in 1929 by architect Reginald Davis Johnson (who also designed the main house at Lotusland), in the enclave of Hope Ranch in Santa Barbara, California.
While the house makes a statement (it has nine bedrooms and 13 baths), it’s the gardens we love. The historic nine acres overlooking the ocean had gotten cluttered over the years with colorful plantings and overgrown vines, but Sosa approached the exteriors with subtraction in mind, restoring with a light touch the formal rose garden, outdoor pool, creeping bougainvillea, lemon trees, and Spanish charm—and adding only time-worn pots and planters overflowing with succulents. Join us for a look beyond the gates.
The clients (who wish to remain anonymous) are “a young, private family, who created, developed, and sold a successful brand,” and with whom Sosa had previously worked on a New York apartment. Their ask, for their return to California? “To keep the beauty and charm of the formal elements, while also making it subtly modern and elegant,” Sosa says.
In tandem with modernizing the house interiors, Sosa worked with Art Gonzalez of local landscaping company Progressive Landscaping to restore the grounds. Perhaps surprising for such a grand canvas, Sosa and team focused on paring back what was there, rather than adding new elements: “There were many established plants that served as a starting point,” Sosa says. “We worked a lot with subtraction, removing a lot of colorful annuals, and filling in beds and borders with a range of textures and a subtle variation of green-gray colors.”
The property has sprawling grounds and several separate garden areas, including a formal hedged rose garden, a rolling lawn, a pool deck, and a central courtyard. Throughout, Sosa and team focused on small but impactful improvements: “The changes were mostly to take away a lot of the annual colorful flowers, remove decaying material, and trim and spruce up the larger trees,” he says. “On the kitchen side, we relocated the air conditioning units to make room for an outdoor kitchen and garden. Most of the change came from sourcing a lot of new plant material from the surrounding nurseries.”
The Terrace, for Outdoor Dining
The Quiet Courtyard
The Formal Rose Garden
The only architectural change to the garden? Creating an enclosed place for the clients’ children to play. “The garden overlooks a small canyon that runs along the edge of the property with a lot of native oaks and palms. I designed the parapet wall to contain it, in a similar style to the main house. We also added gates to enclose the rose garden and allow the children to play in a contained area,” Sosa says.