Inside Suzanne Rheinstein’s Tranquil Montecito Escape

No one would ever accuse designer Suzanne Rheinstein of being a minimalist. Her work merges a love of English country style, the gracious hospitality of her native New Orleans, and the laid-back attitude of Los Angeles. In her store, Hollyhock, for three decades she shared her passion for painted furniture, George III mahogany, blue-and-white porcelain, and plush upholstery. Her fabric line for Lee Jofa is full of fresh interpretations of florals, paisleys, and ikats.

And yet the getaway that she recently created for herself in Montecito is pared down, serene, and almost startling in its simplicity. Rheinstein had long been hoping to find a house in the area, even before the death in 2013 of her husband, Fred, an influential television entrepreneur. “I had been trying for years to convince Fred. But he always thought I was trying to put him out to pasture,” she says with a laugh.

Lounge chairs from Anthropologie, painted in Farrow & Ball’s Indian Yellow with cushions of a Nomi fabric, line up alongside the custom-colored pool. Landscape design by Nancy Goslee Power & Assoc.

Laura Resen

Her desire intensified when, two years after her husband’s death, she suffered an accident that shattered her left foot and elbow, required two major surgeries, and left her virtually immobile for months. “I was in the hospital, coming out of surgery and still anesthesia-addled, when I saw photos and a floor plan of this house,” she says. “It hit the market on a Friday, and that Monday I put in a bid without even seeing it.”

The house, built in 1971, “was in pretty horrible shape,” she admits. “But it had fantastic views of the Santa Ynez mountains. The property was sad and overgrown, but it had a huge backyard with a circular pool—I joked it would be great for senior synchronized swimming.”

Suzanne Rheinstein on a vintage wrought-iron chair in the garden.

Laura Resen

Rattan pieces found on Chairish and Etsy sit under the pergola. Cushions of Nomi and Pindler fabrics. RH cocktail Tables.

Laura Resen

She turned for help to the AD100 team of Bories & Shearron Architecture. “From the outside, the house had a kind of 1970s Fire Island aesthetic,” says James Shearron. “It was totally of its moment, but it also had a kind of abstract, sculptural quality.” Adds Richard Bories, “The more we looked at it, the more we realized that it related to the early Montecito Spanish vernacular. There was real form underneath all that fashion of its moment. Now the house looks and feels shockingly different, even though we kept the building envelope.”

This was a very personal project, so Rheinstein could adjust the layout to reflect exactly how she wanted to live. What had been the dining room became a reading room—“One thing I knew for sure about this house was that I wasn’t about to be giving any formal dinners,” she says. The main bedroom and the guest room switched roles. “Now I can lie in bed and see the mountains.” The kitchen chairs are on wheels because her three granddaughters like to scoot around the room on them.

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