Where Artists Dwell - A Charming House in Santa Barbara

Where Artists Dwell – A Charming House in Santa Barbara

Maybe it’s the way the Southern California sunlight shines through the windows and plays across the parquet floors and lovingly collected furnishings. Or maybe it’s the creative spirit of the owners, artists Garrett and Ginny Speirs. But whatever it is, it’s one of those houses you just can’t help feeling good in.

Maybe it’s the way the Southern California sunlight shines through the windows and plays across the rooms’ parquet floors and collected furnishings. Or maybe it’s the  creative spirit of the owners, artists Garrett and Ginny Speirs. Whatever it is, it’s one of those houses you can’t help feeling good in.

Ginny and Garrett Speirs’ house in Santa Barbara was built in 1878 and restored by them over a period of years in the 2000s.

It isn’t about money or fashion, though the house has great style. What it is really about is character, soul, ambience, personality, and a dash of bohemian insouciance–they are artists, after all.

It also probably doesn’t hurt that Garrett’s mother and our hostess this day is Joan Speirs. Joan is one of those people who seems to sprinkle magic-fun-fairy dust wherever she goes. Last week she was kind enough to include me with a group of girlfriends on an outing to Santa Barbara to visit the home and studios of her talented son and daughter-in-law, and what a treat it was.

She tells us the house was something of a white elephant and a run-down one at that, but when Ginny saw it, she knew it was “her” house.

Speirs House – Children’s Playhouse

A nothing-short-of-heroic renovation ensued, then nestled in with beautiful landscaping by James Yoch, also Joan’s friend.

A mix of period pieces melds easily with the Victorian period of the house and the graciously proportioned rooms.

I love the moody olive green color of the entrance hall and stairway and how it sets off the design of the floors as well as the art and furnishings.

Speirs Entrance

And don’t miss the patina on the front door, put there by  Ginny Speirs herself. She says she went on a furniture-painting jag at one point, but mostly she paints beautiful, colorful canvases, more of which you can see on Ginny Speirs’ website here.

Speirs Living Room

Garrett is a California native, but Ginny is a Southerner. You can sort of tell, don’t you think? Something about her homey mix of antiques, art, and family photos and heirlooms says there might be a bag of grits in the pantry.

Speirs Living Room – desk
Speirs Living Room – birdcage

When in doubt, hang a birdcage and do a red lampshade.

Speirs Library

Ginny told me Omar Sharif used to play bridge in the library with the former owner, a socialite from back East who was quite the hostess. “There may be a ghost of her still in the house,” Ginny said. That’s the kind of ghost you want, I said.

Red is also always a good idea for a dining room. I believe Mark Hampton said that. The painting is by Ginny’s husband Garrett. Do see the Garrett Speirs website here, and prepare to swoon. Just saying.

Speirs Dining Room. Painting of Santa Barbara coastline is by Garrett Speirs, Ginny’s husband.
Speirs Family Room
Speirs kitchen, with one of Ginny’s wonderful vegetable paintings propped on the stove’s hood.

The Roman shades in the breakfast nook have a bee motif. Love that. Also love Ginny’s chicken paintings on the wall and the mosaic tabletop made from pottery shards.

Speirs-Breakfast Room

The arrangement of vintage and black and white photos in the stairwell is attractive and interesting. Notice the random placement and how they are hung floor-to-ceiling.

Speirs Staircase

The stair runner is fab.

Speirs Stair runner

An old fashioned ante-room serves as dressing room and closet for the master bedroom.

Speirs Master Bedroom

A big bathtub in front of a window is my idea of heaven. The light fixture is a converted birdcage.

Speirs Master Bath

You see what I mean about how the sun seems to dance across every room in the house. It’s an important element and can make all the difference in the way a space “lives” and feels.

Treasures line the son’s sunny windowsill.
The daughter’s bedroom, a lavender moment.

Having trouped through the house, we then went to Ginny’s studio a few steps across the garden. It has the same cottage-y charm as the main house.

Adjacent to the house is Ginny’s studio, above the garage.
Speirs Studio
Ginny Speirs, right, talks to visitors in her Santa Barbara studio. Molly Ballantine, left; and artist Renee Kelleher, center.


Cow by Ginny Speirs


Birds by Ginny Speirs


Bell Pepper by Ginny Speirs

As if this all isn’t enough fun, joining our group is Fannie Flagg, a buddy of Joan’s, and just as cute and funny as you think she’d be. Those of you too young to remember her days on Candid Camera and The Match Game may know her best as the writer of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and of course the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, for which her screenplay received an Academy Award nomination.

Fannie Flagg in Ginny Speirs studio

I saw her shine on Broadway in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which I remember very well, partly because we sat up in the balcony and I fell down the steps. I forgot to tell her that.

Fannie’s next book, The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, comes out November 5. Pre-order yours now, today, right this minute at FannieFlaggBooks.com.

Speirs House Gazebo. Landscaping by Jim Yoch.

Now if you have gotten this far, it will not likely surprise you that our hostess Joan Speirs, Fannie’s (and my) friend and Ginny’s mother-in-law, raises llamas and alpacas. That has nothing to do with the rest of this post except that it is just one more area on which Joan sprinkles her magic-fun-fairy-dust, and you think, well of course she raises llamas and alpacas. This family is about following your passion, and here, here, I say!

Here, here you can read more about Joan Speirs’ alpacas and about her and partner Hayley Firestone Jessup’s operation, Alpacas at West Ranch, also in the Santa Ynez Valley.

I’m rambling, can’t help myself.

Designer Dede Wood in Speirs’ Studio

When we left Ginny’s, we carried on to her husband Garrett’s studio up the road a bit out of town. (I’ll save that for another day) There we had a picnic assembled by Joan and of course sprinkled with her magic-fun-fairy dust. The house, the day, the company, the art, the food, the friends left me so inspired, happy and grateful, I thought I was gon’ bust. I hope you had a good time, too.

To reach Ginny Speirs or inquire about her artwork, Ginnyage@yahoo.com, or Ginny Speirs’ website here. And her husband Garrett Speirs website here.

Lunch outside Garrett Speirs’ Studio. From left, Renee, Garrett, Joan, moi, Fannie, Dede, and Molly.



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