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 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.



  1. Love the idea of knowing someone must have grits in the pantry. Fun to know Fannie Flag has anew book this fall. Must have been doubly fun to have met her. Harper Lee wrote a jacket blurb for The first book … Best to you!

    1. Thank you Melita! And funny you mention about Harper Lee writing the blurb. Fannie told a story about meeting Ms Lee–whom she admired greatly–in New York and becoming friendly with her. Fannie was then mortified to learn that, unbeknownst to her, her publisher had sent the book to Ms. Lee asking for a blurb. As Ms. Lee famously (and ferociously) guards her privacy, Fannie was stricken by the notion that her new friend might think she was exploiting their nascent relationship. It all worked out in the end.

  2. I loved this field trip via your blog! It gets me just itching for another outing with you! You always treat us to an inspired view and fresh look on life. xo

  3. The floors in the entrance and living room photos are beautiful as is the entire house and yard. I checked out the artists web sites and what do you know…they both went to the University of Georgia at some point. Thank you for always inviting us along. xo Becky

    1. That is right, Becky, they did – and they studied at the U of G in Cortona, Italy, as well I believe! Thank you for writing! xo F

  4. Go Dawgs! The Bulldog nation turns up in the most unlikely places! I loved the article especially since I feel a kinship to artists and Southerners. I could move right in that house and that studio. Also, I love Fannie Flagg. I read her books even before the Friend Green Tomatoes. I am painting in oils again so I particularly liked the websites. The art is lovely. Thanks for the visit, Frances.

    1. Woof! Woof! Good to hear from you Diane, and how exciting that you have returned to oils! Hope you ordered Fannie’s new book! xo Frances

  5. Love it all Frances….especially the birdcage, the runner, the photos on the staircase and the charming studio……thanks for posting and I love your blog….thank you

  6. Loved all about Joan,the Magic Fun Fairy Dust.You truly called that right.I never had a better time,visiting Joan for your wedding.MW

  7. I was entranced all over again by Ginny and Garretts house, art and talent. They are such creative souls and it is wonderful that others will now be able to experience their artistry through your writing and photos. Plus, it was a hell of a lot of fun to be a part of it all. So here’s to our Fairy Queen, her magical dust and you!

  8. Can you tell me where the Speirs’ rug runner can be ordered from-both I and my daughter in Cleveland love it?! Thank you,Carol Post,Boston

    1. Hi Carol! Something tells me that runner is vintage and a one- off, but I’ll check with Ginny. Thanks for writing and hello to Cleveland!

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