Real Estate









Warm Welcome


It's easy to smile when climbing the set of steps leading to Tom and Judy Nilsen's Spanish Colonial bungalow near Pueblo Street. Colorful tile adorns the winding stairway and alongside, fruit trees and unique garden artifacts line the four-tiered front yard. At the top, the entry offers a warm welcome in shades of green, red, yellow and blue.

"Visitors are not sure what to expect at the bottom of the stairs and get a surprise when they reach the front door," says Judy, a retired art teacher.

The inside of the white stucco building is just as vibrant. Furniture and textiles are patterned in apple green, golden yellow and paprika red in accordance with Monterey style, spurred by the Spanish Revival movement of the 1920s and '30s.

"We've done a lot of research on Monterey furniture and wanted to convert our home that way," says Judy, explaining that celebrities like Will Rogers, Clark Gable and Bela Lugosi were great Monterey collectors. "The furniture is really expensive, but we have crafted most of the things you see in here ourselves."

Adds Tom, who did the brilliant tile work on the front stairway and in the couple's bathroom, "We didn't really have to spend much money at all."

In the corner of the well-lit living room, the borders of a pine cupboard with wrought-iron strapping were hand-painted by Judy in a green, yellow and red floral pattern. Flipping through the pages of a book on Monterey furnishings, she finds the corner cabinet she modeled hers after, and the resemblance is striking. Apparently, the only major difference is the price: authentic cabinets sell for several thousand dollars; Judy spent about $650 on the entire piece. Across the room, Judy also transformed a Mexican stereo cabinet and a once plain-looking lamp base in the same theme.


Above the dining table hangs an early California antique chandelier, the first Monterey piece Judy bought.

"It's perfect for the casual Spanish style of our home," she says, pointing to its traditional floral pattern as well as the leather and metal accents. The artist says she's still searching high and low for the perfect piece for the stucco wall that separates the dining area from the bar-style kitchen. "There are so many windows and niches in this house that we don't have room for much art," says Judy, who has a masters degree in folk art. "The piece I get for this wall has to be very special. But I will find it some day."

In the bathroom, Judy brightened up a tall bookshelf and adorned it with multihued artifacts, painted the wall lamps (she got them plain at Pottery Barn) and transformed the window trimmings with a joyful mix of purple, turquoise, yellow and blue. Here, the couple also tiled the walls and a drain shelf behind the tub, creating the perfect ledge for plants and candles just beneath the windows.


Outdoors, the couple made the fence that encloses the left side of the house match the front door (even the outdoor pipes are covered in bright tones). Originally, Judy wanted to add Monterey colors to the exterior trim as well, but after Tom had finished painting the entire interior and all the windowpanes, he was adamant they repaint the outside trim in its existing blue tone.


The back patio also takes on a Mexican theme with tall palm trees, a palapa and a barbeque area. Along the back fence, Tom, a retired school administrator, has put up his impressive collection of license plates, all from 1939 (his birth year) while another side of the fence holds one of the "TO BEACH" signs you find all around Santa Barbara.

"Tom is the one who manufactures these signs," reveals Judy.

The couple, originally from the San Fernando Valley, bought the house five years ago after having rented a Riviera home for seven and a half years (the first five years they only visited Santa Barbara on weekends). At the time they were looking to relocate permanently, very few Santa Barbara homes were for sale, and both Judy and Tom say they feel fortunate to have found this charming bungalow close to downtown, yet in a quiet neighborhood.

"It was built in the 1930s, but it has very good bones," Tom says, pointing out that most of the upgrades the couples have made are aesthetic rather than structural.

Tom admits he loves to sit in the living room with the front door wide open, looking out over the garden and the red-tile rooftops below.


"The breeze makes this room so comfortable," he says, adding that another thing he treasures about the home is the many parties the couple has thrown here since they moved in. Most recently, the Nilsens celebrated Judy's birthday with a big bash on the back patio.

"All the guests brought paper lanterns that we hung across the back. It was so beautiful," says Judy, who confesses that the one thing she does miss is a more spacious living and dining room for larger get-togethers. "Tom disagrees. He says we're fine throwing small parties," she smiles.

Tom's probably right. Regardless of how many people the Nilsens invite over, guests will always receive a warm welcome from the moment they climb the stairs to reach the multicolored front door.

Photos: Isabelle Gullö





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