As published in Ventana magazine September 2011.
Beyond a secluded winding country road dotted with poppies and lavender lies an artist’s haven. For 14 years, artist Keith Puccinelli, a retired graphic designer, and his wife Fran, a retired small business owner, have made their passion their home inside a geodesic dome resting atop a canyon between the Carpinteria coast and Ojai’s Lake Casitas.
“It’s a bird’s nest on top of the hill,” says Fran, who discovered the property in 1997. She recounts the story of returning home to their rental in Carpinteria beach, where they lived for 20 years, to tell Keith, “I found our house today.”
Flanked by cypress and birch trees, the taupe-gray geodesic dome - an architectural style popularized by Buckminster Fuller - and the long view down the oak-studded canyon, was what attracted the couple to the property. The modest-sized three-bedroom, two-bath home is just under 2500 square feet and sits on 10 acres. Inside, they say they had their work cut out for them.
“It was really bad seventies,” says Keith, a retired graphic designer, remembering pulling up the wall-to-wall carpeting. Underneath they found the knotty cedar subfloor, and decided to sand and polish the wood to see how it might turn out. Today, the golden-blond wood still holds a gorgeous sheen and serves as the foundation for the home’s design, which, when pressed, Keith dubs as, “Puccinelli style.”
In a tastefully decorated space that feels unpretentious, intimate and comfortable, their signature is everywhere. Fran’s handiwork with mosaic tiles is on display on the patio, the sun room and the entryway, where she found beauty in jagged broken pieces of beige-gold limestone. In the guestroom, she fashioned a countertop from clear pale-green shards from a friend’s broken shower door. “I loved the glass, so I brought it home,” Fran says.
The couple gave the small kitchen a modern remodel with the installation of tall beech wood cabinets and slate gray Italian ceramic tile countertops. Summing up their practical approach to design, Keith points to the counter with a shrug, “If it chips, it’s still the same color.”
Dividing the kitchen area from the living spaces are two ceiling beams that were updated with hexagonal white tiles, which serve as a striking complement to the hexagonal skylight high up on the opposite wall.
Hanging above the wood-burning stove in the living room is the first piece the art-collecting couple - now married 28 years - bought together. Titled “Cigars” by artist Wayne Thiebaud, the piece held special meaning because Fran had just quit smoking.
High curved walls with triangulated panels might leave little opportunity to hang art, but that didn’t prevent the avid collectors from finding homes for their 100 pieces of contemporary and folk art.
“Any opportunity for straight walls, we use,” Keith says.
The impressive staircase to the master loft is one continuous piece of mahogany-stained bent redwood. More original artwork adorns the walls in the bedroom. In the master bath, a giant rectangular white bathtub has views of nature.
Canyon living means cohabitating with nature. Bobcats, deer, coyotes, foxes and even bears (they have only seen one) are their closest neighbors. “It’s kind of wild and wooly around here,” Fran says.
Nature, though, has sometimes presented a challenge. Their driveway was completely taken out by the 2005 floods, causing the couple to have to hike out the long trek to the highway on foot for six months.
“When it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s bad, it’s really bad,” Fran says.
“We’ve really learned a lot living up here,” Keith says. “It’s made us hardy.”
To keep the moving earth at bay, the back side of the house is surrounded by a retaining wall that was once part of the Alaska Pipeline. The wall’s curves and bright poppy-orange paint makes it seem more design-conscious than functional.
The steep driveway to the house is lined on one side with oleander and on the other with grassy vetiver, not only beautiful, but perfect for erosion control, says Fran, who does all of the gardening around the home. She plants mostly wildflowers, succulents, natives and drought-tolerant plants, as well as fruit, olive and walnut trees. Her raised-bed vegetable and herb gardens are located down below the house between a tiny screen house and Keith’s art studio.
The screen house, Fran says, is the best place to be when it’s hot to avoid the bugs and take advantage of the cool ocean breezes (they are just one mile as the crow flies to the coast). Furnished simply with two built-in twin day beds, one of Fran’s hooked rugs and charming wooden bumble bees hanging from the corrugated steel roof, it feels like an adult playhouse.
While Fran gardens, Keith works in his 800-square-foot studio on larger-scale drawings and sculptures. His work is dramatic, yet always with a touch of humor and playfulness.
Keith’s solo exhibition will show at Santa Barbara City College’s Atkinson Gallery, November 4th through December 9th.