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Home of the Week: This Stunning Oceanfront Santa Barbara Estate Was Designed by Legendary Architect Wallace Neff

The Straus House Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

These days, a “for sale” sign on any oceanfront compound overlooking the crashing Pacific in the celeb-rich enclave of Santa Barbara, Calif. will likely have buyers standing in line. But one designed by the legendary architect Wallace Neff, inventor of the so-called “California style,” is only going to have heightened appeal.

To add to the attraction, the iconic Straus House, designed in 1970 by Neff as a weekend retreat for Macy’s department store heir Robert K. Straus, is part of the tony Hope Ranch community just north of the city.

Which all adds-up to the likelihood of one stratospheric asking price. As to exactly what that is, the owners—believed to be high-profile LA real estate investor A. Stuart Rubin and wife Annette—are, for now, keeping it out of the public domain.

The Straus House

The stunning great room has views to the ocean.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

It makes sense. Back in 2017, they tested the market for the 1.53-acre property with an ambitious $32.7 million asking. Six months later with no takers, the price came down to $24.9 million. In October 2018, it was re-listed at $21.5 million only to be taken off the market in April 2019.

But with the pandemic seeing demand for high-dollar Santa Barbara homes soaring and supply essentially drying up, the owners are trying their luck once again.

Listing agents Weston Littlefield and Dalton Gomez of Aaron Kirman Group at Compass say the new price is “available upon request” to qualified buyers.

The Straus House

Modern upgrades added just the right touches.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The home itself is a classic Neff hacienda design that makes the most of the jaw-dropping location high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, with distant, hazy views of the Channel Islands.

In 1970 the architect was at the height of his career, having already designed homes for Hollywood A-listers like Charlie Chaplin, Groucho and Harpo Marx, Daryl Zanuck and Louis B. Mayer.

He’d also masterminded the high-profile redesign of Pickfair, a vast Tudor-style mansion, for screen stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.

The Straus House

The dining room.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

For the Straus House, Neff went with a classic “H” design for the unpretentious, 14,000-square-foot, single-level home, with the bedrooms on either side flanking a huge central living space.

The gated entrance off Hope Ranch’s Marina Drive prepares you for the architectural masterpiece ahead with its walls of bleached-white scallop seashells and black driveway tile.

The Straus House

The cozy den and home office.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

From the oversized circular motorcourt, intricate wrought-iron gates open into a classic Mission-style courtyard with dramatic black tile flooring contrasting with the stark, whitewashed brick walls.

Open the imposing wooden front doors and you’re greeted by a spectacular, unrestricted view of the ocean through towering floor-to-ceiling opening glass windows.

Perhaps the home’s most iconic feature is its vast great room, with that trademark Neff oversized fireplace, soaring ceilings and huge, longitudinal beams that take the eye out to the ocean.

The Straus House

The family room.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

After originally purchasing the home in 2007 for $7.5 million, the owners reportedly spent almost a decade and a small fortune completely renovating and modernizing the property. And it shows.

Inside are five bedrooms, five bathrooms, a screening room, dining room with ocean views, wine cellar and fireplaced den. The makeover also included the kitchen which is now all sleek granite countertops, tile floors and professional-grade appliances.

The Straus House

One of the home’s five bedrooms.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

But it is the outdoor space that can almost justify an assumed high asking price—whatever it might be. On the oceanside, there’s a vast patio that’s perfect for alfresco dining, along with a large firepit for evening entertaining. Steps lead down to grassy lawns and an infinity-edged pool with a multitude of decks for sun loungers.

A true surprise-and-delight feature of the property is without doubt the self-contained, subterranean guest suite that’s tucked away from view beneath the pool deck.

For any prospective buyer hoping for a bargain, remember that a similar-sized home, just a few steps away, sold last month for $25.37 million. As for the Wallace Neff pedigree? Potentially priceless.

The Straus House

The serene dressing room.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The Straus House

The cinema room.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The Straus House

The primary bath.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The Straus House

The architectural entryway reveals glimpses of the sea.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The Straus House

The motorcourt.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The Straus House

The outdoor spaces are made for entertaining.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The Straus House

The pool and lounging decks.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The Straus House

Neff used his signature H construction for the home.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

The Straus House

The clifftop home overlooks the Pacific.  Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kirman Group

 

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