Web Exclusive: Santa Barbara Courtyard gets new look

Constructed in the 1950s, the El Prado Inn in Santa Barbara, CA, was one of the only examples of the mid-century modern style in the city and was designated a Structure of Merit. Today, it is the Courtyard Santa Barbara Downtown following a transformation designed by Seattle-based Degen & Degen.

The hotel’s new lobby

“We were inspired by the idea of optimism,” said Anita Degen, managing principal, Degen & Degen. “Making a connection between the attitude at the time of construction, and our time of renovation, we realized that—like the modernists of the mid-century—we were also emerging from darkness to a bright future, open to possibility. The modernists had emerged from World War II, and we were emerging from a pandemic.

She added, “That ethos drove the design of the original structure with mid-century styling and distinctive architecture. We wanted to celebrate that, and the common threads between historic and modern day. Through optimism, we beckoned our guests to pack light, travel freely and find joy wherever they go. We focused on the overlapping attitudes of cheerful optimism, pairing of anything extraneous and a modernist simplicity.”

The design team, she said, also wanted to capture “the Santa Barbara vibe” of being vibrant and nature-centric, with a healthy and active surfing connection.

The new pool and courtyard

The original architecture, Degen pointed out, was “noted for characteristic ‘car-related architecture,’ distinctive canted balconies, pierced concrete screens and period signage,” adding, “These physical elements were all restored to a like new condition. A modern addition was added to provide a full lobby and F&B experience. as well as additional guestrooms.”

Inside the guestrooms, the designer used casegoods from Fairmont Designs, sofa sleepers from Charter Furniture and lighting from Challenger Lighting.

On the color palette that was used, Degen said, “In our research we explored paint decks and formica colors from the 1950s. We drew from the colors and materials of the modernists period and updated the palette with fresh whites and current materials. The exterior doors of the historic building are punctuated by a bold red, a color matched to an automotive paint from that era.”

Since the Santa Barbara climate is ideal for spending time outdoors, a lot of work was done to create spaces for guests to soak up the sun.

“The courtyard with outdoor pool and spa was added as a focal point to the lobby and bistro—and really an extension of both,” said Degen. “The new building had a series of step backs creating opportunities for view decks and rooftop lounges. These spaces were designed to have fire pits and lounge seating, as well as spaces for dining and working outdoors.”