Is there magic behind the blue door?

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Tiny house in Santa Barbara artists colony

There is something mysterious and welcoming about this tiny house in the foothills behind Santa Barbara. The tumble of rocks, the brick pathway, the capacious window and stout chimney. And, of course, the promise behind that big blue door.

I can just imagine writing there–the best writing spots, I find, hold me close and keep me focused, but with a comfortable, not constraining, embrace. I could slip into this artful gem with ease.

Just 500 square feet, it was crafted from handmade adobe bricks, reclaimed lumber and other salvaged material in the 1940s, part of what became known as the Mountain Drive Artist Colony. The Bohemian denizens of the colony became known for, among other things, their annual wine-making festival and the fact that they invented the hot tub.

Breakfast under the trellis of artist's cottage A perfect place for morning coffee

What I call the Blue Door Cottage is one of just three of the originals that have survived the ravages of wildfires over the years. The Coyote Fire, named for the road on which the cottage sits, roared through in 1954, followed by the Sycamore Fire in 1977. The last, the Montecito Tea Fire in 2008, consumed 210 homes, including 22 from the Artist Colony era.

But it was fire that made the colony possible in the first place. The writer Bobby Hyde bought a large swath of charred land in the late 1940s, which he later parceled out to like-minded friends. One of those was architect Frank Robinson, who designed and built many of the houses in the neighborhood of unique homes. When a new resident came along, everyone worked together to help them build, including making bricks from the soil excavated for the house.

Hyde and his wife, Florence–known as Floppy, were “green” long before the term was coined. They were also the original hippies. Santa Barbara architect Jeff Shelton told a local writer that the Hydes and their neighbors advocated the concepts of “salvage chic, sustainability and simplicity.” Tiny house with fireplacePull up your chair and soak in the warmth from the stone fireplace

They also staged frequent celebrations, including their annual Wine Stomp, conceived in 1952. The men filled a large wooden vat with grapes and selected a Wine Queen while the women prepared a feast. After the meal, the queen–wearing only a grape leaf crown–stepped into the vat and began the ritual wine-making. The rest of the crew, similarly garbed, soon joined her.

The wine reportedly was terrible. But the Stomp left its cultural mark–when not used for making wine, the grape vat doubled as the original California hot tub.

I didn’t know a thing about the Mountain Drive Colony until I saw a listing for the cottage on my last visit to Santa Barbara. The asking price was $1.19 million–which raised eyebrows even in Santa Barbara. You know the saying: Location, location, location. After all, Oprah paid $50 million for her slightly larger estate nearby. The cottage–hot tub included–is no longer on the market.

Not that I could afford it, but I just know there is magic behind that blue door.

2 thoughts on “A perfect writer’s retreat beckons

  1. Pingback: A perfect writer’s retreat beckons | saraluna830

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