SANTA BARBARA, CAlifornia

High above the Santa Ynez Mountain range that backs the property, a trio of red-tailed hawks are riding the updrafts with real intent, drawing arcing lines over a cirrus-speckled, ice-blue canvas. Meanwhile, at its beachfront side, a pod of seven dolphins is frolicking so close to the crescent shoreline that it appears entirely feasible that one of them could, in yet another leap through the air, end up in the house’s swimming pool.

Here at Fernald Point, a private-access-only enclave of Montecito, nature tends to seize one’s attention like this with a regularity that never fails to enchant the soul. It’s a magical place-one that calls for architecture with a profound sense of place. Which explains this contemporary Mediterranean-style house that Christopher Gelber designed for 1801 Fernald, the best site on the point.

Young architects and designers are known to dream of realizing a perfect house for their parents – a house where all the details are of the highest quality and where they come together seamlessly. Here, in 1995, on the heels of dozens of research journeys throughout the Mediterranean region, Gelber did just that.

Every aspect of the 8,402-square-foot, five-bedroom, eight-bath house’s design seems acutely aware of the site. Light. Airflow. Views. These concerns appear to have governed the designer’s every move.

The entrance procession is a 90-foot-long, 10-foot-high and eight-foot-wide gallery that reaches through the house uninterrupted to provide dramatic views of the horizon. Like the great early-20th-century monuments of Mediterranean-style residential architecture, 1801 Fernald’s generous winged floor plan is smartly organized around a main-floor outdoor room – a flower- and palm-tree-filled cantera-stone courtyard with a beautifully handcrafted ceramic-tiled fountain as its centerpiece.

Branching off from this natural space are the living room, the formal dining room, the family room, the chef’s kitchen, the office/library and two bedroom suites. Appropriately, the living room, the dining room and the family room have wide apertures that allow each function to spill effortlessly out onto the vast ocean-facing travertine terrace that surrounds the pool and hot tub.

Outside, all the expected ingredients have been rigorously considered and attended to, including an open-air dining room and kitchen (complete with a barbeque and wood-burning fireplaces) and a pool house. However, none of it distracts from the main event-the residence’s own 100-plus-feet of gold-sand beach frontage, which is just steps away, and the unique panoramic views of the coast that only this lot has.

For enhanced privacy, Gelber situated two more bedroom suites, including the master, on the second floor, giving each its own wing. As throughout the house, the master suite is characterized by its exquisite details and fine finishes. His-and-her baths have custom walk-in closets with the full range of built-in amenities. The master also has its own office with a built-in desk and custom cabinetry and shelving.

The house’s third, lower level neatly contains a second family room as well as the housekeeper’s room, a museum-quality storage space and the mechanical equipment. There’s also a high-ceilinged three-car garage that’s outfitted with still more custom built-in storage cabinetry and a tool room.

In every regard, at 1801 Fernald everything is in its right place.

HOME HIGHLIGHTS

HOME SITE: Beachfront Montecito in Santa Barbara, California

LIVING SPACE: 8,402 sq. ft. including 5 bedrooms, 6 full baths, and 2 half baths.