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Getaways: Hotel Californian

Hotel Californian makes a bold statement, courtesy of L.A. designer-to-the-stars Martyn Lawrence Bullard

Written by Leslie A. Westbrook

Noted interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard used strict guidelines when designing Santa Barbara’s Hotel Californian. Then he went a bit wild. 

The Hotel Californian’s Spanish Colonial Revival structures blend artfully with Santa Barbara’s historic buildings.

“I wanted to honor the history of Santa Barbara, its architecture and decorative elements, but with a Moroccan influence. I wanted to shake it up a bit,” the designer says.

The shake-up starts with an energizing palette (predominantly black and white with sparks of indigo and saturated rouge) and 27 custom tile patterns that Bullard designed himself—some drawn by hand. 

The Moroccan-inspired lobby and spa offer impact on arrival.

The tiles were made in Morocco or Mexico, and every piece of furniture was designed by Bullard and constructed in Portugal. Never shy, the designer used seven wall-papers in the ballroom alone.

While the original 1925 Spanish Colonial Revival facade was incorporated into the project, the rest of the hotel, which includes three buildings, is new. 

The celestial Moroccan-inspired Spa Majorelle sits on the ground level, and a rooftop pool and deck provide stunning bay views. 

Bullard has infused a Moroccan-meets-Art Deco glamour into public spaces and the 121 guest rooms—each spiked with edgy artwork, including overscale altered photos of a tattooed Marilyn Monroe by Cheyenne Randall. 

Many suites offer a fireplace and mountain views. Taking inspiration from Italian designer Gio Ponti—and mixing in English and French accents—Bullard created spaces that evoke emotion and cherish detail. 

Dressers and minibars are disguised as brass-studded leather steamer trunks; gilded serpentine sconces bookend upholstered headboards with nailhead trim.

At night, romance and mystery reign. Moroccan lanterns glow and fountains gurgle. The hotel’s upscale restaurant, Blackbird, is dark and sexy, themed by Bullard to nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. “Restaurant is theater,” the hotel’s managing director, Carlos Lopes, says. 

The Blackbird is a moody spot for an out-of-this-world dinner and decadent desserts.

As Bullard proves, design is often theater as well. “We live in an amazing world,” the designer says. Why not design to match?

The Hotel Californian is located just blocks from the beach at 36 State Street in Santa Barbara, California. For reservations or additional details, call 805/882-0100  or go to

Photography: Douglas Friedman