Montecito, CA
Sam Frost
Elle Decor

A few short years ago, a household based anywhere outside Hollywood’s epicenter would have been inconceivable for Tracy James Robbins and Brian Robbins. But in 2021, the power couple (she oversees her fashion line, Tracy James Collection; he is the president and CEO of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon) found themselves whiling away their strange, Zoom-filled days at a rented farmhouse in Montecito, California, their nine-year-old daughter, Stella, and Brian’s sons from his previous marriage, Miles and Justin, in tow.

An idyllic corner of Santa Barbara County wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains and known as the American Riviera, Montecito claims Oprah Winfrey, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Harry and Meghan among its residents. It also proved to be an ideal vantage point for Brian, prone to poring over real estate listings, to spot the 1928 Spanish Colonial Revival by renowned architect George Washington Smith that he and his family now call home.

Montecito, California

Relocating meant the couple would be building a social life from scratch, and Brian would have an hour-plus morning commute to his Hollywood office. But the move also represented a newfound freedom, reflected in their design choices and made under the guidance of another dream team on speed-dial: Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent. Berkus and Brent collaborate infrequently on interiors, particularly now that Brent is stationed in Las Vegas, filming the upcoming season of Queer Eye for Netflix.

But they made an exception for the Robbinses, whom they met when their daughters were in preschool. Since then, the foursome has nurtured a boundary-blurring relationship marked with text threads, dinner parties, post-party downloads—and creative projects. “They’re our best friends,” Berkus says.

In the span of less than a decade, the designers oversaw the decoration of the family’s last two homes: a 1925 Tudor in Hancock Park and a modernist house in Beverly Hills.

“This house was always just about turning up the volume.”

This latest property is California counterintuitive, a mellow-​hued 8,600-square-foot manse that embraces its idiosyncrasies. It was to the designers’ great joy that their pals were finally game to experiment with new avenues of self-expression. “I think it’s über-elegant and refined,” Brent says. “This house was always just about turning up the volume. The last home we did for them was magnificent, but the palette was so strict and so tight. This time was more like, ‘Let’s just have fun. Let’s see what rhythm we can come up with.’”

A tranquil reading corner nods to one of Brian’s favorite places on earth, the library at the Greenwich Hotel in New York, while a sweeping walk-in closet was conceived for Tracy, for whom getting dressed is an art form. The central eating and entertaining area defies convention, with its custom-​built marble table less of an anchor than an architectural work in itself, and a pair of seating nooks where people can enjoy a drink—or even dinner. “Those two seating areas were something that I really championed,” says Brent. “When they bought the home, you just kind of walked through that room, and it didn’t actually have a heartbeat. Now it’s where everybody wants to stay.”

The custom sofa in the bar area is covered in a velvet by Claremont, and custom wall paneling is in sapele wood.

Apart from the primary bathroom, which was gutted and redone head to toe in luxurious zebralike marble, most of the residence’s original fixtures remain. Spanish tiles, dramatic arches, and voluminous plaster fireplaces add a sense of history to the moody feel and eclectic furniture collection—​some of which was sourced on the European vacations the foursome have taken together over the years.

The designers cited the color-forward 1980s fashion brand Esprit and the modernist Italian architect Carlo Scarpa as inspirations, hence the deep cabernet–colored cupboards in the kitchen, the sexy ’70s Italian lighting fixtures, and the Royère-style sofa that was reupholstered in a rich mocha. “I do feel like they’ve helped elevate our aesthetic,” says Tracy. “Brian and I obviously have our tastes but we’ve learned so much from them.”

The Kitchen, Dining, Sunroom, and Outdoor Patio Areas

Like any true friends, Brent and Berkus saw their role throughout the project as less about pressuring Tracy and Brian than about helping them open their eyes to new sides of themselves. “It’s really our responsibility to be cognizant of their evolution as people,” Berkus says. Brent concurs: “My big thing is that if we’re not showing people things they haven’t seen and pushing them to think in ways that they haven’t before, then we’re not doing our job.”