Small homes with flair Design and garden inspiration from some of the West's most colorful condos Come on, live happy To see how architecture can elevate your mood, just spend a day at Santa Barbara's Cota Street Studios. Architect Jeff Shelton's fanciful details ― the cement plaster walls that look like whipped cream, the quirky fountains, and dollops of color everywhere ― charm the residents, and everyone who sees them. The project promotes social connections, too. Its downtown location encourages walking, shared courtyards facilitate neighborliness, and street-facing benches, water fountains, and dog bowls invite the public to stop by. Click ahead for a photo tour of this creative living space. Pinterest Embellish the exterior Plants gone a bit wild contribute to the sense of whimsy. On the wall along the stairs, terra-cotta pavers, some set upright, serve as decorative screens for exterior vents. Connect to the outdoors "There really is a sense of indoor-outdoor living," says resident Lauren Wilson. "Part of it is the courtyards, and part of it is the balconies. They extend your living space." Celebrate artisans Local ceramicist Linda Hail created the 130 plates that are set into the façade. The curvy ironwork is by David Shelton, brother of architect Jeff Shelton. Soothe the senses Every courtyard includes a water feature, ranging from a carved stone bowl in which blossoms are floated to this fountain made from a 6-foot-high urn. Bright spot Steal this idea: Turn an under-the-stairs nook into a focal point with a painted chest and a vase filled with green foliage. Color code Steal this idea: Give wood doors a lift with stencils. Shelton matched exterior paint to Minwax stains used elsewhere in the complex. Playful plates Steal this idea: Get the 3-D look of Cota Street Studios' exterior walls by hanging Mexican painted-pottery dishes (from $15; jacarandahome.com). Celebrate the views Lisa Star and daughter Luna with their Siamese, Maya. "My favorite thing is this door's view into the courtyard," Lisa says. Know your neighbors "I didn’t want to live in an anonymous apartment complex with anonymous people," says AnnaMarie Daniels.