“Don’t buy it!” was architect Ken Radtkey’s reaction when his then-girlfriend, Susan Van Atta, was considering the 1-acre parcel in Montecito, California. “The place was a mess,” admits Van Atta, “But as a landscape architect, I could visualize what it could become.” After living there for a few years, the couple married and turned the property into their dream home—one that’s sustainable from the plantings to the rooftops.
The decision to maximize energy efficiency came easily. “The home was a laboratory for all the things we hadn’t gotten the opportunity to do with clients,” says Van Atta. Setting a portion of the 2,500-square-foot house in a slope provides natural insulation and blends the structure with the surrounding hills. Solar panels supply all the electricity; fire-resistant green roofs are part insulation, part water collectors.
The indoor-outdoor collaboration was even more satisfying than Van Atta and Radtkey had anticipated. “It’s not just a box sitting on the land,” says Radtkey. “The house works so well with the landscape, we almost think of it as all garden.”