Mother’s Little Helpers: A Santa Barbara Family Works Together to Build the Ultimate Cabana
Jill Ellis puts her father and three young sons to work, enlisting their help in building a picture-perfect pool house in her sunny Santa Barbara yard.
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Jill Ellis is one of those multi-hyphenate creative people who is almost irritatingly excellent at many things, whether it’s designing a clever store window, organizing a perfectly art-directed craft workshop through her company, Makeshift Studio, or designing and building a small house in her backyard. When we say that she built a house, we don’t mean it in a conceptual way, like when someone says, “We built a house,” and the subject “we” is a team of hired sub-contractors. When Ellis says she built a pool cabana, a hyper-efficient one with a loft bedroom, bathroom, outdoor shower, kitchen, pop-up bar, and multipurpose hangout space, she means that she and her father, Parker Anderson, a retired engineer and construction hobbyist, built the actual cabana.
“My Dad would usually join us for a cup of coffee and catch up as we shuffled kids out the door, then he’d get to work and I’d join him after drop offs,” says Ellis, who has a graphic-design degree and spent a decade in Chicago working as a corporate art director before she and her husband, Sam, moved to back to her hometown. “Seeing my dad at 73 swinging a hammer and doing what seemed like magic to me was so wonderful. He was so great at involving the kids in the work. He’d find small projects for them to do, like helping to build the outdoor shower or the long outdoor dining table. He wanted them to feel a sense of pride in the cabana and understand the value of a job well done.”
Ellis sketched out her vision for the structure, then asked the designers who were constructing their backyard pool to draw up blueprints and hired an engineer to map out the more technical details, so they had a plan to submit to the city for approval.
“Working side-by-side with my dad was such a gift. We had this time together to catch up and connect about life, but I learned so much about the building process. There were a few times I got stuck on a design decision. To shiplap the ceiling or drywall? Where to center the windows? He’d always remind me to go with my gut. Every time I look up at the chandelier I think about an epic session of troubleshooting with my dad as we tried to figure out how to install screws from atop a ladder.”
Nearly two years after its completion, the cabana wears as many proverbial hats as Ellis does. It’s a spot for sleepovers, a hub for outdoor entertaining, a location for makeshift craft parties, and a refuge from the bustle of the main house just a few steps away.
“My favorite spot in the whole house is that little kitchen,” she says. “That’s where I love to stand and look out at my people in the pool, or serve snacks and drinks to our guests, or have a conversation with a friend across the bar over a cup of coffee. It’s like a great kitchen island. It’s where people gather.”