There are about 35 homes in the Santa Barbara area designed by the team of Mildred and Harriett Moody. Variously described in style as “Hansel and Gretel,” “fairy-tale,” and “Alice in Wonderland,” most are small homes strongly reminiscent of English country cottages.
There were five Moody children — Bert, who became a schoolteacher in Palo Alto, California; Brenda, who became Santa Barbara County Recorder at 22 and then enjoyed a successful career in local real estate and banking; Wilma, who also went into banking; the eldest sister, Harriett, who studied architectural design and engineering and attained high rank in the city engineer’s office; and Mildred, who studied art at UCLA and Santa Barbara State Teachers College. In a period when it was somewhat unusual, all four sisters enjoyed distinguished professional careers.
Mildred worked eight years for Barker Brothers Furniture Company in Los Angeles but quit and returned to Santa Barbara when the company refused to grant her leave to take a trip to Asia. She had a studio for a time in Santa Barbara, then Harriett designed a studio for her in 1932 on a property the sisters owned located on the Coast Highway in Montecito. The building, at 1086 Coast Village Road, is a wonderfully evocative English cottage with leaded glass and a sharply peaked roof.
During the course of the 1930s, the sisters added an antique shop and then a highly successful tearoom to Mildred’s art studio. The crumpets were home-baked, and the sisters’ mother made the strawberry jam. Representatives from Hollywood’s famous Brown Derby restaurant were very impressed and attempted to place a standing daily order for 12 dozen of the sisters’ crumpets for their establishment. The Moodys regretfully turned them down. In 1940, the sisters decided the tearoom was too much of a good thing and closed it.
Harriett began designing homes during the 1930s, and word soon spread about their charms. Her six small fairy-tale cottages on Periwinkle Lane in Montecito brought a flood of requests for more work. The sister’s designs for smaller residences fit the times as the U.S. struggled through the Great Depression of the ’30s. During World War II, George Owen Knapp commissioned her to build a series of small cottages for his employees on his large Montecito estate, Arcady. Always the scavengers, the sisters collected bits and pieces—windows and doors and antiques—to build and fashion these exquisite gems.
Mildred often added a touch of whimsy to the homes with interior design flourishes incorporating flowers and birds. These added to the English cottage-type feel of the houses. The high-beamed ceilings and innovative storage solutions helped give the cottages an expansive feel within modest spaces. Harriett’s architectural training in combination with Mildred’s artistic flair produced homes unlike any others on the South Coast.
Today, the Moody homes are among the most prized properties on the South Coast, and the Moody name has achieved a national reputation in architectural circles.
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Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.