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Make Myself at Home: Storybook Sweetbriar Cottage

Historic Homes Tour Visits This Enchanting Moody Sisters Cottage


Status: Not for sale

Harriet and Mildred Moody were enterprising sisters with both a flair for design and a head for business who, with the help of siblings Brenda and Wilma, made their mark on Santa Barbara’s architectural landscape both literally and figuratively. The Moody sisters left as their legacy several clusters of distinctive cottages throughout Montecito and Santa Barbara, as well as an almost mythical following of admirers of both the sisters and the houses themselves.

Four 1940s-era Moody sisters cottages will be featured in the upcoming annual Pearl Chase Society Historic Homes Tour, along with two craftsman residences and one restored 1920s Mediterranean-style estate. The exact addresses of the tour’s homes are kept under wraps until tickets are purchased, but a special sneak preview allowed us to visit one of the Moody sisters’ homes, named Sweetbriar Cottage.

The storybook feel of Sweetbriar emanates well before one walks through the front door. From the street, an arched entryway covered with greenery frames a quaint front gate that opens to reveal a flagstone path and private front garden that is structured yet comfortable, providing a picturesque foreground for the cottage itself. A steeply pitched roof and commensurately tall, vertical windows are the most immediately distinctive features of Sweetbriar’s façade.

Stepping inside Sweetbriar Cottage, I find myself in a charming period living room. Although the room is small by today’s standards, it feels airy and comfortable thanks to the high ceilings and large-scale windows. The brick fireplace catches my eye, along with its distinctive carved wooden frontispiece, which I learn was recycled from a large estate. Utilizing reclaimed materials and found objects was a Moody sisters trademark, which made sense in the immediately post-World War II time period in which the sisters were busiest.

Every wall of the living room holds bookshelves filled to bursting with hardback books, and even more books are stacked nearby. “I’m a reader,” admits Chris, Sweetbriar Cottage’s owner, and a retired educator. She tells me that she loves books and surrounding herself with them. “Other people watch TV. I like to read and re-read my favorite books.” Fortunately, the Moody sisters were generous with bookshelves and built-ins. Chris also shares that one of the trademarks of the cottages is that they are meant to reflect the loves of their owners. So the plentiful shelves make Chris’s passion for books and reading apparent to anyone who visits her home.

As Chris leads me up a narrow staircase to tour the top floor of the house, I admire the ornamental scrollwork on the stairs. Chris confirms that the pattern is a Moody trademark. The sisters chose to repeat many of the borders and decorative designs throughout their houses, and Sweetbriar is no exception.

Upstairs, two charming bedrooms lie one on either side of a landing at the top of the stairs. The master features a balcony with a view over the gardens, which would be an ideal place for anyone to sit and read. This spot feels especially well-suited for Chris. The second bedroom holds two family heirloom Jenny Lind beds that Chris and her sister slept in as girls. Flanking a small window, and tucked under the sloped roof, it’s hard to imagine those beds living anywhere other than this exact room.

We walk back downstairs and through the dining room and kitchen to the compact yet charismatic backyard. Chris shows me her koi pond and points out fruit trees that she has grown from seeds. In one corner of the garden is a wooden hanging porch swing that her father made by hand. This family treasure, along with the repetitive borders and patterns of the hedges, showcase the Moody influences evident even outside the cottage. As I walk away, I’m glad to know that I can visit Sweetbriar Cottage again, along with its neighbors, on the upcoming tour.

Sweetbriar Cottage will be one of seven homes featured on From Moody to Manse: The Pearl Chase Society Historic Homes Tour on Sunday, May 15. The three-and-half-hour, self-driven tour has a limited capacity and is expected to sell out. Details and tickets are available at pearlchasesociety.org.



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