Architect Chris Dentzel on Santa Barbara Homebuilding

Collaboration with Contractors Is Key, Early and Often

Covering 5,500 square feet with four bedrooms and four baths, this French-Italian farmhouse features imported limestone fireplace surrounds, hand-hewn oak beams from the 19th century, and  — ​to meet strict wildfire building codes ​— ​sprinklers and tempered glass.
Jim Bartsch

The design standards that make Santa Barbara such a pleasure to the eye are some of the most formidable in the state. Just ask any locally based builder or designer, such as architect Chris Dentzel. Oftentimes, Dentzel said, the key to success rests with bringing all parties together, early and often, to create “shared understanding.” For more on that, keep reading.

Where do you get new clients, and what sort of discussions do you have with them initially? A new client will come from either a contractor or a real estate agent or a prior client, somebody directly related to a project I’ve done before. In the first discussion I have with them, I ask their thoughts on design and building and ask if they’ve already spoken to a contractor. It’s about 50-50: Half say they haven’t given a thought [to speaking with a contractor], and the other half say they’ve already met with one or have a few names in mind. For me, the way I like to work, it’s always better having a contractor as a sounding board in the earliest stages of design. I try to encourage that. That’s how I like to work.

Chris Dentzel
Paul Wellman

Do you give clients a heads-up on Santa Barbara’s architectural standards and its planning and permitting processes? Most, but not all, clients already know that Santa Barbara is a more difficult environment to design and build in. That’s also part of the first meeting, to get them acquainted with the design and build process. Sometimes they’ve heard about it and are concerned or apprehensive. Other times, they know nothing. As far as Santa Barbara goes, building permits are pretty much nuts and bolts — you follow the code, you get the permit. But the plan-review process, the following of different community plans, that’s a whole other deal. It’s thorny and strewn with little landmines.

Lastly, what kind of characteristics do you see in the most successful design-build teams? Communication and interest. A shared understanding that there’s value in early design-build discussions. I believe in the collaborative process. Not all contractors are interested in that, and it really takes a caring and interested client to make it happen.


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