[This is the next in my occasional series of posts on people and places I visited while researching How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. In the series, I share sections I wrote that did not make it into the book because I wrote far too much. If it hadn’t gotten cut, this section would have appeared in Chapter 4, “Living in a community: From neighbors to friends.”
When I first wrote this, I had not yet seen Victoria Garden Mews, even though it was in my own nearby town of Santa Barbara, CA. Instead, I learned about it from what I had read in several different places. (See the references at the end.) However, this innovative lifespace was featured on an architectural tour and so I did have the chance to see it that way. It was just as spectacular as the published descriptions of it had led me to believe.]
Victoria Garden Mews: An Oasis of Nature, Family, and Friendship in an Urban Setting
Santa Barbara builder Dennis Allen had transformed many other people’s dreams of houses into actual homes, but this time, it was his own fantasy that he wanted to realize. The lifespace he envisioned would bring nature into an urban setting, where he and family and friends could “enjoy life with plenty of privacy, shared space, [and] communal gatherings.” He set his sights on a 50 by 225 foot downtown property with just one dilapidated 1870s Victorian home in front. By the time he was finished, the Victorian was remodeled and one set of friends lived there. In the back, he built a three-level breath-taking Mediterranean masterpiece, with more friends on the ground level, his son and daughter-in-law and little granddaughter on the top, and he and his wife in the middle.
Outside is a vibrant courtyard, with a flower garden, vegetable garden, an herb garden, dozens of fruit trees, two fountains, a pond, meandering pathways, and, best of all, a long table set for twelve. The entire courtyard is communal and it is the heart and soul of the community they now call Victoria Garden Mews.
Before they moved in, the adults drew up a binding agreement about how they would make decisions and what they would do if their relationships didn’t last. So far, the relationships have flourished. Grandma and grandpa love having lots of time with their granddaughter, the little girl’s parents appreciate getting some time to themselves, and all of the adults value the place, the space, and the people who constitute their lifespace.
Badham, James. “Urban Vision.” Dining & Destinations, Spring/Summer 2013.
Chaker, Anne Marie. “The Shared Backyard.” Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2012.
Family with tulips photo available from Shutterstock