Santa Barbara Coastal News


An interview with Christian Barrett Hedberg

6 Jun 2014 3:57 PM

One of the main benefits of owning or buying luxury real estate in the Santa Barbara area is the gorgeous, eye-catching landscapes. And, one of the people you can thank for that is Christian Hedberg, founder of CBHdesign, one of the area's premier landscape architecture firms.

We spoke with Mr. Hedberg about his process, the challenges he faces and the trends that are going to determine the future of Santa Barbara landscapes.

Sotheby's International Realty: Can you tell me about your design background and experience?

Christian Hedberg: I graduated from Arizona State University in environmental design and landscape architecture, I interned with Design Workshop for several years, where we focused on resort design. Then I went back to Santa Barbara, where I grew up, and I've been here since 1994.

SIR: In terms of landscape design, is Santa Barbara different from other areas of California where you practice?

CH: It is. What's great about Santa Barbara is the climate. It's like a natural greenhouse - we have the marine air influence and the fog in the morning, and then it burns off and we have this perfect sunny 75? Fahrenheit. It never gets too cold or too hot - it rarely gets below 45? Fahrenheit and generally stays in the high 60s to 70s. So it's ideal for outdoor living, both for people and plants. You can plant all year round.

SIR: What are the current landscape design trends around Santa Barbara?

CH: Like I said, outdoor living. The other one is sustainability, which is a big deal in this area since we've been dealing with a drought for the third straight year. So the trend is to use extremely drought-resistant plants. This leads to lower maintenance costs and lower water usage. We are also designing in a way that allows us to control stormwater runoff, which is a big issue, so we don't have pollution running into the creeks and then into the ocean.

There is also a trend toward the native realm of plants (which are highly drought-resistant). This also saves our clients thousands of dollars each month on keeping their gardens alive between general maintenance costs and water bills.

SIR: What are your predictions for future trends?

CH: I think it will be that "less is more" in landscape design. Instead of elaborate gardens, I'm seeing a big drive towards simplicity. It's a win-win situation for the client and the environment.

SIR: Have people realized organically that they need to save water, or are there specific regulations that are pushing them in that direction?

CH: There are regulations. Right now I have two estates in Montecito, where we're only allowed to use 80 gallons of water per person, which does not allow for landscaping. So people are faced with either having to drill a well, which some of them do and it can cost up to $200,000, or for $50,000 we can plant a really nice native garden that will adapt to the situation that we're in.

SIR: So regulations are affecting landscape design?

CH: Yes, it is definitely happening. Zoning and ordinances are changing to focus on landscape. When I first started I didn't like them telling me what to do, I felt like they were crushing my creativity, but the reason Santa Barbara is so beautiful and we have such coherent movement in design is the oversight and the fact that we have some talented designers on architectural review boards that give some good direction to it. Some other coastal towns that don't have as much oversight look like concrete jungles, but Santa Barbara has maintained its character over the years.

SIR: Other than the restriction on the use of water, what other regulations are there in Santa Barbara that you have to keep in mind when you take up a project?

CH: Setbacks in privacy for the neighbors and screening/blocking views all things that are looked at when we're getting a plan approved. And we try to cooperate with the neighbors as much as possible when we are coming up with these plans.

SIR: What are some of the biggest challenges in landscape design in the area?

CH: The only big challenges are the resources that we need to work with and that are limited, and the biggest of them is, of course, water.

SIR: Are local materials something that your customers are interested in incorporating into their landscape?

CH: By all means. I try to keep them to within 100 miles. What's neat about Santa Barbara is that we have Santa Barbara sandstone, so when we do a new home or redo an existing one we usually run into a lot of rock. So we use that rock to build beautiful retaining walls, entry columns, pool coating, big ornamental boulders - the rock doesn't leave the property. Also, Santa Barbara has a number of nurseries around, so all plants are grown locally.