There’s only one home in California’s upscale Montecito area that was ever designed by Richard Neutra — the legendary Tremaine house, which has been heralded by some Neutra experts as one of the master architect’s best works. Though the property hasn’t been on the market in decades, records reveal it quietly swapped hands earlier this month in an off-market deal for exactly $12 million. Fittingly, the property’s new steward is a man also renowned for his craftsmanship: Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla’s Malibu-based design chief.
After a career start at Volkswagen in the 1990s, von Holzhausen worked on the New Beetle before migrating to GM, and subsequently Mazda. But it’s his work at Tesla that transformed him into a global auto design rockstar; the 52-year-old Syracuse grad has designed all of the company’s mass-market production vehicles thus far: the Model 3, Model Y, Model S, and even the company’s arguably most ambitious model, the gullwing door-flaunting Model X.
And yes, von Holzhausen also designed the highly controversial Cybertruck, which successfully garnered scads of media headlines — and millions of unkind memes — when the stainless steel-sheathed beast first debuted as a concept vehicle. Car and Driver cheekily noted that the Cybertruck’s “sharp-edged exterior” makes it look “like it was dropped off by an alien race,” while prominent car influencer/YouTuber Doug DeMuro was more blunt, calling it “a failure in motion,” and adding that “Tesla would be better off just scrapping the whole thing.”
For times when the frequently vicious Twitter community is castigating his new baby, von Holzhausen can retreat to lick his wounds at the Tremaine House, which is tucked discreetly into the rolling hills above Santa Barbara. Though the seaside town is located a full 1.5 hours (by vehicle) from Tesla Design Studio in L.A.’s Hawthorne neighborhood, it’s a locale that’s long been popular amongst Hollywood’s rich and famous — Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Lowe, and Gwyneth Paltrow are all current residents, while Meghan Markle and Prince Harry bought an 18,600 sq. ft., $14.7 million manse there earlier this summer.
Neutra has long been heralded for his ability to seamlessly blend midcentury modern designs into their surroundings; while the Tremaine House is certainly no exception, it does represent a slight departure from his previous works. Here, the Austrian-American architect was forced to strike a compromise between his art and structural necessity — unlike his previous wood-heavy homes, the Tremaine House is primarily hewn from concrete, mainly in an attempt to protect the structure against the forest fires for which the Montecito area is infamous. The Tremaine House was one of the first homes to utilize unfinished concrete in its interiors, a feature that would later become a main component of Brutalist architecture.
Completed in 1948, the effortlessly chic residence has five bedrooms and six bathrooms within 5,410 square feet and is situated on a generous 2.65-acre, oak tree-dotted lot. Inside, the perfectly preserved homage to midcentury design has all the classic trappings of a Neutra design, with entrancing walls of glass, lots of homey wood paneling and a seamless indoor/outdoor flow.
Fittingly, the vaguely totem pole-shaped home’s interiors have a quirky layout. Inside the front door, one guest bedroom is located directly to the left, while the formal dining room sits to the right. The library and den flow into one another and are separated by a partial wall; the adjoining kitchen is cozy and features large picture windows, a center island and a huge walk-in pantry. Separate staff and maid’s quarters are tucked discreetly out of sight, a conveniently accessible distance from the kitchen and laundry room.
At the very end of the single-story spread’s long main hallway is the master suite, which has its own private bathroom and sitting area, with two children’s bedrooms located directly next door. Out back, a rectangular pool lounges among the meticulously maintained grounds, while a concrete patio is perfect for sunbathing.
Neutra summed up his Montecito masterpiece this way: “Like an albatross, the oceanic bird whose legendary powers of ﬂight allow it to descend to land only to breed, the Tremaine House unfolds and spreads its mighty wings – hovering majestically in an ancient oak tree grove above Santa Barbara and the Paciﬁc Ocean … It is one of many moments of tension and transcendence rendered here in a poised equilibrium, a dialectic on many levels between ﬂoating and anchored. Between solid and opaque. Between machine-made and nature-wrought.” In simpler terms, call it the Tesla of houses.