After seven years in Portland, Oregon, Leela Cyd and David Kilpatrick were craving some sunlight. Santa Barbara, California—Cyd’s hometown and where the couple spent their college years—beckoned, in particular the neighborhood where her parents, Richard and Cissy Ross, lived.
A block from the beach and a park, the location was enticing not only for its proximity to sun, surf, and family, but because of something more immaterial: They were expecting their first child, and Cyd hoped he would grow up with the same connection to the outdoors as she’d had.
“We spent our 20s in Portland, which was really fun,” Cyd says. “But I noticed our friends who were a bit older than us were buying houses and having kids. We didn’t want to do that there.”
Returning south in 2016, Cyd, a lifestyle and interiors photographer and author, and Kilpatrick, lead director at David Lee Studios, found a circa-1950s tract home that, while in need of a substantial renovation, was just a few blocks from her parents.
“I’m really close with them, and thought if I’m going to have a kid, I should be near them,” she says. Of the house itself, Cyd says, “it was a total dump and ... that’s why we could live here,” underscoring the price of housing today compared to 1979, when her parents bought their home for $15,000.
The nondescript three-bedroom, one-bathroom house had a large garage and needed a major overhaul, which the couple did room-by-room over a three-year period.
“We started with the kitchen, which was the easiest remodel in the sense that everything was crumbling and nothing worked. It all had to go,” Cyd says. “It had been eaten by termites and the guy who had lived here before had never done anything to it. It was disintegrating.”
Photographing so many kitchens in her career meant Cyd had ideas of what she wanted in her own home. Top of mind was a vintage stove, and when she found a 1951 six-burner Wedgewood at a repair shop, she scooped it up and had it restored in Ventura by Bernie Flanagan.
Another feature the couple wanted to incorporate was a sink overlooking the garden through large windows, which Cyd says is worth it even though they have to walk across the kitchen to put dishes away. Cheerful pink cabinets wink at the home’s heritage without making it a time capsule, and the ceiling was raised to follow the line of the original beams.
“I was grateful, in a way, that everything had to go, rather than hemming and hawing over bits and pieces, which I have seen in other people’s remodels,” she says. “Either it takes you longer or you don’t actually ever do it because it’s kind of functional.”
The couple’s son, Izador, was born in 2017, and they kicked off renovations on the other side of the house in his first year, during which they added a second bathroom. “He grew up with the sounds of jackhammers outside his window, but he got through it,” Cyd jokes.
For Cyd and Kilpatrick, the best and most underused area in the house was the garage. With no real need to protect cars through a long winter, a garage is less useful in Southern California, and the couple wanted to integrate it into the rest of the house as their main living and entertaining space. They added pickled white pine ceilings to bring warmth to the home’s white walls, and decided they’d need to add built-in shelving to house their sprawling collection of curios.
“We flew by the seat of our pants as we went, and continue to do that,” says Cyd. “I think that is really influenced by my husband’s full-on DIY spirit.”
The couple also gave the exterior a makeover with brighter paint and seafoam trim, and planted the gardens that surround the structure.
When it comes to their decor, Cyd says that she and Kilpatrick have a similar aesthetic, which she describes as “quirky and mad-hatter.” Choosing a simple wall color and light flooring allows them to showcase the artwork and objects they have collected over time, either by traveling, trading with fellow artists, or thrifting at estate sales.
“My husband is a crazy shopper,” says Cyd. “He is determined to seek out little treasures. If we like it, we fit it in. We don’t think the other way around.” This mentality speaks to what attracts Cyd the most when photographing other homes. “The homes that have layering of time periods and sources are the most interesting. I love to be in houses like that.”
After 15 years of moving in and out of rentals, Cyd is grateful to put roots down. As roving creatives, traveling to where the jobs are in Los Angeles or beyond, it’s been the home base they sought—especially with a second child on the way.
“Having little kids, you end up spending a lot of time in your house,” says Cyd. “I am grateful to have done all this heavy lifting at the time we did it, because now we can enjoy it.”