George Washington smith was one of the masters of the Spanish Colonial Revival style in Southern California. His homes were renowned for their highly restrained yet unabashedly romantic look and feel, characterized by the effective use of polychrome Spanish and Tunisian tiles; hand-forged, wrought-iron window grilles; and heavy, wood-beamed ceilings decorated with colorful stenciling.
Yet Smith’s houses also offered their owners something more extraordinary. Unlike many of his architectural contemporaries in the 1920s, Smith strove for simplicity and purity of design, a distillation of southern Spain’s Andalusian style to its true essence. Smith’s interpretation can be seen in the informal arrangement of comfortably scaled rooms; the skillful rendering of simple materials such as whitewashed stucco, red clay tile, and hand-hewn wood; and the views from nearly every room into intimate patios and terraces.
Smith was among that era’s architectural connoisseurs, and his residences were also coveted because of what they didn’t feature: the extensive use of applied Spanish ornament, which often verged on kitsch in the hands of lesser architects or builders.
Smith’s talent was immediately recognized upon the 1918 completion of his first residence: the Spanish-style home that he designed for himself and his wife, Mary Catherine, on Middle Road in highly desirable Montecito, adjacent to Santa Barbara. “The house for George Washington Smith,” enthused an April 1920 Architectural Forum article on California homes, “speaks so eloquently of picturesqueness that it is . . . the germ of hope for future California architecture.”
Like the work of other great architects, Smith’s houses are relatively rare. When he started his practice in 1918 at age forty-two—he had previously been a painter—he did not set out to create a large firm that would mass-produce commission after commission. He strove for true quality, and he enjoyed getting to know his clients so he could design just the right house for their taste and lifestyle. Smith’s residences are rarer still, because he only practiced for twelve years. He died in 1930 at age fifty-four.
Most of Smith’s residences have always been prized in Santa Barbara and Montecito. The wealthy residents of those cities admired Smith’s own home, and they commissioned dozens of homes by great architects in the booming 1920s.