“It really asked for the funk. And not too gently. It demanded it!” The antiques dealer and designer Lee Stanton is pointing at an alcove filled with books, where he bypassed shelving in favor of uneven stacks of weathered wooden crates lined with black glass. But funky could also describe his entire country home, a onetime commune in Montecito, California, that’s two hours from his showroom in Los Angeles and light-years from his highly regarded, formal professional taste. After he bought the house in 2017, he had to face its freewheeling mash-up of styles, spaces, and materials. Stanton took a route unfamiliar to him, embracing the house’s incongruous elements––discordant flooring, irregularly shaped windows, unconventionally laid-out rooms—and complemented it with a collection of otherwise disparate furnishings. He and his partner, Israel Serna, named the main house Casa Señorial (and the guesthouse Casita Señorial), which translates to “manor house.” It was called that because it is the most stately house in the area, but also as a send-up of Stanton’s aesthetic and an acknowledgment that there are many ways to express elegance. “If you tried to do a perfectly designed, structured home, it wouldn’t work,” Stanton says. “You need that eclecticism.”
In every sense, Casa Señorial lies at the end of a road less traveled. To reach it, you follow a winding private drive off a lane that GPS doesn’t recognize. Mediterranean cypress trees lead up the drive to a giant redwood, nicknamed Big Ben. The main house’s locally sourced adobe walls are peppered with tiles collected from Tibet, Italy, and England, among other places. Many of the doors, as well as the old glass windows, were reclaimed from European estates. Originally a four-structure compound––two were joined to form the L-shaped main house in the 1970s, and the house in the back was destroyed in the 2008 Montecito Tea Fire––the property retains, thanks to the decor, a bohemian charm that was favored by the local proto-hippie community.
When Stanton, 60, and Serna, 37, bought the place, it had fallen into neglect, requiring a raft of repairs that had sent higher bidders scurrying. The old owners gave the couple their blessing based, in part, on their promise to preserve the property’s identity. “Here was this balance,” Stanton says. “We had this responsibility to be stewards. Later we thought, What the hell did we do?”
It’s a question asked by many who know Stanton, who’s fastidious by nature and whose taste is not square, but rather squarely traditional––he’s particularly fond of English historical pieces. Raised in Ohio and instilled with a love of antiques by his mother, Stanton is a pillar (neoclassical, of course) of Los Angeles’s design community. His namesake showroom and store, a trove of British and European pieces from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, is an essential resource for many top decorators. Dubbed “the antiquarian to the stars,” Stanton has furnished high-end homes throughout Southern California. Nothing about Stanton’s past or process seemed to make sense at Casa Señorial, however, which was part of the house’s appeal. “That’s the other thing that attracted us—the eclectic nature allowed us to throw the rules out,” he says. “As you get older, you want to just let things flow. You want to let go.”
The vaulted living room is bathed in light from windows that stretch from floor to ceiling in some cases, and arched, square, and rectangular in others. “People would say, ‘Find another square window,’ ” Serna recalls. “We were like, ‘No, let’s embrace it.’ ” To do so, they tied the room together by painting the window frames a dark brown. Similarly, rather than make the floors uniform, they restained the wood sections and covered the raw cement areas with a layer of lacquered cork.
In truth, Stanton’s third home is his third counterintuitive transformation. With his first house, he bought one in the surf town of Laguna Beach, a flat-roofed beach cottage. He spent several years transforming it into a turreted house with a pitched roof, paneled walls, and a 19th-century spiral staircase imported from Paris. Next, he looked at a corner unit in a 1960s condominium tower in West Hollywood that had been gutted and left without a kitchen and bathroom by the previous owner, the actress Lindsay Lohan, and saw the perfect home for his antiques collection.
Stanton likes the way English manors are “layered with generations and history,” so in Casa Señorial, he added his family to its walls: He commissioned a series of collages to be constructed out of remnants of fabric made by his grandfather, a textile designer and haberdasher, for the master bedroom. “He was famous for his tie-dyes,” Stanton says, “and would use them for silk ties and so on.” The richly textured artwork, a fusion of Stanton’s antiquarian aesthetic and Age of Aquarius ethos, feels cool and oddly contemporary. The same quality is in effect elsewhere, as in the living room, where a high-backed armchair with no upholstery––just unfinished wood with raw nails holding down timeworn burlap—sits by the fireplace. “It’s cool,” Serna says, “not rustic in a country-mouse sense.” Stanton adds, “I purchased that thinking about embracing the rawness of it. I can do that here, and I can’t anywhere else.”
Stanton felt the same freedom when it came to furnishings. “I love a good formal period antique,” he says. “But I also love industrial.” He picked up a slew of pieces––from foundry figurines to vintage school chairs––on a buying trip in northern France, and mixed them with selections from his personal collection.
Although the era of actual communal living is a thing of the past, there are many weekends when Stanton and Serna are here and the guest rooms and casita brim with friends. When they have visitors, the couple head to the guesthouse for breakfast, and later dine alfresco and enjoy wine under the shade of Big Ben. Its trunk is scarred with burn marks from the Tea Fire, a reminder of the property’s brushes with natural disaster. This past winter, as the Woolsey Fire crept closer to Casa Señorial, Stanton and Serna, who were out of town, stayed glued to the news, unable to reach the area. “We knew the house had survived two other fires––we put our faith in that. There’s something, somebody watching over it,” Stanton says. “A guardian angel.”