Villa Corbeau
Iconic Architect Marc Appleton Builds His Own Home In Santa Barbara

Text by Vanessa Kogevinas
Photography by Matt Walla

A few days in the South of France overlooking an olive orchard sprinkled with lavender while vacationing in a house with his wife, Joanna Kerns, and some friends, was all the inspiration architect Marc Appleton needed to come up with the initial plans for his family residence in the Santa Barbara area. He and Joanna, a director and actress known for her role in the television show Growing Pains, had bought the land many years prior—about two decades ago now and before they were married—on which stood a 1960's tract house that wouldn't survive a renovation. "This is the first house that I had ever designed for myself or my family," says Appleton. "I had done hundreds of other houses for clients, and I had such a good time doing them that I never missed doing a house for myself." However, although happily settled in Los Angeles, Marc and Joanna agreed it was time to put their next steps in place. "She is very fond of northern Italian and southern French farmhouses and we’ve been on vacation in those areas," continues the architect. “It seemed to me it could fit in Santa Barbara." And so Villa Corbeau was born.

Nestled on 1.75 acres, the compound is comprised of six separate yet related structures—a main house, garage/guesthouse, studio, cabana, pergola and potting shed, which look like they have been on the property for much longer than their thirteen years. The landscaping perfectly complements the house, which Appleton describes as "kind of simple, rough and eclectic. We didn't want a designer house. It's a people and dog friendly type of place. Very comfortable, removed and private."

Appleton grew up in rural areas. His parents built the first Cliff May-designed house on Old Ranch Road in Los Angeles in the 1940s. "We had six acres, and horses, goats, chicken and ducks," he shares. "It was kind of like living in the country back then." When his mother deemed Los Angeles 'too crowded' the family moved to a ranch in Arizona. "Although I was learning how to play a hot game of marbles and swear fluently in Spanish, my parents had a better vision for me and my brother, and we were sent to private schools on the East Coast."

College at Harvard University and graduate school at Yale University followed, yet it took the U.S. Army deeming Appleton's feet not suitable for standard Army issue boots (high arches) that led him to find his calling. "I was an English major in college and I was lined up to go to Vietnam," he shares. "I casually thought, 'If I survive Vietnam what would I like to do?'" Having been a good artist and painter his whole childhood and having scored well in the math portion of his SATs, a light bulb went off. "Architecture!"

Upon graduating from Yale he headed to San Diego to work for architects Jack MacAllister and David Rinehart, before moving to Los Angeles and landing with Frank Gehry. "Frank has been a good friend and we have stayed in touch over the years," he notes. After three years, Appleton decided that "maybe it was time for me to hang up my own shingle and give it a go," which he did, establishing Appleton Partners LLP – Architects in 1976. He quickly outgrew his first office and a next one. In 1997, he moved to his current Santa Monica office location, and shortly thereafter in 2000 he established a branch office in Santa Barbara for his retirement. "That didn't work out," he laughs. Both offices are still thriving.

Ever prolific in his projects—whose diversity and lack of a 'signature style' he feels distinguishes his firm—Appleton has not slowed down creatively, but rather has set up his business to allow him a bit more freedom. "Several years ago the firm became a partnership. I wanted to share the ownership. First Kenneth Mineau and now Andrew Scott are current partners," he says. "Both have been with the firm for many years." He and Joanna, who have three children between them and remain happily married after twenty-two years, are devoted to varied philanthropic endeavors including work with Planned Parenthood, Direct Relief, The Santa Barbara Historical Museum, and the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art—to name a few. He has penned multiple books including Ranches: Home on the Range in California and Master Architects of Southern California 1920-1940, Gordon B. Kaufmann, both released in 2016.

With all of these plans in place for retirement Appleton remains realistic. "I can focus on design, and working with the staff and selective clients in my golden years, if you will. Like most architects though, I have found we don’t retire. I'll be very happy not to own the firm that I've created, but just to work there. I might even have a nine-to-five job one day."

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