By George Christy
Monday, Apr 23, 2012
A Sunday of golden sunshine in the blue sky country of Montecito. Easter weekend. We visited longtime Canadian friends who find the Santa Barbara countryside irresistible. Seaside beauty, Spanish colonial influences, easy lifestyle, and, yes, our blessed Southern California weather. An alternative from their native Toronto where they reside in baronial splendor in the posh Rosedale area (think Bel Air or San Marino).Real estate agents quickly came to the rescue for Canada’s TV tycoon Ivan Fecan, who masterminded the CTV network to stunning success and is now addressing new projects, and his wife Sandra Faire, producer of Canada’s hottest television show So You Think You Can Dance, and who’s now exploring other theatrical ideas. Sandra is off to Manhatten to catch Tracie Bennett’s performance as Judy Garland in End Of The Rainbow on Broadway. Tracie’s portrayal has gone through the roof with raves. 

High above the green hills of Montecito with the Pacific Ocean in spectacular view, they warmed to a contemporary 3-bedroom dream house, built by architect Jack Warner in 1970. Over many months, the house underwent an immaculate conversion, with interior designer Bruce Gregga at the ready, guiding Ivan and Sandra to the best resources for furnishings. Among the country’s leading decorators, Bruce’s work appears with high frequency in Architectural Digest.

First was Therien on La Cienega, favored by Oprah Winfrey, Ridley Scott, Joanna Poitier, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kelsey Grammar, John Lithgow. Therien remained among the top choices, with its antiquities of impeccable provenance and custom-designed furniture from its acclaimed studio workshops.

The eclectic décor boasts a magnificent Coromandel screen. Rare and mint-condition Persian carpeting. Art Deco selections from the renowned Anne Hauck on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. A 1,000 year-old Buddha from the venerated Naga Antiques on Manhattan’s East Side.

Between sips of Dom Perignon, we toured the capacious two-storied residence on its private promontory with luxurious landscaping designed by Jessica Harlin and executed by her dad David. To celebrate the Easter holiday, our hosts invited best friends Terrie and George Eaton (of Canada’s Eaton dynasty), whose son David is a cinematographer living in Venice. Friends of the Eatons joined us.

Our group motored downhill to the historic San Ysidro Ranch that was bought and renovated in 2000 at a cost of $150 million by Ty Warner, the “Beanie Baby” multi-billionaire. Warner also purchased and renovated the Four Seasons Santa Barbara, as well as the private Coral Casino, where Ivan swims daily and maintains his great shape. No one wears a Panama straw hat better than Ivan.

We dined at a long table on the San Ysidro Ranch patio adjacent to the gardens, which bloom every summer with roses, jasmine and lavender. Sandra, whose flawless complexion Carl Hall describes as “delicate as a rose petal,” highly recommended the Blood Orange Margaritas, which can be lethal. The ladies couldn’t resist chef Matt Johnson’s main course of peanut butter crunch brioche French toast with Bananas Foster, berries, vanilla Chantilly and Vermont maple syrup. (Vermont doesn’t hold a candle to the Hawkridge Farms maple syrup from the Eatons’ estate.) The gents opted for Waygu beef, risotto, lamb loin and Alaskan halibut.

We met San Ysidro Ranch’s young, Alsatian-born food and beverage director Stephane Colling, previously with the Four Seasons Hotel in New York. Stephane informed that the ranch dates back to the mid-19th century and remains surrounded by miles of spectacular hiking trails.

Talking with our seatmate Sandra about Mike Hale’s review in The New York Times of Lifetime’s The Client List starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as the owner of a massage parlor, we were amused by Mike’s description of Jennifer’s breasts, each appearing “to be the size of a studio apartment.”

Once a way station for Franciscan monks, the property later became a working citrus ranch and a hotel during the ‘30s. Through the decades, the hotel’s embraced an impressive celebrity following. Guest book signatures include those of Sir Winston Churchill; John Huston who wrote his screenplay for The African Queen during a three-month stay; David Niven; Bing Crosby; Fred Astaire; Sandra Bullock; Julia Roberts; honeymooners Jacqueline and Jack Kennedy; Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh on their wedding day; Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay musician Chris Martin during their marriage in 2003.

The ranch’s 41 cottages rate high marks for their accommodations from newspaper and magazine critics. “Never have I heard girls and guys swoon so wistfully,” writes journalist Louise Roe in The Huffington Post. “San Ysidro Ranch seems to put a romantic spell on its visitors.

“Magic’s in the air at San Ysidro Ranch, and if you ask me about a recommendation for a stylish break in California, I get that same glazed, longing look as the friends who recommended it to me.” Not only Louise, but ecstatic aficionados blog that San Ysidro Ranch is a romantic West Coast hideaway not to be missed.

Copyright 2012 Beverly Hills Courier, Beverly Hills Newspaper. All Rights Reserved. V424

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