An $8 Million Montecito Mansion With Presidential Pedigree
“I’m probably the poorest person that’s ever lived here,” said Howard Rochestie of his 6,630-square-foot Montecito, Calif., home. “And we’re definitely the first family to live here full-time.”
Built in 1938 by the prominent area architect G. Lawrence Stimson, the art deco-style house was used by a wealthy Pasadena family as a vacation home for more than 40 years, then was purchased by Robert Floyd, whose company, Fitz & Floyd, provided 215 gold-rimmed place settings for the Reagan White House. Next, the home was conferred with a different kind of presidential pedigree when it was purchased by Liu Ting, whose father, Liu Shaoqi, was the president of the People’s Republic of China from 1959 until 1968. (By the end of his presidency, he'd clashed with Mao and was imprisoned; Liu died in 1969.)
When the younger Liu, a graduate of Harvard Business School, decided to sell the house in 2008, “it had millions of dollars worth of antiques inside, and so they couldn’t show the house or do open houses,” Rochestie said. “But I happened to be friendly with the realtor and got in.”
Upon entering the house, Rochestie, who co-founded wealth management firm Mercer Advisors, walked through the central courtyard and saw the view. “I looked out at the ocean and immediately said, ‘I’ll buy it,'” he said. “Which is not the smartest thing to do when you’re about to negotiate the price.” He and his wife Tracy purchased it, according to Zillow, for $4.8 million; following extensive updates, they’ve put it on the market eight years later for $8.195 million dollars.
The house has four bedrooms, five full baths, and two half baths, and it sits on just under one acre directly above Coast Village Road, which has most of Montecito’s restaurants, cafes, and stores. “We’re sitting right above it, but all you can see [from the road] is our house’s palm tree,” Rochestie said. “It was a combination of of the proximity to restaurants and being able to walk to the beach that attracted us.”
Montecito, a small, scenic, wildly expensive town a few minutes from Santa Barbara (a small, scenic, wildly expensive city), is about a two-hour drive from downtown Los Angeles. It's a small community comprising just a few thousand people, but it has some of the most expensive real estate in the world. (One home, for instance, is on the market for $125 million.)
Liu, the home’s previous owner, had flown in multiple feng shui experts from China to update the house and grounds. They installed water features around the home and shifted the layout, views, and landscaping so that “the house is totally balanced for love and relationships,” Rochestie said.
Tracy, Rochestie’s wife, has a design background, and set about modernizing the interior. Liu “did a beautiful job with dark mahogany and Chinese antiques, which were magnificent,” Rochestie said, “but they would have been great in a New York apartment. This house was just calling out to be opened up and to breathe.”
They used a light-blue color palette in the living room, which has the view, “so that it reflects the light of the ocean,” Rochestie said, and then painted the back of the house in warmer hues. The centerpiece of the home is an original Lalique fireplace that every owner has left in place. “It’s beveled glass,” he said, “and the highlight of the living room.”
The home’s other big selling point is a terrace that includes an infinity pool, fountain, and multiple seating areas. Rochestie has hosted parties, benefits, and even weddings on the terrace, and alternates between using it and the courtyard to read in the afternoon.
The interior of the house is largely an open plan, and contains a kitchen with a La Cornue stove. “I know a lot of people put expensive ovens into their house, but my wife actually used it,” Rochestie said.
The couple decided to sell because the children have moved out, and they no longer need as much space. Plus, Rochestie said, they travel often—his son, Taylor, is a professional basketball player in Montenegro—and maintaining such a large home from so far away has become a burden.
“The one thing I can tell you,” he said, “is that it didn’t matter where we stayed: the south of France, Italy, wherever. We were always excited to come back to our home.”