Transformative Design

AB design studio's Dedication to Community-Driven Projects is showcased in the spring 2024 edition of Montecito Journal's The Riv magazine.


[Image credit: AB design studio's Santa Barbara studio located at 420 East Haley St - Jason Rick Photography]

Few people have been as crucial to the architectural rebirth of Santa Barbara than Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer. The two architects and founders of AB design studio have been shaping the city's architecture for nearly two decades, crafting awe-inspiring contemporary spaces that provide the city with a new sense of what can be achieved through the creative merging of community and design.

quarry-house-photography-jason-rick-high-res-39(web) non-project-photography-jason-rick-candid-shoot-principals-257

[Image credit: Quarry House In Montecito, CA by AB design studio; Clay Aurell and Josh Blumer in the AB design studio Santa Barbara studio - Jason Rick Photography]

"Physically this environment is precious and it's a big draw, but there's also a lot of very interesting people here doing very interesting things," remarks Blumer, reflecting on the often-underestimated creativity simmering within Santa Barbara. Both he and Aurell hail from Southern California and bring a wealth of experience from their extensive commercial and private real estate work in Los Angeles. 

Here in Santa Barbara, AB design studio's portfolio showcases the firm's versatility, from successful restaurant designs for establishments like Eureka! and Figueroa Mountain Brewing to a luxurious updating of a classic Lutah Maria Riggs property in Montecito. The later, a project close to their hearts, is a testament to their commitment to honoring the existing fabric of Santa Barbara.


[Image credit: Quarry House in Montecito, CA by AB design studio - Jason Rick Photography]

"Santa Barbara, and the Funk Zone in particular, is very unique, and when you build here, you have to prove you are worthy to the environment," says Aurell. "Adaptive re-use is the name of the game." Honoring, revitalizing, and breathing new life into dated structures within the existing fabric of neighborhoods, is a recurring theme in AB design studio's work, a balance they've mastered by maintaining a close connection with the community. 


[Image credit: The Lark, Funk Zone Santa Barbara - Erin Feinblatt]

The duo's involvement in the Funk Zone, a once desolate area transformed into a thriving artistic hub, exemplifies their dedication to community-driven projects. "The Funk Zone wasn't a place you hung out at night in the early days," Aurell recalls." In 2010 and 2011, when we started looking at it for clients, it was full of storage and shipyards." The successful completion of a block-long project where The Lark and Lucky Penny are presenting located was the catalyst that sparked the Funk Zone's revitalization. 

funk-zone-photography-feinblatt-high-res-06(web)-2 funk-zone-retail-restaurant-hospitality-feinblatt-17-1

[Image credit: Funk Zone Santa Barbara; The Lucky Penny - Jason Rick Photography]

In their Funk Zone projects, Aurell and Blumer have played a pivotal role in celebrating and maintaining the neighborhood's edgy character with a contemporary, urban aesthetic that respects the area's gritty charm and authentic past. "We are honored we had a pivotal role in setting a standard for making sure each new project doesn't ruin the neighborhood," adds Blumer.

funk-zone-photography-jason-rick-low-res-10 funk-zone-photography-jason-rick-low-res-45

[Image credit: Funk Zone Santa Barbara - Jason Rick Photography]

AB design studio's influence is not limited to Santa Barbara, however, as they've taken their expertise to diverse locations across the U.S. and beyond. With an office in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the firm thrives on the reciprocal energy between the two. 

While Santa Barbara demands meticulous attention to its existing aesthetic, Los Angeles offers an expansive canvas for creative exploration. The duality keeps then in an investigative mode and has fostered a collaborative work culture that has attracted a diverse array of talented team members. 

"If you come into our studio and see how it works and talk to our staff, you will see it has a familial environment to it," says Clay. The team's cohesion is evident, reflecting a shared passion for design and a commitment to building a community both within and outside the studio. 


[Image credit: Hand drawn schematic illustration depicting the design concept for a custom ground-up residence in Toro Canyon - AB design studio]

Their upcoming projects include exciting ventures in the Funk Zone, modern residences in Toro Canyon and the Mesa, and a hotel near downtown's Amtrak station, as well as the expansion of the Hilton. Their commitment expands beyond their work project, however. Aurell and Blumer have both served on the local architectural review boards, volunteered extensively, and are actively engaged with local organizations such as Santa Barbara High School's Visual Arts and Design Academy and the AIASB. 

As they look towards the future, Aurell and Blumer hope to keep AN design studio on a trajectory that reflects their dedication to community-based architectural creativity. "We are very much of the belief that community is important, and it resonates through everything we do. I feel very fortunate to be in a friendship and business relationship that is part of building and preserving this community and making sure things flow and balance well, and I hope people see that in our work too."


Selected Works


Selected Works


Selected Works