Quirky structure inspires Nova Scotia designer
The large package arrived in early January for Neil and Sue Ablitt.
The sender was a woman in a small town in Nova Scotia.
“We didn’t know anyone in Nova Scotia, and we were even more surprised to find inside a model of our Little House that was made of felted Hudson Bay blankets, a work of art, by an unknown person from Canada,” said Mr. Ablitt.
The Little House, often called the Ablitt Tower, is the quirky structure that he and his wife built in 2006 on the tiny lot behind their drycleaning business on West Gutierrez Street. Designed by architect Jeff Shelton, the 53-foot-tall, four-story home sits on a 20-by-20 foot lot, which is smaller than a two-car garage.
The Santa Barbara home has captured national attention. It’s been written about in dozens of newspapers and magazines and appeared on the HGTV network and on KCET-TV’s “California Gold” with the late Huell Howser.
The Ablitts, who lived in the house for almost six years, now occupy a condo nearby.
“The model in the box is about 2 feet square and made of felting, which is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together,” Mr. Ablitt told the News-Press. “We also learned that its hollow three-dimensional shape was designed to be a cover for a coffee maker.”
When they recovered from their shock — and delight — at receiving the unusual gift, the Ablitts decided they wanted to thank the designer in a unique way.
“But first we had to find the mystery lady from Canada. We contacted our friends Donald and Nancy Thom who live in Quebec and found out she was a relative of theirs,” said Mr. Ablitt. “Her name is Peggy Jenkinson, and she had never been to Santa Barbara or seen our house. It seems that the Thoms had shown her a photo of the Little Tower, and she was so intrigued by the design that she wanted to recreate it in felting.
“It turns out she is a dedicated environmentalist who does not own a computer and had to study the tower on a computer at the local library.”
Jim and Monika (who didn’t want their last name in the News-Press) are currently renting the Ablitt Tower. It was Monika who came up with the very special way to thank Ms. Jenkinson by photographing the model at various landmarks around Santa Barbara and with photos of the people who were involved with the construction of the building.
“I took all the pictures with my iPhone camera. It took six months to coordinate everything. It was time consuming and a tremendous amount of work, but it was a lot of fun, too,” Mr. Ablitt said.
The result is a 12-page hardcover book that includes pictures of the Ablitts; their daughter Sasha; granddaughter Hudson; architect Jeff Shelton; his brother David Shelton, who did the iron work; plumbers Victor Beltran, Jesus Beltran and Ignacio Rios; Jim and Monika; David Mosley, woodworker; Dan Upton, contractor; Juan Rios, tile setter; Andres Johnson, sculptor; Bob Peace, electrician; and a list in tile of Contributors to the Cause.
There are also photos of the model at the beach, the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, Santa Barbara Mission, La Arcada Court, The Granada and on State Street.
“When I finished taking the pictures, Monika suggested we publish them in a book not only for Ms. Jenkinson but for everybody involved with the construction and all the rest of us,” said Mr. Ablitt.
The first page reads:
“Dear Peggy Jenkinson,
“As you can see in this photo book, your building-of-blankets has become a moving mascot for the Ablitt House. We love that we now can transport the joy and whimsy of the Little House to places our concrete tower cannot go. We love how your soft and supple walls express our warm and cozy feelings about the House. Thank you from the top of our Tower!
“Neil and Sue Ablitt
A long time went by before they heard from Ms. Jenkinson with a brief note of thanks:
“What a wonderful surprise. Thank you so much for the fantastic book. A very special keepsake. All the best.”
On the last page of the book is a picture of the Ablitts holding the model, and below are the words: “May the Little House continue to delight and inspire — and to all who made it possible, our deepest gratitude.”