Margaret Grace


Margie Grace, founder and lead designer of Grace Design Associates, Inc., is a landscape designer and a licensed landscape contractor. An avid traveler and perpetual student of gardens, she has made her own garden in Spain, Australia and New Zealand over the past three decades. Margie currently gardens in Santa Barbara. She prides herself on bringing the values of old world craftsmanship and a sophisticated design sense to her work on gardens, large and small, residential and commercial.

Margie's formal training is in the life and earth sciences. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology with a minor in geology, awarded in 1981 from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Margie has also studied landscape design and illustration extensively at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Her diverse education and experience foster a unique, well-rounded approach to design. She collaborates closely with clients and artisans, creating projects in a wide range of design genres. Rather than a stylized approach to design, Margie strives to create projects that have the potential to impact people's daily experience of the world and provide value to clients, the community and the environment.

Committed to sustainable development, Margie has served as the President of the Green Building Alliance for the past four years, actively collaborating with many other green professionals in the Santa Barbara community. Her work on Victoria Garden Mews, a multi-family infill project, was the first project worldwide to achieve 2-star Sustainable SITES Initiative certification for a residential project (2013).

Company Profile


Grace Design Associates, Inc. is an award-winning, full service landscape firm with over twenty-five years of experience designing and building world-class gardens. Company founder and lead designer Margie Grace is the winner of the 2009 International Landscape Designer of the Year Award, the top honor in the field.

Grace Design's forté is distinctive design executed with the values of old world craftsmanship. Working in a wide range of design styles and budgets, the company creates gardens that connect with the unique character of the site, sit seamlessly in the environment, blend harmoniously with the architecture and reflect the client's aesthetic.

Every garden is custom-designed and custom-built. For each project, be it large or small, all materials -- including plants, trees, stone, fountains, statuary, garden furniture, and garden accessories -- are hand-selected by the firm's designers from the top growers and suppliers in the west. The result is a one-of-a-kind garden perfectly tailored to the client, the architecture, the site and the environment.

Grace Design Associates gardens have been built throughout Southern California, and increasingly throughout the Southwest, including the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Grace Design Associates is a leader in green design and sustainable construction methodologies and practices. Green before green was fashionable, the firm has pioneered the integrated team approach, working from the outset of the project with client, architect, interior designer, general contractor, engineers, specialized trades and other design and construction professionals. By working together from project inception through completion and ongoing maintenance, the client can be assured that the project has a green-friendly footprint, considers local architecture and client lifestyle, and maximizes building equipment, materials and other resources.

Grace Design Associates has been featured on HGTV's, "Landscapers' Challenge" and Discovery Channel's sustainable design show "Greenovate". ABC's reality show "Momma's Boys" was filmed at a coastal Santa Barbara estate with gardens designed and built by the firm. Grace Design Associates' work has also appeared in numerous regional and national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Traditional Home, Better Homes and Gardens, Garden Design, Sunset, California Homes, Garden Ideas, California Home + Design, Santa Barbara Seasons and Ventura Life & Style.

In addition to the 2009 International Landscape Designer of the Year Award, the firm won The Santa Barbara Contractors Association Builder of the Year for Best Landscape and Hardscape award in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010. Recent residential landscape projects have been awarded the Montecito Beautiful Award and two categories of Santa Barbara Beautiful Awards.

Grace Design Associates' gardens have been featured on numerous garden tours, including the prestigious Ojai Valley Garden Tour, the Garden Lanes Garden Tour, Gardens of Garden Street and the Parade of Green Building, and Built Green Santa Barbara Expo Conference and Tour. Grace Design gardens have been the setting for a number of fundraising events for local non-profits, including CAMA (Community Arts Music Association), Domestic Violence Solutions (DVS), and the University of California at Santa Barbara's Arts and Lectures with celebrated cellist YoYo Ma.

Dawn Close, Principal


Dawn Close is the co-founding partner of Grace Design Associates, along with Lead Designer Margie Grace. Dawn serves as Chief of Operations, bringing her extensive expertise in business management to the company. In that capacity, she manages all aspects of company finance, marketing and administration. She is also responsible for charting the long-term strategic direction for the company, oversees daily operations, and works closely with the firm's talented staff of professional designers.

Prior to co-creating Grace Design, Dawn was an Instructor for Landmark Education's national "Team Management and Leadership Program" (TMLP), a year-long intensive leadership development program. She was also heavily involved as a Teacher in the Women's Economic Venture, also known as WEV, helping many women entrepreneurs find their passion and start their own business.

Raised in Chicago, she came to the West Coast to work in the elite world of Arabian horses. Over the years, Dawn's focus shifted from horses to the also-elite world of Cocker Spaniel breeding and showing, with one of her dogs winning Best of Breed at the highly lauded Westminster Dog Show in New York City.

Ariel Carlson, Designer + Project Manager


Ariel Carlson has been with Grace Design Associates since 2012. She graduated with Honors from Cal Poly State University of San Luis Obispo, with a Bachelor's Degree in Landscape Architecture and a minor in Ornamental Plant Production. While in school, Ariel interned for a design-build company, creating playgrounds for schools in South Africa, gaining international experience in landscape design and construction.

After graduating, Ariel moved to Santa Barbara, a close approximation of her former home in Kauai, and joined the Grace Design team. She received her Landscape Contractor's license in 2014 and has been working as a Project Manager and Designer since. Ariel worked extensively on the firm's recent historic garden overhaul - that of famed artist George Washington Smith handling design and project management.

She purchased her first home in Santa Barbara last year with her partner Ryan, and spends most of her free time renovating the home from the floor up. On the rare occasion that she is not busy with a DIY home remodel, she spends her free time at the beach and enjoying the outdoors.

Chantal Vo, Assistant Designer


Chantal Vo moved from the Central Coast to Santa Barbara in 2013 and joined Grace Design, where her eye for perfection and passion for functional and forward thinking design has greatly complemented the team.

Chantal earned a Bachelor's Degree in Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly State University at San Luis Obispo. During that time, she also studied abroad in France, Spain and the Netherlands, obtaining a rich education in European coastal landscapes. Upon graduating, Chantal remained in the Central Coast area, working for a well-known design-build firm, where she gained practical experience designing coastal residential landscapes. Born and raised in Woodland Hills in Southern California, Chantal is a true Californian at heart, spending her free time in the mountains, hiking and exploring coastal California.

John Oberholtzer, Superintendent


John Oberholtzer has been with Grace Design Associates since the firm first formed. He is Superintendent overseeing all construction, helping to bring the firm's landscapes to life. Along with his ability to develop long-lasting client relationships, John approaches the complexity and challenge of landscape construction with ease. The partnership of Lead Designer Margie Grace's vision and artistry, coupled with John's extraordinary craftsmanship and team management skills, has contributed greatly to the firm's many award-winning gardens.

John was born and raised in Altadena, California where he received his Associate's Degree from Pasadena City College, and went on to study geology at San Diego State University. He moved to the Santa Barbara area in 1985, and earned his Landscape Contractor's license in 1992.

John is the proud father of three. He spends much of his free time volunteering, going to the local farmers markets, and teaching dog training at area parks through the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Armando Espino, Superintendent


Armando Espino has been an integral member of the Grace Design Associate's team for over seven years. With more than 20 years of experience working in landscape construction, rough carpentry and framing, Armando, along with John Oberholtzer, serves as Superintendent of the firm's installation crews.

Armando has built some of Grace Design's most beautiful and unique gardens, stretching from Hollister Ranch to Carpenteria. A shining example of his work while at Grace Design is the Santa Barbara Foothills garden, which went from being completely devastated in the Santa Barbara Tea Fire, to winning the Santa Barbara Contractors Association Builder of the Year Award. The property was also featured in the Los Angeles Times and in three national home/garden publications.

Armando is a dedicated family man and spends his weekends with his wife and four children. The light of his life is his two year old daughter, Alison.