Assembling the Design Team.
Ben and Vanessa first met back in 2008, when they worked in the same office building in Santa Monica. Vanessa looked forward to stealing glances of the “very cute man” whom she could occasionally glimpse through a window on the second floor. She’d purposefully walk by his office as often as possible, but never quite worked up the courage to introduce herself.
“This went on for several months,” says Vanessa. “And then I was moving offices. I wasn’t going back to that building anymore, so I gave my card to my assistant who was turning in her garage clicker and I said, ‘There’s this cute guy on the second floor. Give him my card, tell him to call me.’”
Turns out, Ben had also noticed Vanessa’s flair and beauty the many times she walked past his office. But when her assistant came by to give him Vanessa’s card, he wasn’t sure it was romance Vanessa was looking for.
“I thought, ‘She probably needs a house designed or some architecture work,’” says Ben.
But he was pleasantly surprised to discover she wasn’t looking to hire him, just getting to know him.
“We started dating and the rest is history! We’ve been together for 15 years,” says a joyful Vanessa.
The happy couple were married in 2012 and now have two children: Piper, 8, Lucy, 6, and a Great Dane named Ford.
Building the Foundation.
Though Ben grew up in nearby Venice Beach, and the couple had their first home there, he’s always had deep roots in Westchester. Ben’s maternal grandfather John Barth was a pilot in World War II and was injured during the war. When he got out of the hospital, John bought a lot in the original Westchester residential tract in 1948.
“They built the family home, and they raised 12 kids there! My grandfather just loved how close he was to the airport, and they would take their lawn chairs over to the park and sit there and watch the planes. He would teach each of the kids about every single plane that was flying over them. He worked in aerospace, in El Segundo,” says Ben.
Ben’s mom, Debbie, and all 11 of her siblings went to Visitation School, which is where his daughters go now.
Ben says that when he and Vanessa had their second daughter, they started thinking more about the ideal place to raise a family.
“We needed a larger home, and we wanted to be part of a community. We’d always known and been involved with Westchester. First, we bought our house here and then it just made sense that when our business was out-growing the little building in Venice, that we’d move that to Westchester as well,” he says.
Getting to Work.
With love and encouragement from Vanessa, Ben founded Ballentine Architects Studio in 2015. Last year, he relocated the business to a storefront on Manchester Ave. that once held a psychic’s shop, across from the library at Westchester Park. Now the space is a beautiful boutique studio that specializes in luxury and custom design for homes and commercial spaces throughout Southern California. And for Ben, every project is personal.
“We do mostly residential architecture. So, helping people to rework their properties in a way that works for their families is really important to us,” he says.
Locally, one of the big trends Ben is seeing is a desire to modernize the aesthetics and spaces of Westchester’s original homes.
“Given that Westchester is such a desirable and unique neighborhood, many of our long-time neighbors understandably don’t want to relocate. They are instead calling on us to remodel and design additions to their homes. We love being a part of the revitalization of this community’s aging properties. It’s been incredible to see our work every day as we walk to school, head to the office or visit with friends,” he says.
When it comes to commercial space in the area, Ben sees a lot of opportunities to manage needed revitalization, while adding amenities and protecting local businesses.
“Westchester is in an interesting phase right now where there’s a lot of community-based energy,” he says. “Rather than just tearing everything down and building high-rise condos, it’s nice to preserve some of the community amenities—the restaurants and the retail. It’s something that I think has been neglected. I always try to advocate for that.”
Projects that are innovative and carefully crafted are hallmarks of Ben’s work, and he’s using his skills to transform spaces to create a better future for students at Loyola Marymount University.
“We’ve been helping LMU with their initiatives to provide thoughtfully designed housing for their students and staff. It’s been important to the university to provide staff housing that enhances the community experience and helps retain the talented professors the students depend on,” said Ben. “We recently worked with the university on their Recovery House, that provides students with a specialized home to help foster their sobriety.”
There’s also a special project Ben’s working on at Visitation, something very close to his heart considering his family history with the school.
“We’re assisting with the Renew Visitation campaign by providing architectural guidance and design for various community spaces on the campus. Being parishioners and parents, lending our insights and expertise to Fr. Matt [Wheeler] and Principal Watson has been an exciting way that we can invest in, and support, the school and church in their mission to implement improvements for the future,” he says.
Vanessa is also all-in when it comes to making positive contributions to the town she calls home. By day, she works as a Chief Operating Officer in the beauty industry, but she’s just as enthusiastic when it comes to volunteering. She single-handedly runs the Visitation Uniform Exchange Program where she collects, washes, sorts and repairs uniforms to help alleviate the high cost of school uniforms and keep them out of landfills.
“It’s definitely something I’m passionate about because I grew up in a single-parent family. We were on a budget,” says Vanessa. “I think the cost of uniforms is really expensive, but I’m also very big on recycling and being eco-friendly. I like that we’re using these uniforms year after year. I mean they’re literally indestructible. They last forever, these skirts and rompers.”
But she says there’s another benefit to running the program.
“It’s a good way to get to know all the different parents that are in the community. So many times at school you just get to know the parents of the kids that are in your class, but I get to be personally involved with so many more parents because of it,” she says.
Building for the Next Generation.
The Ballentines hope the work they are doing in the community makes an impact on their daughters–in both big and small ways.
“We have a model of ‘Just be kind,’ right? Our biggest, most important thing in raising our kids is: be kind, be empathetic. Always be aware of your community and your surroundings. Friends and families are important,” says Vanessa, who mentions she is always looking out for her neighbors. “If I see an ambulance at someone’s house or I hear someone’s sick, I’m baking them a cake, I’m knocking on the door, I’m checking how they are. I think your kids learn by example, and so they see us doing these things and being a good neighbor,” she says.
“I think it’s just old school etiquette to be grateful. That’s just really important to us. I think that still exists in such a strong way in Westchester, specifically,” says Ben.
Westchester’s “small town in a big city” feel has made the Ballentines one of the community’s biggest cheerleaders, which has led to their friends and family wanting to move to 90045.
“We have six or seven of our very best friends who have bought homes in Westchester, and Ben has been able to help them make those homes their dream home via his architecture business. And now everyone lives within a mile of us,” says Vanessa, who is proud to be part of the next generation of Westchester families. “I think it’s just fun to be a part of the cycle that started with Ben’s grandparents. I think it’s really special.”
Story by Shanee Edwards. Photos by Robert Higgins.
Pictured at top: The Ballentine Architects Studio team poses for a photo at their Manchester location.