California’s Central Coast sprawls with arable land, and is dotted with farms, olive groves, vineyards, and orchards. This verdant area is also home to the family of Deb Compton, a second-generation walnut farmer who lives just north of Paso Robles.
In 2013, as a decades-long era of walnut harvesting came to a close, and after a recent remarriage, Compton pared down her belongings and looked to refresh her home’s kitchen and master bathroom.
After all, says Compton, “30 years is a long time to live in a home. And it was time for a change.”
Luckily, Compton knew a guy: Her son, Bryan Boyer, founded the multidisciplinary design studio Dash Marshall with Amy Yang and Ritchie Yao in 2009. Dash Marshall redesigned the kitchen based on Compton’s routine, and maximized every square inch of the space with built-in cabinetry and by installing what Dash Marshall calls a Super Pantry.
It’s what it sounds like: a souped-up custom pantry system that deploys Vitsoe modular shelving, and can be closed off with a sliding perforated-metal door—plus, it’s roomy enough for grandchildren to find a nook for taking refuge during a game of hide and seek.
“The basic idea is that if you’re going in and out of the pantry all the time, it might as well be a nice space,” says Boyer. “It is two layers, so you can pull the door back and get access to some stuff on the outermost layer of the pantry or you can go into a more traditional space.”
The new configuration made the kitchen feel open, clean, and more accessible.
When Compton saw the plan for the kitchen renovation, she recounts saying, “Well, that’s crazy, you can’t just do that! It was a ‘house within a house,’ Bryan called it.”
Over the course of four years, Boyer, Yang, and Yao sensitively updated Compton’s home, bringing its interiors—a preponderance of oak, wall-to-wall carpet, and an ’80s color palette to match—into a new era, gently nodding with their new scheme to California’s Mission style, Alvar Aalto’s use of wood, the whimsy of architect John Hejduk, and the “vernacular metalwork of Central Coast farms,” a melange of styles and references that embodies the studio’s evolution over time.
“We all were just beginning to branch out from where we had previously worked,” says Yao. “Some of the design cues we were pushing in the early part of the project were more straightforward. Two or three years later, when we started the second phase, we were a little more confident in the execution. It definitely shows the growth of our office, and allowed us to test different ideas.”
The renovation is full of thoughtful details, many of which feel as though they’ve been in the house the whole time, and others that give the interiors a revelatory refresh. Dash Marshall connected the sightline between the entry and kitchen island by installing a custom walnut column in homage to the family’s farming history. Walnut bumpers, installed on stairway bannisters and corners, offer a bit of warmth; they also help mitigate damage to plaster in high-traffic areas.
In addition to the “super pantry,” another crucial element of the interior design is the main-floor guest bathroom, dubbed the Marshmallow because of its curved stucco-and-plaster walls. With an ouroboros-like circulation—sink, vanity, shower, toilet—the Marshmallow directs people through each function while keeping them intrigued to turn each corner. The bathroom is tucked underneath the home’s second floor, an open-plan level, including a full bath, in which the family can gather.
Both the Marshmallow and the supports beneath the staircase reference the whimsical designs of John Hejduk, whose “little creatures are a constant inspiration for us,” says Boyer.
“We’re super-nerdy architects at heart, but we try to hide our own internal fascinations inside a bigger story that you don’t need to be an architect to appreciate,” he adds.
The master bathroom is dashing, with curved wooden storage and a seating nook. There is just a small stationary mirror on an island in the center of the room, which also houses a hatch for toiletries. The entry from the bedroom was relocated from its original position off to the left to create an easy transition both physically and visually.
“These small alignments were made throughout the house—moving doorways and passageways—here and there to create views at the end of wherever you’re walking,” Boyer explains.
The challenge of the step-by-step renovation approach is laid bare in the living room, Boyer says. Instead of removing the fireplace, for example, something Yao suggested at the time, they just painted the tan bricks white to better blend in with the walls, and had to hang a tapestry to cover a carved sculpture above it.
“The materiality of the [original] ceiling against the white walls is part of what makes the Mission reference work for us,” he says. “We were taking those things and trying to work with them.”
Compton appreciates that the interiors can be delightfully startling for an unexpecting guest, but says they’re still warm enough to be cozy; Yao and Boyer feel like they made a space where someone can relate to the architecture without knowing its whole story. This is especially important in a multiyear renovation, where spaces can easily begin to feel disjointed and reference points obtuse and esoteric.
“One of the great things about the project was that we had an opportunity not only to explore [form and material], but to explore it in a manner that evolved over time,” Boyer says. They didn’t experiment for the sake of experimentation, he adds. Instead, they worked “from the perspective of how people want to live in the space,” says Boyer. “And understanding the way that those rituals or routines play out in a building.”