The influences that stick with us from childhood are often surprising. For Christina Desser, one of the less expected holdovers was a deep affection for the work of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Luis Barragán, whose mystical designs struck a chord and lodged in her heart over the course of frequent trips to visit her grandparents in Mexico as a young girl. When Christina and her husband, Kirk Marckwald, purchased a pristine parcel of land in Point Reyes Station, California, with a view to designing their forever home, something about Barragán’s of-a-place approach seemed apropos. Environmental activists and San Francisco residents of 30-plus years, the couple sought an art-filled, earnest abode that would honor the area’s wild beauty—and found the perfect partner to render that vision in Butler Armsden Architects. “They wanted a house with fine materials and a minimalist approach that was quiet in many ways,” explains architect Dave Sturm, who oversaw the project alongside the firm’s late principal, Lewis Butler, and architect Chelsea Edgerton.
Nestled at the edge of Tomales Bay with ever-shifting vistas across Lagunitas Creek and the coastal range, the home’s fenestration was the element to which all others naturally answered. Steel-framed casement-style windows—a direct nod to Barragán—such as the great room’s enormous, windowed expanses and soaring sets of double doors throughout, capture immersive vistas. “Their bedroom may have the purest views,” notes Sturm. “You see the full coastal range with its layers of greenery and mist, and you can just sit and watch the fog fingers drift across the bay.” Even in the smallest of rooms—bathrooms, pass-throughs and storage areas—the view potential was carefully considered. “Every single room is oriented toward looking across the water and at the world outside,” says Christina. “And there are lots of inviting places to sit and do just that.”
When it came to the home’s interior architecture, the team channeled a “tight, minimalistic approach,” notes Sturm. All manner of moldings, casings and baseboards were skipped entirely, while cube shelves discreetly recess into walls and hardware-free Douglas-fir doors pivot closed to create privacy between the different wings of the house. An organic material palette of wide-plank oak floors and creamy, hand-troweled plaster walls forms a quiet canvas for a similarly tight curation of prized furnishings and artworks to steal the scene.
“Everything was kept extremely clean and crisp,” says general contractor Tim Laforce. “When you’re standing in that great room looking toward the entry, the design of the home draws you to the art. But when you turn around, the artist is Mother Nature.” The white walls are home to a collection ranging from vibrant monochromatic paintings to smaller, quiet works on paper.
The couple’s appreciation for art in nature is evident in many design details, such as the Petite Granit limestone countertops, which reveal tiny fossils in the grain and were left unsealed to age and patina in their truest form. Another nature-as-art moment is the cypress dining room table by San Francisco artist Jesse Schlesinger, which acts as an interactive, gridded display for found objects. Daily beach and forest walks with the couple’s two dogs often uncover driftwood, stones and coastal treasures, which together enliven weekday meals with a rotating exhibition.
For Christina and Kirk, the home has been wholly transformative, its purity mirroring
their chosen surroundings, where herons, foxes, bluebirds, and the like live alongside a kindred cast of human neighbors. Christina’s brother and sister-in-law live on the adjacent parcel, and the families regularly trade fresh eggs and produce from their properties. “It truly is a family affair,” she laughs.
The spirit of kinship and harmony with nature, according to the homeowner, are the really great things about living here. “The barriers fall away and you get to engage with the people and the world and the wildlife around you,” Christina says. “Living here makes you realize where you fit.”