C California Style

CARISSA DUNCAN’s open living space is outfitted with organic furniture pieces including a Mountain Chair by L.A.-based PLANEFURNITURE. On the mantle sits a painting by Duncan. Penatracion by Cuban-born artist JUAN-MANUEL ALONSO hangs in the corner near a sisal rope sculpture by Mexican artist MARCELA DIAZ.

Lay of the Land

by C California Style

Up-and-coming interior designer Carissa Duncan finds her way home in an organic modern Carmel Valley retreat

“Working in design, I am so overstimulated with concepts and ideas that I like my space and my person to be really neutral,” says Duncan.

“It’s a different pace of life out here,” says designer Carissa Duncan of the reason she settled in her 1970s-style ranch house overlooking Carmel Valley, rather than Carmel-by-the-Sea proper, where her firm’s office is located. “Not that anything out here is fast-paced, by any means,” she hastens to add.

Duncan is intimately familiar with the local speed limits; she grew up on and around the Monterey Peninsula. But it was only after a stint as director of design at Yountville art, furnishings and wine collective Maisonry Napa Valley that she returned to the area in 2014. Here she founded Salt + Bones, an integrated design studio (named in part for the essential mineral’s propensity for enhancement) that specializes in hospitality and residential interiors.


Commissions came in quick succession, including a redesign of the Big Sur retreat center Esalen Institute. “It’s exciting but overwhelming to go from a one-woman show to a team of almost 10,” says Duncan.

When she happened upon the residence (originally built by the winemaking family behind the local estate Joyce Vineyards) while house hunting in October 2016, she saw the home, with its vaulted ceilings, warm Saltillo tiles and big west-facing deck, as a much-needed retreat. The half-moon window over the front door clinched the deal. “Without getting overly ethereal, I’m a Cancer—a moon child,” she says of her astrological sign. “It just felt right.”


Duncan painted the exterior a deep, earthy black so the boxy architecture would seem to “disappear” into the hillside, encouraging the surrounding landscape to pop. Inside, white walls highlight her collection of objects, art and organic modern furniture.

A Ben & Aja Blanc Half Moon Mirror with pewter-colored silk and jute fringe hangs above a low-slung black couch in the living room, where a soft-edged plaster-finished cocktail table by Faye Toogood is set with a pair of “rough bespoke” goblet vases by Belgian artist Arno Declercq. “I’m really into texture,” says Duncan, whose roster of projects currently includes a high–concept, Union Square-adjacent hotel and in-house restaurant in San Francisco. “I like things to feel good; that’s where I invest my money.”


Nearby, a woven sisal rope sculpture by Mexican artist Marcela Diaz hangs in front of a sliding black barn door that separates Duncan’s office, master bath and bedroom from the open living space. The designer’s muted blush bedding offers an isolated moment of color, a sweetness tempered by the toughness of a vintage leather gym mat that hangs as the headboard; a custom steel entry table works as a lone nightstand. “I can get away with that now since it’s just me and Ginger,” the currently single Duncan says of her miniature schnauzer.

Outside, a redwood table modeled on the furniture of Donald Judd—an item Duncan and her father built collaboratively—is the scene of frequent entertaining. She often hosts dinner parties for a circle of like-minded locals who share her desire to see the region reconnect to its creative, bohemian past by establishing businesses that are rooted in a higher standard of design, as opposed to kitschy, tourist–focused galleries. “What has drawn people to us is doing what we’re doing where we’re doing it,” she says.


The patio is also where Duncan begins her day with an espresso and ends it with quiet contemplation—a natural inclination, given her cosmic leanings. “I come home, lie down on a chaise, look at the stars and just enjoy.” 

Photography by LAURE JOLIET


This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of C Magazine.