“I never liked those old, slow boats much as a kid,” reminisces Evan K. Marshall about the sailboats that dotted the New York City waterways he plied as a youth in his father’s motorboats. “I used to like to go by them fast and give them a good rocking.” At age 63, Marshall, one of the planet’s top marine interior designers, has yet to cease rocking boats.
Born in the late 1950s to Paule Marshall, a prominent novelist, and Kenneth Marshall, a civil-right activist turned AT&T executive, Evan K. Marshall grew up on the water. “My father always had grand ambitions of buying a classic boat and fixing it up,” he says. “We had an Elco because even in the ‘60s an Elco was considered a classic, and I remember on my 6th birthday we packed all my friends into the car and drove to the boat to take it out, and when we got there, there was about two feet of water in the cabin.”
But Marshall’s spirit was not dampened. In fact, his fascination with boat design would only grow as he got older. “We used to keep our boats at 79th Street Boat Basin—it was the place to be in those days. Malcom Forbes used to keep his [162-foot Feadship] Highlander there. And back then nothing was locked up, not like now, so I could climb around the docks and the boats as a kid, and I got an education in boat design that was impossible to replicate anywhere else.”
It was a schooling that would serve him generously in the years to follow. Marshall worked his way through the ranks from fairing boats by hand to nautical design school to a plum job at the legendary naval architecture firm Sparkman & Stephens, and now he runs his own eponymous firm located in London that works on yachts, both production and custom, as well as homes. And he is renowned for successfully tackling jobs dispensed from some of the most demanding clients on Earth.
“Working with high-net-worth people, a lot of times you think all you need is good design,” he says, “but so much of it is knowing how to work with people that are very demanding and who have high expectations. I love it, but it can be challenging. These are people who don’t like to hear ‘no.’ There’s no room for screwups. You can’t show up to this party if you don’t bring your A-game. And to me, that’s what it’s all about. I never make excuses—if we screw it up, we own it, and we eat it. I don’t care if that cuts into my profit; it’s much more important to me to keep that high level of trust with the client.”
Aside from his exemplary levels of conscientiousness, what also makes Marshall stand out is his deep level of understanding of the interior design space, and particularly how it relates to yachts. “With interior design, the initial thing to get right is space planning, squeezing every ounce out of the space,” he says. “That’s a real skill, and you acquire it by drawing layouts, and that’s what I’ve been doing since I was 5 or 6 years old. It’s as important to me as styling. When I have the initial conversation with the owner, I start there. And once the layout is fixed, you start figuring out furniture based on the tastes of the client. It all comes together like a pyramid; you start with the basics and refine it as you go up, all the way to the top.”
And making it to the top is something that Marshall has always had in his design.