39 Under 39: Walla Walla couple designs family, professional life with care, love

The Brian Thonney and Kim Payette family.

They call their business The Project by B&K, but Brian Thonney and Kim Payette could easily title their life together the same.

The Walla Walla couple is gaining recognition for taking on the area’s vintage homes to restore beauty and make them useful to families once again, all while maintaining the integrity of the craftsmanship.

In her letter nominating the couple, former Walla Walla teacher McKenzie Bostwick said Thonney and Payette can be compared to Chip and Joanna Gaines of the popular “Fixer Upper” home renovation show.

With three completely redone Walla Walla Valley houses under their tool belts, Bostwick said she finds Thonney and Payette to be the hardest working, most passionate folks under age 39 in the area.

Thonney, she said, “always had an eye for brushing dust off something and making it beautiful, while still maintaining the integrity of its past. Brian works with his hands and many community members saw his attention to detail during the pandemic while he could be seen persistently chipping paint off the side of his entire three-story Newell Street home, a process that took many months. Throughout he and Kim’s projects, many folks have stopped to talk to Brian and are amazed at his handiwork — they are often curious about the process or about his plans. He is charismatic and proud and he always is willing to stop what he is doing to answer questions and share with others. He delights in restoring these homes as it brings beauty to not only his own street but the streets that make up the heart of Walla Walla.”

Payette mirrors that in her own passions, Bostwick noted.

“Kim loves her Walla Walla community and has brought with her a sense of style, passion and great heart that she shares abundantly with community members. ... She gracefully balances motherhood with the business, working with Brian on many of the behind-the-scenes details. Kim’s modern and minimalist style is a key piece for the design in the homes she and Brian complete.”

Remodeling historic homes has plenty of challenges — including shifting foundations, outdated utilities and more — but it is ultimately highly rewarding, Thonney and Payette said.

Thonney, 33, was born and raised here. He said he learned construction skills from his dad, Dave Thonney, and grandfather, Larry Thonney, starting in the trade at age 13.

The Thonney Construction company has been in business for half a century. The elder Thonneys passed on all aspects of carpentry and solid work ethics to the younger Thonney.

Brian Thonney has also had the benefit of mentoring from long-time Walla Walla designer and general contractor Kevin Davis, who has helped him develop vision and design skills.

Learning from such teachers is “a continuous journey,” Payette and Thonney said.

French Canadian Payette joined this ride 10 years ago, emigrating from Quebec after falling in love and marrying the Walla Walla contractor.

That particular building project has resulted in five additions — three sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 7 to 20 months, Payette said.

“They are our pride and joy and keep us on our toes.”

The Project is a contracting business, absolutely, but its lifeblood is interior design and function, she said.

“Walking onto the job site for the first time and thinking of all the possibilities to create a beautiful, functional space to enjoy. … It is so rewarding to revive a piece of history.”

They do the work as a team, Payette said, but she nominates Thonney as the V.I.P.

Her husband’s attention to details is his true talent, she explained.

“He is meticulous and very thorough. His artistic side is what fuels a lot of his designs and layout ideas.”

The family invests any spare time in being together and pursuing the area’s opportunities for fishing, sports and running.

Payette has gained a reputation as a “fierce” chef known for showcasing local ingredients in dishes filled with flavor, Bostwick pointed out.

“This passion for friends, family and food has lent to their making the kitchen an integral part of each home design.”

The Project is also possible because of others like them in the field, Thonney and Payette said.

Many subcontractors in the Walla Walla Valley are young entrepreneurs like themselves, with whom the couple has developed friendships and grown their business alongside.

The community is the winner, no matter what contractor is up to bat, Thonney and Payette believe, and that’s a home run.

At home plate, Walla Walla is a place filled with love and kindness, a town where people work together and help each other out, the couple said.

Because of that, the community has given the young couple a solid foundation for raising a family and professional success, they said.

Payette easily summed it up: “We are excited for the future.”


Names: Brian Thonney and Kim Payette

Ages: He’s 33, she’s 30

Profession: Interior designers and general contractors

Residence: Walla Walla

What motivates you? Honoring history and craftsmanship through meticulous renovation.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.

(1) comment


Wonderful design creativity and attention to detail. If you have a home renovation or rebuild project, you should talk to and consider Brian & Kim !

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