Suzanne Tucker is recognized today as one of the country’s leading interior designers. She and partner Timothy F. Marks founded Tucker & Marks in 1986, and the firm has long been considered one of the most respected and successful interior design firms in the U.S.
Growing up in Santa Barbara, Suzanne graduated from UCLA with a BFA in Design. She worked in London before returning to California. She became the protégée of legendary Michael Taylor, the groundbreaking interior designer and inventor of the “California Look.” Tucker and Marks bought Taylor’s business after his untimely death in 1986. Tucker’s own style evolved to “European in look but West Coast in scale.” Known for her romantic approach to design, her style is luxurious, sophisticated, sumptuous, elegant, and inviting.
Suzanne is often asked to lecture on her work incorporating antiques, textiles & the decorative arts, a beloved subject matter. She says, “I believe good design is not about trends or rules but about creating timeless beauty that enhances one’s daily life. It’s all about balance – color, form, proportion, scale, light, art, new and old.” I am honored to welcome Suzanne Tucker to The Glam Pad today for a Q&A!
Q: When did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in interior design? How did your childhood influence you, and how did you get started in the industry?
A: My mother will tell you she saw it in me when I was a little girl spending hours rearranging all the ornaments on the Christmas tree! But growing up in Montecito was clearly impactful – the world was my architectural and horticultural oyster! My sister and I would spend days on end building forts and creating fantasies, and even as a child, I loved tagging along with my parents to their friends’ parties so I could see their houses and explore the gardens. I always took art classes outside of my school curriculum and it was natural for me to gravitate towards the arts, art history, architecture and design when I was in college. I studied interior architecture and design at university and was happiest when totally immersed in the art department. I considered becoming an architect, but I really didn’t want to spend time doing all that math! It may sound a bit odd, but I didn’t set out with a clear intention of becoming an interior designer or for that matter even thinking about a career. I followed what I loved, worked for some incredible people, had some indelible mentors, and it all fell into place. Interior design is a fantastic profession – constantly evolving, always challenging, very hard work, and immensely rewarding.
Q: How would you describe your style, and has it changed over the years?
A: In the first part of my career, I was focused more on style and fashion, creating great rooms and doing beautiful work. But now on a deeper level, my understanding of how that beauty actually enriches people’s lives, how the flow and function of a house creates harmony, what gives people pleasure to live with and be surrounded by, ultimately has more meaning for me. What I know for sure (an excellent Oprah expression), is that good design is not about rules or trends but about creating enduring style and beauty that has the ability to enhance a person’s daily life. It’s all about balance; color and light, proportion and scale, new and old, and always suitability to the person and place. I suppose you could describe my style in a few descriptive words but really, it’s not my style that matters. It’s my eye, my taste, my knowledge and expertise, and my constant curiosity that are what my clients seek. My goal is to create interiors that are tailored to encompass their individual tastes and personal style – traditional or contemporary, formal or casual. I think because of my experience with Michael Taylor who had a very distinctive salable look, I resisted being pigeonholed into a style all these years. I’d rather define my work by adjectives: classic, appropriate, elegant, timeless, comfortable and inviting, and yes, high-end. All of those words can apply to any home that I design.
Q: Some of my all-time favorite rooms are classics you designed 10-20 years ago. How do you create a sense of timelessness? Your interiors never go out of style!
A: That’s music to my ears, thank you! I strongly believe good design is not about trends or rules but about creating that quality of timeless beauty. Hence why I always caution against following trends in interiors because the simple nature of a trend is that you are in today and out tomorrow. Trends are for fashion, not for good design. Correct scale and proportion are the key, not color, not even style. A designer’s ability to manipulate scale and proportion properly is absolutely critical to achieving beauty and comfort in a room, a house, a garden… Scale has to do with size, and proportion with balance. When they are off, the dissonance is perceptible, and often uncomfortable. Getting them right is a designer’s greatest success. When they’re spot on, the achieved harmony translates across every style and all tastes – and across time.
Q: What are some interesting things your clients are requesting in 2018, and do these differ from requests made in 2008 or 1998?
A: Certainly everyone is wanting the mix they see coming out of the media. Just as in fashion, the old rules are gone and the new rule of breaking the old rules is fully embraced! Clients also want their rooms now to feel fresh meaning not fussy, not fuddy-duddy, not your grandmother’s house. Even my most traditional clients who live in very classic houses and have inherited beautiful pieces want me to work with them in a different way – repurpose and recycle, blend old with new. And clients definitely want to live in all of their rooms with an ease and comfort. They want to use their dining rooms, enjoy their living rooms and not have them relegated as rooms only used for parties and holidays. Plus, with the art world booming, many clients are taking a new approach to their existing art, collecting and rethinking where they are placed in a house. I love the unexpected – the Picasso in the powder room!
Q: Before working for Michael Taylor, who famously invented the “California Look,” you worked in London with Peter Hood, one of John Fowler’s last protégés. How did these two experiences influence your style, particularly the British exposure?
A: I was all of 26 when I went to work for Michael Taylor. I had a design degree from UCLA and had spent three years in London soaking up all that great British decorating and architecture. Peter Hood introduced me to the many nuances of that particularly English Colefax & Fowler/Nancy Lancaster way of approaching decorating and color, and to the highest standards of quality and craftsmanship, especially in antiques, curtain making, and upholstery. This hands-on experience was transforming.
Upon returning to California, where there were no jobs in the early ‘80’s for women in design, I managed to get my foot in the door of Michael’s firm but only because I accepted the position of his secretary (I couldn’t type worth beans!) Within a few months he began taking me on projects as his assistant and the rest is history. Michael was a true mentor to me: his mastery of scale and proportion, his use of color and light, his love of architecture, and his knowledge of furniture and antiques were ultimately the most influential to me. He had that “California Look” which sold magazines, made the phone ring and pay the bills, but his true genius was the way he mixed antiques with contemporary, and traditional with modern. That look is what I’ve taken forward in my own work and what I consider to be timeless design. And there are still days I will ask myself “I wonder what Michael would do here?”
Q: Please tell me about your passion for antiques and your recommendations on acquiring them and incorporating them within the home.
A: Good timing for this question, as I just wrapped up my 4th year as chair of the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show – and what a stellar edition it was! I am passionate about the decorative arts and I have a soft spot for anything with good lines, great bones, rich finishes, deep patina, and intriguing provenance. As far as incorporating them in your home: I’m not a purist and obviously believe in marrying contemporary pieces with antiques, modern elements with antiquities, and mixing the high with the low. And there are so many levels of good antiques and vintage pieces one can buy now. Again it’s all about that mix. I always tell my clients and students the same thing: buy what speaks to you, buy the best quality you can afford, and remember to always have something with age in a room – and you don’t want to be IT! 🙂
Q: Not only are your interiors luxurious, but they also appear comfortable and inviting. How do you create a home that will be a sanctuary for its owners?
A: We are all sensual people and so I believe that we should live in spaces that speak to that fact – that is, spaces that entice and delight our senses, and afford us lingering memories, envelope us, inspire us. Every room in the house can incorporate seductive elements that not only please the eye, but also the touch, the nose, the ear. Examples are the graceful edge of a table, the comfort of a chair that envelopes you just right, the touch of a beautifully woven textile or a polished banister, the fragrance of flowers or a favorite candle. And lighting is key… dimmers, dimmers everywhere! The list goes on!
Q: Do you design your homes with entertaining in mind, and what are some of your favorite tips for entertaining at home?
A: Absolutely, and I only wish more people would actually use their homes for entertaining! I always look at the flow of a house first and make it easy to not only live in but to function well with a group of people, caterers, staff, etc. And storage… The easier it is to set the table, access your dishes, linens, flatware, the easier it will be to plan a party or be spontaneous with a group of friends. Top tips: mix up the guests from a variety of worlds – art, design, business, politics, entertainment. The conversation will be so much more interesting! Set a beautiful table mixing and matching high and low- vintage, antique and new pieces. Don’t skimp on beautiful table linens… men love giant “lapkins”. Dim the lights, light the candles, start the music, keep the food simple and the drinks flowing…. cheers!
Q: What inspired you to create Suzanne Tucker Home, and where do you find inspiration for new fabrics and home goods?
A: It’s really quite simple and goes back to surrounding ourselves with what is beautiful… that enrich and enhance the quality of our lives concept. With that in mind, I launched Suzanne Tucker Home almost 9 years ago now, starting with my fabric collection that is now sold in over a dozen showrooms worldwide. This was followed by a collection of dinnerware called San Marco for Royal Limoges, outdoor furniture and outdoor textiles for Michael Taylor Designs (a wonderful full-circle moment!), hand carved stone mantel pieces for Chesney’s and fine bed and table linens for Julia B. Inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere! My growing collection of vintage and antique textiles and documents is always a go-to favorite. And I am always nursing an incurable case of wanderlust! My design passion is equaled by my curiosity and this always fed by my global travels (Ireland is next on the list) and I always return with a suitcase full of ideas and a camera loaded with images.
Q: What do you foresee in the future for the interior design industry, and for Tucker & Marks and Suzanne Tucker Home?
A: Our industry has certainly changed over the last 30 years and in some ways for the better and in others, not so much. But that’s life in general! I think it’s great that good design can be accessed by the masses now but I do think it has dumbed it down too much. Having the exact same thing as your friends down the street, is not creative nor original. And let’s face it, it’s an expensive world and mistakes are very costly! A good designer has become an invaluable resource in creating individuality and one hopes lasting quality. For me, I’ll just keep doing what I know and love, keep adding to my collections, keep traveling and being inspired, keep mentoring and spoiling my staff, and enjoy the great clients and projects that I feel truly blessed to have!
Thank you so much, Suzanne, for joining us today. I am such a huge fan of your truly timeless interiors!
Suzanne Tucker is repeatedly honored by Architectural Digest as one of the AD100 Top Designers of the World. And The Robb Report named her “The Best of the Best in Interior Design.” Tucker & Marks, Inc. is an interior design and decorating firm based in San Francisco, California. Founded in 1986 by Suzanne Tucker and Timothy Marks, Tucker & Marks, Inc. has grown to be one of the largest of its kind on the West Coast, creating luxurious and elegant, extremely comfortable and inviting homes throughout the United States.
For additional information, please visit Tucker & Marks. You can also follow @suzanne_tucker, @TuckerandMarks, and @SuzanneTuckerHome on Instagram for ongoing inspiration. I also highly recommend Suzanne’s books Rooms to Remember: The Classic Interiors of Suzanne Tucker and Suzanne Tucker Interiors: The Romance of Design. I have pulled some of my favorite inspirational Suzanne Tucker quotes from Rooms to Remember below…
Inspirational Quotes by Suzanne Tucker from Rooms to Remember:
On Gracious Living
“I believe that a beautiful home is intrinsic to gracious living. I also believe that there are many ‘right’ kinds of beauty and graciousness. Design to me is about flexibility, options, and content.”
“Antiques resonate with history’s silent voices, and I often imagine their stories. The appeal resides in a heavily lacquered surface, in a patina only achievable with time; their very imperfections speak to me of character and life lived.”
“I like what people’s collections tell you about them, about their individual visions, their senses of humor, their tastes and passions. Collections tell our stories. Like those stories, they should evolve, and revolve in and out of our lives. We are simply the caretakers for those who will treasure them next.”
“Details separate the pedestrian from the exceptional, and transform the common into the uncommon… Details should be expressive, but also incorporated into an overall design without immediately drawing attention to themselves. I use details deliberately, and I intend them to be subtle finishing touches that add layers of nuance and delicate distinction to my work. I think about how my clients might feel when opening drawers lined in beautiful fabric, or a closet enveloped in delightful wallpaper. While these added elements are not requirements for any interior, I believe that couture details truly complete a house.”
“Many classic design elements – both simple and complex – have developed from our need to please our senses, or to assuage their deprivation. Think of cabbage rose chintzes: those particularly English patterns developed as a means of bringing the garden inside during long, bleak winters. They’re a remembrance of beautiful things past and a reminder that they will come again, ever present even when the blooms are not.”