Q+A with Suzanne Tucker, the Collector’s Interior Designer
Suzanne Tucker is recognized today as one of the country’s leading interior designers, known for her timeless style, elegant interiors and her passion for antiques, architecture and the decorative arts. Her award-winning projects are frequently published in magazines worldwide and Architectural Digest has honored her repeatedly on the inimitable AD100 list of top designers. Having worked under the legendary Michael Taylor and often referenced as his protégée, she and her husband/partner Timothy F. Marks, founded Tucker & Marks in 1986 building it into the distinguished firm it is today. Suzanne Tucker Home was launched in 2010 with her textile, tabletop and home furnishings line. Suzanne's first monograph, Rooms to Remember, The Classic Interiors of Suzanne Tucker (The Monacelli Press, 2009) was followed by the publication of Suzanne Tucker Interiors – The Romance of Design (The Monacelli Press, 2013).
An ardent supporter of the antiques trade, Suzanne has served as annual Designers Circle Chair and sits on the advisory Board of the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, and will be the Chair of the 2015 San Francisco Fall Antiques Show. Suzanne is a founding Director of the Northern California Chapter of the Institute of Classical Art & Architecture (ICAA), serving on the board for the past nine years and as Chapter President for six. She serves on the national ICAA Board of Directors, is the Jury Chair of the 2013 Rieger Graham Prize and Co-Chair of the 2014 Arthur Ross Awards. Suzanne is a sought-after speaker on design and the decorative arts. She serves on the West Coast Council of The Garden Conservancy and on the Executive Cabinet of the Leaders of Design Council.
We caught up with Suzanne to discuss her inspirations, the art of designing with antiques, and much more.
InCollect: Who are some of your favorite designers (past and present)?
Suzanne Tucker: My present favorites are generally my colleagues, many of whom are my friends. Fortunately for me, that's far too long of a list! And I have a fairly long list of past favorites given my appreciation of architecture and design and I am forever looking to the past for inspiration today. So a few... The great French designer Henri Samuel is right up there for his classic European rooms. John Fowler for partnering with Nancy Lancaster and together creating the English Country house look (which really came from Nancy's Virginia roots!). Billy Baldwin for his elegant American style. Albert Hadley for his quintessential eye for editing. Sister Parish because she could arrange furniture in a room flawlessly. Michael Taylor is an obvious favorite given he was so influential in my career. He was a tyrannical mentor but took me under his wing. His mastery of scale and proportion, his use of of color and light, and his knowledge of furniture and antiques were greatly influential to me. I've definitely done my own thing, but every once in a while, I'll ask myself “What would Michael do in this space? In my early twenties, I answered an ad in the London papers and was hired by one of John Fowler's last designers, Peter Hood. It was a 2 person office, so I was doing everything but it was a fabulous immersion into British decorating for me. I received my BFA in design but would say my Masters came from my London experience and working for Michael was definitely the PhD!
InCollect: What is your favorite room to design? What about that room appeals to you?
ST: I love designing master bedrooms because they're the most personal spaces in the house – the first thing someone experiences in the morning and last thing they experience at the end of the day. With clients on a limited budget who need to phase the decorating, I'll always tell them to start with their master bedroom first. But powder rooms are a personal passion! Although they are the smallest rooms, one can let your imagination go wild and I love to create jewel box fantasies.
InCollect: You are quite an authority when it comes to designing with antiques. When and how did you become interested in antiques?
ST: I grew up in Santa Barbara exploring a rather privileged playground, able to roam freely through properties with romantic names such as El Mirador, Lotusland, Val Verde, Constancia and Belaggio to name a few. As magical as the gardens were to me, I was equally enchanted by the houses and interiors. My parents had antique pieces as did everyone else - it was just what you had. But my eyes were opened when Sotheby's held a three-day estate auction at the Armour property next to us. I sat in the bleachers noting in the catalogue what everything sold for and I think it was that experience as a teenager that made me become a lifelong collector. It made me realize that one should always have at least one piece with some age in a room. It does not have to be over-the-top expensive, but antiques resonate with history's silent voices. The appeal resides in a patina only achievable with time: their very imperfections speak to me of soul and character and life lived. My longterm involvement with The San Francisco Fall Antiques Show - I am currently the show's chair - has continually fueled this passion and provided an ongoing education in the fascinating field of vintage, antiques and collectables.
InCollect: What are your favorite styles, movements, etc. when it comes to antiques? What do you love about them?
ST: It's hard to go wrong with anything from the 18th century- the height of great beauty in architecture and design. But if I could only have one piece of furniture in an empty room it would be something from the Régence period .… that narrow 14 year window of incredibly chic perfectly proportioned furniture. I have a soft spot for anything with good lines, yummy finishes, patina and provenance. I'm not a purist and definitely believe in mixing contemporary pieces with antiques, modern elements with antiquities.
InCollect: What are your top tips for incorporating antiques into an interior?
ST: The rigid rules are gone – thank goodness! I love the mix so I would say never to be afraid of putting a piece of great value next to a flea market find. (see also previous answer). Regardless of style or era, the scale and proportion of furniture is always the most important thing in a room. Does it fit? Does it look out of place? Look at the lines, study the bones... If it speaks to you, buy it! Live with it and love it, don't forget to feed it with a good wax and pass it onto the next lucky person.
InCollect: Are there any current trends in interior design that you’re particularly excited about?
ST: I don't really believe in trends. Trends are for fashion - here today, gone tomorrow.... Good design is always timeless. The pendulum has swung towards greater individuality, abandoning the "right" and "wrong" which is a good thing. I think that is here to stay.
InCollect: What are the biggest challenges you face as an interior designer? What are the greatest rewards?
ST: Biggest challenge: Time! Or rather: the lack of it. I am very fast at what I do but then I also don't allow myself the luxury of time to spend hours and hours designing and redesigning.
Biggest rewards: making people happy....dreaming bigger than they can do for themselves... being able to create personalized environments that our clients are proud to call home.