24 March 2011

An Afternoon with Suzanne Tucker

I have long been an admirer of interior designer Suzanne Tucker.  While the rooms created by her and her firm Tucker & Marks have always struck me as effortlessly elegant and comfortable, it recently occurred to me how confident they are in their timelessness.  After all, not depending on the latest trend or gimmick to make a splash takes a certain chutzpah.

 Two classic Tucker and Mark's rooms

I then discovered that Suzanne, with her husband Tim Marks, had taken over the business of her late mentor Michael Taylor who famously has been dubbed the inventor of the California look.  If you read Rose Tarlow's introduction to the Taylor monograph, it is clear that while Taylor was spectacularly talented, he was also spectacularly difficult.  Ever since, I have been dying to sit down with Suzanne and find out everything about her experience with this design legend.

Tucker on Taylor

A classic California Look room, complete with ball pillows, in Palm Springs by Michael Taylor, courtesy of Architectural Digest.  Click here for more.

While the interior design profession was founded by "lady decorators" in the early twentieth century, it seems that the majority of the top designers heralded today are men.  I wondered what Suzanne thought about that, and she said this was something that was certainly true when she started out.  She had just moved to San Francisco in the early '80s and even though she had impressive credentials, nothing was panning out.  In fact, at her interview with Michael Taylor's office, she was told there was only a secretary position available.  She took a pause, enquired what it entailed exactly, and then accepted.  It didn't take long to discover that people didn't stay for long - 6 months tops.  When Taylor flew into a rage for the first time at her, Suzanne stunned me with her response: she told him it was unacceptable to talk to her that way and she didn't appreciate it.  Wow!  She drew her boundaries, and what do you know, he respected her the more for it and they had a fabulous working relationship.

(Incidentally, if you ever have the chance to work in her office, take it!  Suzanne is a huge believer in mentoring, and regularly has wine and cheese evenings for her staff where she shares photos of her latest voyage, be it Turkey, Paris or Belgium.  Travel is a huge inspiration for her and she wants her team to see what she's seen. )

 A Tucker and Marks version of the California Look

What about this California look?  I asked her.  Well, Taylor certainly didn't invent the all white look - Syrie Maugham was doing it decades before -  but it certainly was  something that he became known for.  The look was more a way to get people to notice him and to get the phones to ring rather than completely defining his work.

Scale and proportion were one of the most important things she learned from him.  Get the eye to go up and come down - it's a rhythm you create.  It was a Taylor trademark to use trees in this way which Suzanne does occasionally.  He was also masterful at editing.  He would remove one item from an installation and instantly it would make the whole room look right.

Tucker on Tucker, Inc.

 Fleur de Plume, a brocade by Suzanne Tucker Home

In preparation for our lunch date, I clicked over to the Suzanne Tucker Home site.  After drooling over Suzanne's own textile line, I saw that she also has candles and chocolates in her eponymous home line.  Girlfriend's got it going on!  I'll never forget the example of Josiah Wedgwood who knew that the key to a successful business was cultivating the bon ton who made him fashionable as well as  producing an accessible line that everyone can enjoy.

And if you are tempted to groan, "Not another fabric line", think again.

 Hatley in azure was named after Suzanne's daughter;  it was an exciting moment when Albert Hadley's office placed an order for the print

Suzanne's is an instant classic.  Like Geoffrey Bennison or Robert Kime, Suzanne's fabrics have an aura of patina about them.  Her color sensibility is finely honed.  Just as in her rooms, she layers tones and hues subtly resulting in a warm glow.  The quality is also tops -  Suzanne assumed complete control over every element to make sure the result lived up to her vision.  "If I knew everything then that I do now, I might have had second thoughts!" she laughed. Luckily she didn't and her new spring collection has just launched.  (Click here to see more.)

In a warm glow was how I left our afternoon.  What I find particularly inspiring, as much as pure talent itself, is the ability to be successful while keeping one's sense of humor and courteousness intact.  Suzanne Tucker is such a rara avis.

For more inspiration, pick up a copy of Suzanne's book Rooms to Remember.  All photos courtesy of Tucker & Marks


Brillante Interiors said...

A portrait of a designer I admire, timeless is a major word for me. I enjoyed her memories of becoming a secretary (smart move)the historical changes in the field and the way she mentors her assistants.
Precious post.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

That green brocade!
Oh my soul!

The Devoted Classicist said...

It is interesting that Albert Hadley was mentioned because the first photo reminded me so much of his style. I can see the Michael Taylor influence, too, though. Of course, those are two great design inspirations for us all! And the fabric line is fabulous too!

home before dark said...

It has been said that every poem was written on the backs of other poems. I think that brocade counts as poetry.

Jane Hall The Voice of Style said...

As a woman in the design field for 35 years what I found interesting in this post was the the point about men dominating the design field.I have written about this and believe it's a factor in why interiors have become so masculine. They look like men's suits and corporate boardrooms. We need more femininity in design and therefore more star women designers.

Dovecote Decor said...

Thank you! What a well written and illustrated post. Timeless is the operative word, and yes, rhythm. There is a bit of chinoiserie in most of the rooms, which kicks the look up a notch.

Divine Theatre said...

I am currently reading your book entitled, "Classic English Design and Antiques: Period Styles and Furniture". Just wanted to let you know I am enjoying it immensely!
Is it normal to cry over carved details on furniture legs?

Carolyn said...

What a fab interior! I'm speechless!

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cathy whitlock said...

Nominated you for Stylish Blogger award on Cinema Style. Tag you are it!

quintessence said...

As I have said before, understated timeless elegance is as good as it gets in my book. I'm not talking about some stodgy version, but what you refer to - a design most certainly not dependent on trend or the latest new thing but also not mired in the past. The best can walk that fine line and find their own way and it seems that perhaps Tucker has done just that.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful interiors!!! I love the white sofa below "Tucker on Taylor". It is fresh and comfortable looking.
Have a great weekend.

quintessence said...

Timeless indeed! I love all design with an edge of patina - and you mentioned two of my other favorites - Bennison and Kime and many of Tucker's fabrics including the lovely Carita have a similar feel.

Karena said...

Emily a very insightful interview, Suzanne has a stunning and yes timeless design style!!

Come and enter my fashionable giveaway from The French Basketeer!

Art by Karena

Claudia Juestel said...

Great piece on one of our most admired local designers.

I have always been impressed by Suzanne's warm confidence and directness. From what I understand not many dared to stand up to Michael Taylor, even clients.