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

22 March 2011

City by the Bay

I've just returned from a heavenly week in San Francisco. Fantastic people, architecture, food, and fabrics (stay tuned!) - all of which put the technicolor back in my step and made me...

Think Pink!