Suzanne Tucker is a multi-hyphenate creative. Since founding Tucker & Marks with partner Timothy F. Marks in 1986, she has launched her own fabric line (some of which is available on Chairish), created collections of dinnerware, furniture, linens, and more, written two books, and chaired the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show. It’d be hard to imagine having any free time with a schedule like that, but Suzanne spends hers collecting vintage and antique pieces and traveling to find even more inspiration. She truly lives and breathes the design world.
We spoke with the ever-busy designer about her special affinity for fabrics, her tips for incorporating different types of patterns in a space, and the people who’ve inspired her along the way, from Billy Baldwin to Bunny Mellon. Read on to see what she had to say, and visit the Chairish Tucker & Marks profile to see more of the firm’s work and Suzanne’s fabrics.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? How would you say it’s evolved since you launched your firm?
I would say my aesthetic is individually reflective with a passionate approach to balance and detail, resulting in a rather personalized chic. Those are a lot of descriptive words and one can always use rather clichéd adjectives like comfortable, elegant, and inviting but it should be all that and more — whether the home is casual or formal, in the city or in the country. My aesthetic has evolved over the years in my approach to clients. I take a highly personalized approach for each project so for me, it’s a constant evolution. No two projects are alike!
It’s been just over a decade since you launched Suzanne Tucker Home. Tell us a bit about your fabrics and how you develop them.
I have always had a great love for textiles. In getting my BFA in design, I studied textiles extensively, from the history and techniques to dyes and patterns. I always try to use antique pieces in my projects so I’m continuously on the lookout for the rare and unusual and have been collecting them for years. It was a long-time dream to build a textile line and it was also an obvious segue to my growing design practice. In fact, some of our very first textile designs are now for sale on Chairish!
Besides the design aesthetic, I’m a picky perfectionist when it comes to the hand and quality of fabrics. I work with mills all over the world to achieve and offer the best possible quality and craftsmanship and am particularly drawn to truly handcrafted fabrics. In addition, we pay special attention to the finishing process, to enhance the overall feel, suppleness and “hand” of the textiles, a step that I feel is extremely important and too often overlooked.
What trends have you been seeing in terms of textile design over the last few years? What do you think designers and consumers will want next?
Certainly, high-performance fabrics are trending (just as our newest textile collection is launching). It is our first foray into the indoor/outdoor performance textiles and I’m very excited about it! Woven with 100% solution-dyed polypropylene, these fabrics are colorfast, easy care/washable, and they have a wonderful soil-resistant finish. Think stylish indoor/outdoor living spaces, high-use/ high-traffic areas, and colorful kid and pet-friendly rooms.
As for “trends,” they are just that — trendy! i.e. “here today, gone tomorrow” — but good design is always timeless. The pendulum has swung towards greater individuality, abandoning the rules, which is a good thing. Consumers as well as designers will always want the same thing: good design that will last. I think that is what is definitely here to stay.
As you know, we’re all about maximalism at Chairish. How do you feel about it as a design philosophy? And how do you feel about mixing patterns, in particular?
I am all for maximalism! Bare and spare doesn’t resonate with me. While that chic minimalist space makes for a cool party and a great photograph, I want rooms to show me their personalities. Who lives there? Show me your soul! I love mixing patterns, textures, and layering the details, whether contemporary or classical. But to be successful at it, one must always balance the scale of patterns, the weights of textures, and carefully consider the placement of patterns in curtains and upholstery.
What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate different popular patterns?
Here are a few of my favorite tips for different pattern types:
- Ikats: Keep the direction vertical or have fun and miter into a kaleidoscope burst of patterns. Ikats also make for a great “surprise” lining of a more traditional drapery treatment or as one side of portières as you pass through.
- Florals: Always a lovely way to “bring the outside in,” they can be paired with a smaller scale stripe or check in a similar color palette. Try pulling out a less obvious color in the floral; it will look a little unexpected and thus less “decorated.”
- Paisleys: Such a chameleon, they work anywhere and everywhere. Keep them tonal for a more transitional look.
- Animal patterns: There can be a very fine line between chic and sleazy, so buy the best — it needs to be top quality. Leopard acts as a surprising neutral in every room, color palette, or style! I have a Michael Taylor “frog chair” upholstered in a vintage Valentino jaguar coat. She’s been photographed a lot and in several other designers’ homes, but she stays purring with me.
Who are some of the designers who’ve influenced you over the course of your career?
My present favorites are generally my colleagues, many of whom are my friends. Fortunately for me, that’s far too long 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 his curtaining skills and use of color and partnering with Nancy Lancaster creating the English Country house look together (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 and with abundance! The great architects I’ve had the good fortune to work with have definitely had an impression on me as well since I’m such a lover of architecture. I have learned so much from all of them.
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 two-person office, so I was doing everything but it was a fabulous immersion into British decorating for me. 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 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?” I received my BFA in design but would say my masters came from my London experience, and working for Michael was definitely the PhD!
Are there any dream design “gets” you’d love to have? What are some iconic pieces you would love to own?
The pieces I value most — personally — are those I’ve inherited or those from designers and people whom I admire — Michael Taylor, Tony Hail, Tony Duquette, Pamela Harriman, Bunny Mellon. When it comes to iconic design pieces, the Giacometti-designed table that used to be in Hubert de Givenchy’s chateau would definitely be in my top ten and an 18th-century Venetian mirror will always make me swoon.
You’ve been a big part of the San Francisco design community… how does the city impact your work? What are some favorite things about it?
My projects take me far and wide, but I have always found a unique quality of light and living in Northern California. It inspires and invigorates me on a daily basis, especially as I drive back and forth across the Golden Gate Bridge every day. Add to that the unique camaraderie of the San Francisco design community, where it’s so important to be collegial and mutually supportive, the Bay Area “foodie” scene, and the outstanding culture scene — the museums, ballet, symphony, and opera — and it’s hard to see myself anywhere else.
You’ve been involved in the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show for years and have recently served as its chair. Tell us a bit about your love of antiques, and what it’s like working with the fair as well.
I grew up in Santa Barbara, exposed to a rather privileged playground of properties with romantic names such as El Mirador, Lotusland, Val Verde, Constancia, and Bellagio, to name a few. As magical as the gardens were to me, I was equally enchanted by the houses and their interiors. My eyes were opened when Sotheby’s held a three-day in situ auction on the Armour estate next to us. I climbed through the hedges and 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 “passionata!” 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 long term involvement with The San Francisco Fall Antiques Show has been a personal passion, feeding my love of the decorative arts. Michael Taylor took me to the first show and, as he shopped the show for every client, I scrambled behind him taking notes and gathering Polaroid snapshots from the dealers. It was stressful but great fun and a fabulous learning experience! I have only ever missed one show over the last 39 years. I am currently the show’s chair as we relaunch it post-Covid into a new world of treasure hunting, both virtual and in person. It’s a beloved event in the Bay Area, providing something for everyone.
What advice would you give to people who are new to antiques and vintage pieces, or might be a bit intimidated by the process?
I would say to look for pieces that resonate with you personally. Are you drawn to it, is it pleasing to your eye, does it have good lines, a yummy finish, a rich patina, an interesting provenance, and does it make you smile? I’m not a purist and I definitely believe in mixing contemporary pieces with antiques, modern elements with antiquities. Don’t be afraid of putting a piece of great value next to a flea market find. 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 on to the next lucky person.
You’ve mentioned that travel is a big influence on your designs and patterns in particular. How did the last year impact that process for you? What are some of the places you’d love to travel to next for inspiration?
We’ve all had to “travel” virtually for the past year and thank goodness I have (at current count) 108,566 photos in my iPhone albums! I “travelled” back in time through past trips, study tours, courses, and holidays, becoming re-inspired over and over again. But truthfully, I am so ready to pack my suitcase again and nurture my chronic case of wanderlust! On my travel list, besides the usual stops — New York, London, Paris, Italy — it would be India, Japan, and back to Africa! And repeat!
Lead image by Matthew Millman