Designer Suzanne Tucker’s Romance with Design
As co-founder of the acclaimed interior design firm Tucker & Marks, Suzanne Tucker has established herself as an icon of modern American design. The San Francisco-based designer is best known for her signature California style—a warm, sumptuous look that blends treasures from the past with rich textures and European elegance. Here, Tucker shares why every room needs an antique element, plus her tips for embarking on a romance with your own home through design.
How would you describe your design style?
Bespoke and individual! I prefer adjectives like “comfortable”, “inviting” and “elegant”, whether the home is casual or formal, in the city or in the country. It’s a very personal style.
You wrote the book, quite literally, on the romance of design. What elements can add a sense of romance to a room?
In my work, I always strive to create interiors that are tailor-made to each individual client. When a house is overlaid with one’s personal collections—art, furnishings, accessories—it becomes an expression of individuality and a vessel for memories, tangible and intangible. Thus, a house becomes a lifelong romance, evolving along with us—we should find ourselves falling in love with our homes over and over again.
What are the quickest ways to kill a sense of romance in a room? How can you avoid them?
Bad lighting—uncomfortable and unflattering! Romance is so much about our surroundings along with the mood and seduction we create. A massive TV screen, especially when not on, can also be a real eyesore. Recently, I installed an antique Japanese screen in a client’s library on a sliding track to obscure the screen when not in use. Problem solved!
Your designs often combine fine antiques with modern textiles and accessories. What do you love most about antiques?
I always encourage my clients to have at least one piece with some age in a room. Incorporating something old and beautiful into a room transforms it in a subtle way and gives a welcome tension between the old and new. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top expensive, but I find that an antique piece resonates differently in a room, whispering with history’s silent voices. The appeal resides in a patina only achievable with time. Their very imperfections speak to me of character and of life lived, and give a room a depth of soul.
What are your tips for incorporating objects from different time periods into one room and keeping it contemporary?
There are really no hard and fast rules about combining periods or styles. More important than that are considerations of scale, balance and proportion.
What do you look for when buying antiques?
To me, the pieces have to really resonate on a very personal level. Among the rather obscure things that I collect are eighteenth-century silver-mounted cowrie shell snuff boxes. I began this specific collection with six boxes that had belonged to a dear family friend. Those boxes, clustered on a console in her living room, had enchanted me since childhood. Having them now feels like having a part of her still in my life; they mean the world to me. Those first six boxes launched me into a collection now numbering more than thirty.
What’s be your greatest antique find to date?
Probably those first cowrie shell snuff boxes. It was the estate sale of my family’s friend, and I had a heavy heart walking through her front door for the last time. When I looked to my left, there were the six boxes, unnoticed by everyone else, and I bought them for a song. That was kismet.
A Touch of Romance
Suzanne Tucker’s designs blend relaxed West Coast cool with a sophisticated sense of Old World charm. To strike this delicate balance, she combines luxe textures and rich colors with special, one-of-a-kind pieces that add a sense of history to a home. Here, the designer selects some of her favorite artistic accents from Lofty.com.
Victorian Burl Walnut Slant Front Letter Box with Calendar, English, late 19th century
“A delightful letterbox of lovely burl walnut complete with accoutrements…. who do I know with the monogram MM?”
Pair of Chinese Blue and White Porcelain Covered Jars, Kangxi Period (1662-1773)
“These are a lovely accent to any room—on a tabletop or in a bookshelf and a nice addition to a growing collection of blue and white pieces.”
Continental Gilt Brass and Ebonized Wood Mirror, circa 1850
“This mirror has fabulous scale so I would place it as a strong focal point—an entry hall, over a mantel, even in a jewel-box powder room to great surprise and dramatic effect.”
Moroccan Beni Ourain Rug, Middle Atlas Mountains, mid-20th century
“Moroccan rugs provide great texture to a space and with their neutral color palette and graphic design I love how they work beautifully in contemporary or more traditional spaces.”
Le Costume Historique
“Leather bound books are a great addition to any library and these are of a wonderful large scale plus a charming subject matter.”
Images (from top): A Suzanne Tucker design, photographed by Matthew Millman; Tucker, photographed by Michal Venera; Tucker’s antique cowerie shell snuff boxes, photographed by Edward Addeo; a warm space created by Tucker, photographed by Matthew Millman.