A California native with a timeless sensibility, Kendall Wilkinson has emerged as one of the nation’s most celebrated interior designers. Establishing her eponymous San Francisco firm in 1992, Kendall creates bespoke residences with an emphasis on beauty and comfort. Her oeuvre ranges from Pacific Heights estates to coastal Mexican vacation getaways.

Capture Kendall’s classical design sense with her personally selected pieces from Sotheby’s Home.

How did you discover your passion for design?
My mother was an interior designer, so I grew up surrounded by her work and influence. The real spark was when I studied abroad in Paris. I studied the city’s architecture, antiques and decorative arts, and fell in love with it all. That is the moment when my passion for design took over, and I knew I wanted to start a career in design.

What is your favorite decorative object at home?
I have a photograph that was taken by my dear friend Barbara Vaughn. It is of water reflections in Sausalito and has such an elegant and calming presence. I believe that pieces with a story or a deeper connection bring us the most joy.

Is design an art or a science?
Design is art and science. Some principles are based on research, such as color theory and the effects of lighting on moods and our emotional well-being. The art is in blending that knowledge with the creative process to produce harmonious interiors.

Do you have any go-to color or pattern combinations?
Blue is a go-to color for me, and most of my projects have that color be a central theme or the “pop” in a room. Interestingly this relates to the science of design, as blue light is integral to our evolution and boosts our attention, memory, energy levels, reaction times and overall mood. Also, it just makes me happy!

When do you consider a completed project a success?
After installation, if my team and I can reflect and say that the client is happy, we were within our timeline and budget, and our design is “timeless,” it is a success.

Photo by Lisa Romerein

Share your biggest design secret.
Always ground a room with something vintage or even antique. It will lend a feeling of authenticity and timelessness, no matter how modern the space is. When everything is new, there tends to be a lack of warmth, and the décor can feel a bit contrived.

What is the most common design mistake you see?
The biggest mistake I continuously see is improper scale. The scale of pieces and how they relate to one another can make or break any room! It doesn’t matter how beautiful the architecture is, how luxurious the fabrics are or how perfect the lighting is. If the scale is wrong, the entire design suffers.

How do you balance style, comfort and functionality?
Most of our clients have growing families, balancing young children with an active lifestyle filled with lots of entertaining. We start with furniture pieces that the client loves, and then we frequently upholster them in performance fabrics that are very durable while also looking and feeling luxurious. Pieces are even finished with more durable techniques to withstand a child’s birthday party and look elegant for a formal cocktail party. By using the right materials, you can easily strike a balance between all three.

Is there a specific item you typically use as a starting point? (ex: rug, artwork, statement piece, furniture)
We start the design process by asking the client if they currently own anything that they love and want to reuse. Often, that piece, whatever it is, will serve as the de facto starting point. Recently, we had a client who wanted to use their mother’s rug for a room, and luckily the size worked, so we designed this dining room around this sentimental rug.

What do you think about Sotheby’s Home?
We love the vast amount of inventory and the diverse styles and price points, and it’s a veritable cornucopia of good design.

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