At Home with Designer Kendall Wilkinson
California native Kendall Wilkinson has spent over two decades creating beautiful spaces for both residential and commercial clients. Her sensibility is rooted in classical design, often creating authentic period looks or mixing modern pieces with older gems. Wilkinson has become one of the most sought-after interior designers and her projects span the globe. Her collection for Fabricut, launched Spring 2016, features indoor/outdoor fabrics in a sophisticated mix of neutrals, bold colors, and innovative patterns.
In 2017, the San Francisco Fall Show invited Wilkinson to create a Designer Vignette for that year’s Flower Power theme. Each of the four designers that year was given a season on which to focus their vignette, and Wilkinson’s was Autumn. She dubbed it ‘The Secret Garden’ and it remains a favorite Show memory for her. “It was inspired by a Valentino dress and our amazing partners, de Gournay,” she shared. “They hand -painted and hand-beaded a floral motif onto an iridescent silk wallpaper in autumnal colors resulting in the most exquisite wall covering. We also incorporated wonderfully crusty stone garden elements from (Fall Show dealer) Finnegan Gallery in Chicago.” I chatted with Wilkinson about running her design firm from home, and how the lockdown has affected her business, her clients and her family life.
‘The Secret Garden’ Designer Vignette by Kendall Wilkinson for the Flower Power theme at the 2017 San Francisco Fall Show.
Custom hand-painted wall paper by de Gournay.
Photo by Drew Altizer Photography
When the lockdown started, Wilkinson and her sons stayed close to her office, in their home in the Sea Cliff neighbourhood of San Francisco. “The boys still had virtual school to attend”, she shared. “My senior team and I had to piece a plan together to organize my entire staff to work from home. Once school finished, and ‘work-from-home’ became our new normal, we relocated to Stinson Beach close to where I was born and raised. The light, patterns, and nature of this magical place served as inspiration for my fabric collections, and I have realized they continue to inspire my color choices to this day.”
Living Room in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
In Wilkinson’s view, memories make a home: “a house is a physical structure, a tangible edifice that is cold and empty.” She believes. “A home is when the house is filled with love, living life, and its inhabitants’ vitality. It’s the culmination of memories–photographs of trips taken, of children growing up, and trails of everyday life. Special pieces that pass on from generation to generation, gifts received, or the art and objects collected over time create a sense of home, belonging, and sentiment!” Her favourite piece is a photograph. “My dear friend Barbara Vaughn captured an exquisite reflection image in Sausalito, titled “Kyrtotis” and hung prominently in my living room, she says. ‘I often sit watching the fire, reading and catching a view of my absolute favourite piece in my home.”
Barbara Vaughn photograph, “Kyrtotis” in Kendall Wilkinson’s Living Room
Photo by Bill Reitzel
While the lockdown has turned everyone’s lives on end, Wilkinson has found a silver lining. “I have enjoyed observing and interacting with my teenage sons during quarantine in a way that working in the office, going to events, and traveling for projects just didn’t allow me to see day-to-day. The constant companionship of my boys and seeing how they have grown in subtle and overt ways brings me endless joy.” But sharing a house with teenagers does have it’s hurdles “ When school was in session, my house was rotating musical chairs – some days, one of my boys would be at my desk in my “office” located in my upstairs library, and I was relegated to using my laptop on the dining room table. Other days we flipped and sometimes worked on our laptops at the kitchen counter. It all depended on the day! She laughs. “Funny enough, I was the one who had to be utterly nomadic about finding a work spot–sidebar”, she adds—”I have now found my dining room chairs to be terribly uncomfortable and will definitely be needing to find new ones soon- hopefully I’ll be able to purchase them when the antique show comes next year!”
With all the chaos of three people working and home schooling together, Wilkinson retreats to her private space. “not many people know”, she reveals, “but I have a home sanctuary filled with meditative elements, a Moroccan prayer rug, and incense. No one else, not even my beloved pup Biscuit is allowed here. It is the definition of calming and quiet!”
Kitchen in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
The isolation of the past several months has changed us all. For interior designers, it is an interesting time as clients are spending so much time at home, and many of us are looking at our homes in a new way, and thinking about how we use our homes and what’s important to us. Wilkinson concurs, “my clients are now far more involved with the details than they were in the past,” she shares. “The extra time has allowed them to be more curious and engaged in the actual business and logistics of design and why we make certain decisions. There is a more inquisitive approach. Hopefully, that means a greater appreciation for what we do and the service we provide.” Kendall Wilkinson Design has always prioritised comfort above form and for current clients she says “they are now fully experiencing their homes and what we designed and created for them. I think they are developing more appreciation for the details and the comfort.”
Library in Kendall Wilkinson’s San Francisco home Photo by Bill Reitzel
Working from home has not slowed Wilkinson down, or opened up her schedule. “My days have been even more consumed than they were pre-COVID. I am on at least 6-8 hours a day of Zoom calls with my team, clients, and vendors before any actual “work” gets done,” she says.
Design is such a collaborative and hands on creative process and that has been the most difficult part of the quarantine for her: “I have missed my team’s interaction, being in the office with them, working with them, and the time spent in my office creating and designing. I also miss site visits and installations, sounds crazy, but even travel! And most of all, the broader design community and my industry friends.”
Kendall Wilkinson with Hannah Cecil Gurney of de Gournay posing in front of
‘The Secret Garden’ Designer Vignette at the 2017 San Francisco Fall Show
Photo by Drew Altizer Photography
By Ariane Maclean Trimuschat
Ariane served as Show Director for the San Francisco Fall Show for 7 years through 2019. She is now the show’s international liaison as Director at Large, living in London with her family. Follow Ariane on her blog, Sojournest, where she focuses on all things home and travel.