Jeff King Talks With

Interior Designer Kendall Wilkinson

Today we talk with Kendall Wilkinson, a prominent interior designer in San Francisco known for her European infused style.

Kendall Wilkinson is a San Francisco native and 20-year veteran in the interior design industry. She launched her design career after studying abroad in Paris, where the French architecture and antiques inspired her to begin traveling and importing pieces to the United States. Her style is trademarked by a balanced mix of traditional and modern, landing her invitations to the San Francisco Decorator Showcase six times and to the ELLE DÉCOR Showhouse of 2010 among others. She is a regular keynote speaker for the University of California conference, Who’s Who in Interior Design, and her work can be found in publications such as California Home & Design, ELLE DÉCOR, San Francisco Chronicle, and more.

Jeff King & Co: Where do you look for design inspiration?

Kendall Wilkinson: Living in San Francisco makes it quite easy to get inspired. All it takes is walking out the door and walking around neighborhoods. The architecture here is constantly inspiring me in new ways. But my go-to list includes traveling, European fashion and interior magazines, the Financial Times Weekend edition, and enjoying time with my boys who open my eyes to new things.


Tell us more about how your boys open up new ideas for client projects.

My boys never cease to amaze me, the way they vocalize their views of the world makes me feel like they are looking through some sort of incredible kaleidoscope. They perceive and filter life through an ever-changing, unpredictable and colorful lens. It’s so fascinating to observe them, and it reminds me that I need to keep my lens moving as well. Part of being successful in design is having the ability to constantly see things in a new and beautiful way, whether it’s spatial, textural or aesthetic. Seeing my boys reinforces that I need to stay true to my point of view as a designer, however there is always room for some abstracted views of things.

Improvement is the motivation behind all remodels. How does your design improve a client’s experience in their home? How do you know you’ve provided a good design?

When a client works with us on their home, we want to give them a fresh look while keeping the details that make a home have character. We want our clients to walk into their new home feeling like their mind, body and spirit have been refreshed. In the end they’ll feel better about themselves.

You know you’ve succeeded when you can’t tell where the remodel started and finished – it makes me proud to see a home look cohesive.

In an urban environment such as San Francisco, you’re often dealing with pre-existing structures. What are the greatest challenges creating a new design in an existing home?

The biggest challenge is making sure you aren’t going too trendy. It’s all about setting your own path, because in the end I always strive to have a timeless approach to design so a home never looks outdated.

Many designers talk about this challenge to create projects that are timeless. How do you identify design elements that are at risk for becoming too ‘trendy’?

Trend is an easy trap to walk right into: the imagery is constantly thrown our way and is made to look flashy, desirable and easily accessible. I usually identify a trend as anything that is suddenly being copied or mass produced by retailers on a large scale, or that is attached to a social theme. When original ideas suddenly become accessible to the masses in substandard materials, they lose their uniqueness and feel trendy. The things I find to be timeless are too special and difficult to replicate in huge quantities. But I should clarify that timeless does not automatically equal expensive. Even expensive things can be trendy. It’s more about finding exceptional pieces and staying away from overdone ideas which have become ubiquitous.

As we live in them today, kitchens are often times the most important room in the house. They can also be the most complex and expensive rooms to remodel. How do you design a kitchen for the 21st century homeowner?

The very first thing we do with clients is ask them tons and tons of questions about how they live, what they want out of every room, and more. I find that the more information I find out the better, you really have to know every detail about how they live. For example, where do they want the heart of the house to be, the place where the family hangs out? For most of our clients it’s a kitchen and family room area. Each question helps us plan out the function of each space.

Bathrooms can be simple and functional for one person or a place of retreat and spa for another. How do you approach bathroom design for each type of client? What are a few of your favorite elements to include in a bathroom?

We approach these in a similar way to kitchens. Does the client want their bathroom to be simple or to be a spa? We design bathrooms with the approach that they are like jewelry boxes: think decorative lighting, our KW Home store towels, beautiful upholstered custom seating, and antique mirrors. With powder rooms, we love the wow factor. Lately, we like installing a sink in an antique piece of furniture. It adds history to the room.

Outside of kitchens & baths, what is your favorite living space to design? How do you make this space stand out?

These days the most popular rooms to design and focus on are media rooms. With most of our clients working in the tech world they want the latest and greatest gadgets. Media rooms have been fun to experiment with: think leather walls, modern, dark, rich velvets, and custom furniture. Our team has been quite adventurous with each media room we have done.

In the San Francisco design community, are there any trends you hope to see disappear in the near future?

I am beginning to feel like we are being washed away in a sea of “greige” (gray/beige tones). While I love platinum tones in the right applications, I see an overload of reproduction faux French furniture in distressed woods and similarly toned linens. It feels a little one noted, especially when done in large doses.

Are there any movements in the interior design community that you are excited about, and hope to see grow in the coming years?

I am really fascinated by the sudden proliferation of internet-based idea sharing through sites such as Houzz and Pinterest. It’s giving clients access to so many ideas and images to help them clarify their visions, and is also giving designers a platform to share ideas outside of their standard portfolios. I am excited to see how it grows and develops in the near future. It does pose a unique challenge to designers, as so many sources are suddenly revealed to the public that were once known only to the trade. But I am sure that the design world will continue to evolve around it and be forced to rethink and reinvent.

Thanks for taking a moment to chat with us, Kendall!

To see more interior eye candy, head over to Kendall Wilkinson Design.

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Q&A: Susan Schippmann, Interior Designer

Q&A with Interior Designer, Marnie Wright

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