Designer Crush: Wilkinson Brochier Interiors


Alongside senior designer Ladan Chamine, Sue-Anne Wilkinson Brochier leads her eponymous firm, creating warm and inviting interiors that are simultaneously sophisticated and laid back. The San Francisco-based Wilkinson Brochier Interiors specializes in the styling of comfortable, organized spaces that are optimized for work and relaxation. Wilkinson Brochier lived and worked in Australia, France, and Los Angeles before coming to the Bay Area six years ago. The designer says her work is influenced by her global journey and she uses resources from around the world to create her clients’ unique homes. Learn more in our Q+A below.

How did you get your start in design?

One way or another when I look back I was always involved with design. Whether it was buying and renovating properties or working with developers and architects to help launch their multi-use developments in Australia as a then PR and marketing professional.

So when my husband’s job brought us to Los Angeles, I went back to school at UCLA studying Interior Design.

Thinking it would be a great way to keep me occupied in a new city and country; I found myself becoming obsessed with this exciting new world of design. Like Alice in Wonderland I fell down ‘a rabbit hole’ to a truly magical world of unending design history and new skill sets.

It was extremely challenging for an older student who had no previous drawing or technical design skills, plus was surrounded by fellow students who had BFA’s (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and so much talent!

But I persevered, learned to draw, made architectural models, presented many design solutions and finally graduated with a Master of Interior Architecture in 2011.

Whilst studying, I was fortunate to work with the very talented Tim Corrigan who is always inspiring for his vision, knowledge and attention to detail. Plus, I loved that Tim too had transitioned his career from a similar field, advertising. He gave me the confidence I could successfully make this switch.

Photo credit: Angie Silvy

What’s your process for getting to know a client?

It’s a vital first step in any new project, as you really need to understand your client’s needs and budget. 

If it’s a commercial project, then understanding the client’s business objectives, competition in the marketplace and timeline is essential.

If it’s residential then I also really need to understand their lifestyle including family and pets, design dreams and every aspect of the space, the light, surrounding environment etc.

Optimally an informal chat with the decision makers at home when they are relaxed in their environment is the best way to explore such variable dynamics. 

I also like to see what they collect, the colors and clothes they enjoy wearing and the music they listen to. Sometimes, I ask to check out the china and glassware in the kitchen. What you choose to use every day is revealing and helpful when you’re trying to understand the client’s aesthetic! 

That’s also true if you’re designing rooms for other household members like children. I love to have a little chat with them too and find out who they are and what they like and don’t like about their existing room.

If clients are initially busy then a quick Q & A can start the getting to know you process.

I always ask clients to share visuals of their design dreams so I’m on the same style page.

Photo credit: Angie Silvy

You’ve worked quite a bit internationally — what defines “California style” to you?

‘California style’ is refined yet relaxed, comfortable but chic with lots of large scale, open plan spaces that meet and embrace its’ casual, warm hearted, indoor outdoor lifestyle.

This is especially true of LA and Southern California where the climate is more conducive to outdoor living than San Francisco where smaller inner-city spaces and a cooler clime in summer months provide less opportunity for outdoor entertaining. 

Although the surrounding Peninsula, Marin and wine country areas fortunately do provide lots of outdoor, sunny lifestyle design options! 

This is very similar to the Australian coastal lifestyle; one of the reasons Aussies and Californians relate to each other so well. There is a non-fuss element to it all that nature is the key driver providing natural beauty, organic textures and outstanding light that shapes design and architectural choices whether you are in the city, at the beach or in the wine country.

Photo credit: Daniel Villareal
Photo credit: Daniel Villareal

What are some classic design trends you feel never go out of style?

Rattan, bamboo and twine furniture which is now enjoying a moment but is furniture I’ve always loved, used and collected from French flea markets and US vintage resources. It adds a glam, kick- back vibe that says ‘I’m not too try hard! ‘

Vintage Italian and French lighting from the mid-century masters like Carlo Nason for Mazzega, Stilnovo, Pierre Guariche, Lunel.  Always adds individuality and patina to a room.

Big 19th C. gilded mirrors which can be used to enlarge small dark spaces and juxtapose beautifully with modern furniture anywhere from bathrooms to a statement making entry.

1940’s chairs – so many well-bred, comfortable chairs that add glamor and style. Faves: Jean MIchel Frank, Paolo Buffa, Finn Juhl, Otto Schulz 

Scandinavian minimalism from the 30’s – 60’s, furniture and lighting will be always collectibles for their functional, organic aesthetic. 

Decorative hand crafted tribal and ethnic pieces from around the world layer in personality, originality and stories Eg. African ankle bracelets, Moroccan camel blankets, minature Indian paintings, amber beads etc

Good art you bought because you love it will always bring joy wherever you place it.

Photo credit: Daniel Villareal
Photo credit: Daniel Villareal

Who are your biggest professional and personal influences and why?

Ilse Crawford, Kelly Wearstler and Jean-Louis Deniot – although each of these current design icons are very different in style I‘m always inspired by their fearless pursuit of creativity and craftsmanship that deliver outstandingly beautiful spaces you want to be in.

Historically, English decorator Syrie Maugham who so daringly changed the design game in the 1920’s with her introduction of the first white on white layered room with fringed sofa and rug and large scale mirrored screen – to die for!

And closer to home, William Haines who produced some of the most magical old Hollywood rooms in the forties. Glamorous but uncontrived with large scale comfortable sofas and pragmatic swivel hostess chairs that made the women all look long legged and fabulous plus offered extra party time seating. His style is undeniably glamorous and his design principles still inspire today.

Personally, Michele Trout of Bonesteel Trout Hall in LA has always been an encouraging mentor and friend. From letting me raid her sample room for design projects to helping me get my first job in San Francisco, Michele is a generous person and a fabulous designer.

Photo credit: Daniel Villareal
Photo credit: Daniel Villareal

If you could design a dream home for any celebrity, who would it be and what would you create?

Aussie actress Margot Robbie grew up in Queensland, Australia like me – so I’m guessing she’s a beach girl at heart!  For Margot and her husband, I would love to create a warm, laid back sanctuary with glam beach house vibes. Something that reminds her of home but also captures the essence of the exciting new life she is creating here in LA for herself.

I would use lots of natural materials blending nature’s textures – wood and stone with glass sliding doors that open merging the outdoors with internal spaces. So the planting would be very important, as the vistas created would be like natural art works themselves and very zen like. For example, say a sculptural cool Pandanus tree set off center with a low charred teak day bed you can cushion up and chill out with a script on.

I envision using a very soft, sophisticated color palette of sandy hues and a full spectrum of watery blues and clean whites that would be beautiful, calm background for her striking blonde beauty.

Natural fabrics, linens, wools, cashmere and sun bleached timbers would add texture and vintage finds like a pair of Royère inspired bamboo and rattan armchairs from the sixties and Danish Borge Mogensen easy chairs in linen trimmed with leather would complement low lush scaled sofas. 

I would add visual interest with a mixture of bold art from Australian and Californian artists, plus collections of vintage pottery by mid-century artists like Gambone, Capron, Elchinger and mix these with the current work of local LA ceramicists. 

Plus create shelving and cabinetry space for lots of books and global finds from future journeys!P

Photo credit: Daniel Villareal
Photo credit: Daniel Villareal

Describe your ideal Sunday from a.m. to p.m.

Luxuriate in bed with books, my I-pad and a large coffee made by my dear husband and FaceTime with our two children in LA and New York. Walk the dog to the local food market. Chinese yum cha with friends if it’s raining or lunch at Stinson Beach if it’s a beautiful day. Dinner at home in front of a movie.

Favorite quote?

“We spend 87% of our lives inside buildings, how they are designed really affects how we feel, how we behave.”— Ilse Crawford.

Go-to breakfast? 

Capuccino and avocado on toast with lots of lemon and ground black pepper.

Current celebrity crush?

Cillian Murphy – love him in the Peaky Blinders!

One book you could read over and over again?

Anything by Joan Didion — Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a fave.  Her writing is so fresh and vivid – you are there sharing those moments through her lens.

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