Designer Mark D. Sikes, the son of a minister, grew up first in central Illinois and then in Nashville, where, needless to say, he attended church every Sunday. Afterward, at lunch with his family, he could recount what every member of the congregation was wearing and where they were sitting, early evidence of the highly tuned visual sense that has turned the now California-based designer into a decorating—not to mention social-media—star.
Sikes, whose signature blue-and-white interiors are unabashedly pretty (his 2016 design tome for Rizzoli was titled Beautiful: All-American Decorating and Timeless Style), describes his Midwestern childhood as “a grounding experience.” He was surrounded by aunts and was especially close to his grandparents. “It really gave me a sense of what a home is—not what it looks like, but what it feels like.” The family’s move south further enhanced his education: “People in the South really care about their houses,” Sikes says. “I learned a lot about entertaining, gardens, what makes a house beautiful.”
He originally planned to be a dentist and then switched his college major to business. He started out in retail and climbed the corporate ladder at Banana Republic, which brought him west to the company’s San Francisco headquarters. He says the skills he learned there—“how to execute creativity,” how to manage big teams—have been instrumental in his success as a designer.
When he made the leap about eight years ago, after starting a popular design blog and having his own Los Angeles abode featured in House Beautiful, it was not that big of a jump. And he hasn’t abandoned retail altogether—he designs a line of clothing sold on his website and has worked with Reese Witherspoon on her Draper James stores.
Sikes’s background stood him in especially good stead when he was asked to design the Portola Valley, California, home of Deke and Lori Hunter. The couple adored their shingled house, which they built in 1999. When a 2014 fire forced them to gut and rebuild, they tapped the original architect, Kathy Scott of Walker Warner Architects, who opened up the space so that it was less about raising a family (their kids are grown now) and more about entertaining. “The old version was more compartmentalized,” Scott says. “We created an easier flow.” The kitchen was expanded, a breakfast room was added, and heart-pine floors were switched to a paler oak.
As the construction commenced, close friends of the couple recommended Sikes as the perfect designer to bring good vibes—and great style—to the project. “We were so sad about the whole situation and really needed some positive energy,” Lori says. “After meeting Mark, we knew he was the right fit. He shared our design aesthetic with a bent toward creating comfortable, welcoming spaces for our friends, family, and pets. He guided us to make decisions so that the project came together quickly and completely—which was really important to us after having to move out for more than two years.”
For his part, Sikes understood that Lori’s home “is her life,” and that she is also an avid gardener and cook. The goal was to incorporate moods and a predominantly green-and-blue palette that blurs the lines between inside and out and create a “very natural environment.”
In the bedrooms upstairs, Sikes used much the same colors to create a common thread, but muted them slightly: “The higher you go in the house, the softer and lighter the tones get.”
Among Sikes’s other design heroes are Mark Hampton, for his “timeless, all-American sensibility,” and Bunny Williams, who has been his great mentor. He says he hopes his own all-American style is imbued with some of Kime’s English layering and a touch of the bohemianism of the late Italian designer Renzo Mongiardino. But despite those cosmopolitan touches, Sikes has never forgotten his roots—nor would he want to. “When I worked at Banana Republic, the big ideas were safari, chinos, cashmere, and white shirts,” he says. “Now, for me at least, it’s big white houses, gardens, and blue and white.”
This story originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Siweb.