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For over 30 years, the American designer Ken Fulk has cultivated a recognizable aesthetic with his unforgettable, layered interiors. His distinctive spaces are filled with rich colors, patterns, new and vintage furniture, and a sense of theatrical adventure specific to the location. Homes, hotels, and restaurants are imbued with Fulk’s magic, as are unassuming spaces like plane interiors and churches. With a trained eye for fun and favor, his energized designs evoke emotion and excitement.
In 2018, when Fulk’s firm restored a National Historic Landmark church in San Francisco, he concurrently founded the Saint Joseph’s Arts Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting artists. It was there last fall that he revealed a limited-edition series of 20 furniture pieces created in collaboration with the contemporary artist Ashley Longshore and a collection of light objects with Urban Electric. Other recent projects included launching “The Surreal World” collection of fabrics, wall coverings, and rugs with Pierre Frey, as well as designing the new Felix Roasting Co. in Aspen and The Goodtime Hotel in Miami.
Ultimately, a Fulk-designed interior is a reflection of how the designer soaks in the world, finding inspiration from film, literature, fashion, music, and even advertising. Many of his projects are also quite personal, as he’s an investor in several of his spaces, including the restaurants Tosca in San Francisco, Carbone in Miami, and Felix Roasting Co. in New York, hence its recent expansion. Ahead of debuting a new collaboration with The Rug Company this year, Fulk shared with Whitewall how he approaches
WHITEWALL: When designing an interior space, where do you typically start?
KEN FULK: On almost every project, I envision a movie in my mind, a mental reel of inspirational references coming from not only films of every era and genre, but also literature, runway shows, music, television, and advertising. All of these images and experiences come together to inform the look and feel of the “movie” that we will be projecting.
WW: Your spaces are more than well-decorated spaces—they create experiences. What do you credit for that happening?
KF: We believe in creating visually stunning spaces, something to enhance the beauty in our clients’ lives. This sort of work just naturally bleeds into wanting to create a whole experience. Designing events and curating a lifestyle—from custom stationery and signature scent to a wardrobe or a wedding, we want to impart our magic on all the touchpoints of a remarkable life.
WW: Your projects mix found and commissioned objects for a sense of old and new. How do you typically source items?
KF: We have a wonderful team of designers who source from every corner of the world. A lot of our designs will be centered around a beloved historical element of a house or a piece that we think encapsulates the feeling. Take the newly opened Felix in Aspen, in the historic Hotel Jerome. The tin
ceiling was original, and that informed our palette of white oak floors, brass inlay, high-gloss casework, and patinated copper. At the same time, we developed our own unique wall covering and fabric collection, all inspired by the arabica fower, also known as the coffee bean, in those same hues. Sourcing for us will always be a mix of new and old.
WW: What’s your personal relationship with art and design like? What key
pieces or works are seen in your San Francisco home?
KF: My home, and especially our studio and workspaces, have become something of a proving ground for our custom projects, like an incubator. We recently overhauled our San Francisco studio, affectionately called “The Magic Factory,” in our fabric and wallpaper collaboration with Pierre
Frey, and it brings a new perspective.
WW: You recently collaborated with Ashley Longshore on limited-edition furniture pieces and revealed them through a small show at your restored Saint Joseph’s church in San Francisco. How did collaborating with an artist like Longshore impact its end result?
KF: Ashley puts my irreverence to shame! The collaboration was initially scheduled to launch in spring 2020, but due to the pandemic, it was postponed. This ended up being a silver lining as we added a collectible series of one-of-a-kind furniture designs; the numbered pieces include a suite of 12 dining chairs translating Longshore’s brilliant portraits of iconic women into a Fulkian interpretation of The Last Supper. Obviously, getting Ashley and I together is going to lead to something extraordinarily over-the-top, which is why we called the show “The Prodigal Fun.”
WW: In 2018, when you restored that church, you turned it into a nonproft arts society, with additional locations in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Healdsburg, California. What programming will these spaces offer?
KF: I founded Saint Joseph’s Art Society as a way to celebrate arts and culture in all forms in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Since its inception, the society has expanded the nonprofit Saint Joseph’s Arts Foundation into a comprehensive 501(c)(3) cultural organization anchored in three uniquely creative communities across the U.S.—San Francisco and Healdsburg, California, as well as Provincetown, Massachusetts. At all locations, Saint Joseph’s Arts Foundation presents live music
and curated exhibitions of art from all disciplines, innovative culinary offerings, collaborations with local arts organizations, transportive celebrations, and access to thought leaders and cultural producers who are giving back to the world at large.
WW: Your design firm moves beyond projects, as it is the partial owner in many restaurants that you design—like Tosca in San Francisco, Contessa in Boston, Carbone in Miami, and Felix Roasting Co. in New York. How does being personally invested in creating dining experiences impact their designs?
KF: Having ownership in our projects is a natural extension of our holistic role as creative directors of several hotels, clubs, and restaurants of our design. Serving as a co-proprietor adds another layer of trust and long-term partnership. As always, we are invested in bringing the very best hospitality experiences to not only our clients but also to our guests. Of course, for all our projects we’re committed to creating memorable experiences, and we’re lucky that regardless of ownership, there is a lot of collaboration that goes into each space.
WW: How would you describe your iconic design aesthetic? What makes a “Ken Fulk” space a Ken Fulk space?
KF: Our firm has become known for bringing an unexpected dose of magic to every project. We dream big and find the playfulness in bringing old and new, high and low, pedigreed and irreverent together for experiences and spaces that will intrigue and endure for years to come.