Bay Area designer Ken Fulk on the personal, Paul Newman and fear

Ken Fulk at the debut of the Ken Fulk Collection for Pottery Barn
San Francisco designer Ken Fulk attends the Ken Fulk Collection for Pottery Barn event in New York City on July 22.
(Craig Barritt / Getty Images for Pottery Barn)

Like a 21st century Tony Duquette, San Francisco’s dapper design dean Ken Fulk has a hand in everything from home interiors (Zynga billionaire Mark Pincus’ Bay Area loft and Aspen ranch) to hotel revamps (Nob Hill’s landmark Mark Hopkins Hotel), to event planning (Napster founder Sean Parker’s famously over-the-top “Lord of the Rings"–influenced nuptials in Big Sur). Known for fearlessly mingling the classical with the unpredictable, he’s the first designer tapped by Pottery Barn for a comprehensive collaboration. The result, the Ken Fulk Collection, includes furniture such as cognac-colored tufted leather sofas, handsome brass lighting fixtures and accent pieces like a cast-iron elephant bust and a tramp art mirror. And don’t forget the dog-shaped items, including an ice bucket and andirons, inspired by Fulk’s three beloved golden retrievers, Delilah, Duncan and Hubbell.

Are any of the items based on pieces in your own home?

That big leather sectional sofa was inspired by the vintage version at the Tree House, my home in San Francisco. The same with the curtained bed: It’s based on my bed in the loft above my studio.

Are there any current or upcoming design trends that are addressed in the collection?


The idea of a rich and layered interior. Something that feels collected. Interesting pieces that come together to tell a story. Design is much more personal now. The trend is away from homogenized interiors; [it’s about] spaces that are individual.

How about in general. What design trends do you see on the horizon?

It’s much less about trends for me. It’s about environments that reflect the people that inhabit them. In our hyper-connected world, people want to come home to a space that is genuine.

Your interiors are so well composed and confident, but many of us get overwhelmed by an empty room. What’s your advice for where to begin?


I usually start with the one piece or thing that I love and simply must have for a room. It could be a rug, a sofa, an object or a color. Don’t be afraid to mix it up. As I like to say, fear is the enemy of good design, and, frankly, if everyone likes something it is probably not that interesting.

Wall color intimidates so many people, and they end up with white or beige walls. Any tips on how to incorporate color into your living spaces?

Color is one of the biggest, most impactful ways to create an environment and make a room come to life. I think we all have colors we are drawn to or love. I love green and I love orange, so I always make sure that I have some of each around me. I would encourage people to go for it. It’s only paint, for goodness’ sake.

What’s a design mistake that you come across again and again?

People tend to hang art far too high. Art should be hung at human scale. In a hall where you’re walking/standing, it should be hung at median eye level. In a living room or dining [room] it should be at eye level when seated.

What are the people, places and things that you’d put on your Pinterest board, that serve as your design inspirations?

Bruce Weber photos of his golden retrievers, a young Paul Newman, a Palladian Villa, spring in Napa Valley, summer on Cape Cod, a first edition of “The Great Gatsby,” a John Singer Sargent portrait and an enormous stack of Hermes boxes.


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