This Loft Is Home to New York’s Best Parties

Just take one look at Ken Fulk’s cobalt croc-upholstered bar stools and you’ll get it.

By: Emily Ramshaw
Photography: Alec Kugler

Ken Fulk is the kind of person who loves all the things we love (i.e,. beautiful things), he’s just way better at putting them together and making them into something truly fantastical. It’s why the interior designer is a favorited contact of everyone from Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom to Sean Parker—he’s the creative eye that pretty much every tech titan goes to when they make it big with a ~unicorn~. And it’s also why we were so excited when we found out that after 20 years in business, Fulk had finally opened a studio in New York (he’s based in San Francisco, of course) that also happened to double as his own pied-à-terre.

The Tribeca loft, however, is hardly what one would consider a traditional pied-à-terre. Sprawling or “grand or “vast are a little bit more apt real-estate descriptors. Also: “extravagant” and, if we’re going there, “OTT.” Fulk considers fearlessness to be the most important trait of good interior design; and the man walks the walk when it comes to his own space. See the cobalt croc-upholstered bar stools set at the bar of his truly massive kitchen; the ’60s-era bar cart complete with its own ice bucket; the emerald green sofa big enough to host its own sleepover. All of it is evidence that not only is Fulk fearless when it comes to mixing eccentric and beautiful pieces (he considers thematic decorating truly horrible), but he also happens to throw a good party—and will probably invite Mario Carbone, of the iconic New York restaurant (that Fulk designed, bien sûr), to cook for his guests. And that’s saying nothing of his closet (to our delight, he was just as detail-oriented in that department). This is Ken Fulk living his truth.

Click through the gallery to find out how old he was when he started having “little blue blazers” custom-made for himself (hint: really, really young), his secret to throwing a good party (tequila is involved), and what he shares with Bruce Weber (besides a love for golden retrievers).

“We always thought we’d need a New York studio. In San Francisco, we work out of an old brick-and-timber building we call the Magic Factory—jokingly, half not jokingly. It’s South of Market in an old industrial neighborhood and I wanted something that felt like an extension of that vibe. I originally looked all over the city, really concentrating on the Lower East Side, the Bowery. I looked at an amazing, untouched garage that was right at the edge of the water in Two Bridges at the edge of Chinatown. But my friends were like, ‘I hope you know, other than your opening party, nobody will ever come see you.’ And so I had a friend who was a Realtor and she asked if I’d ever look in Tribeca. I didn’t really know Tribeca.”

“When I first opened the San Francisco studio, I lived on the top floor above the shop for a few years. At first, I didn’t have that in my head for New York. I thought we’d have more of a pure work studio. And then it occurred to me that rather than renting a hotel room all the time, it would be nice to have some place to live, and it all clicked. That way it was able to feel more like an extension of me personally.”

“My Realtor showed me this place. It wasn’t on the market. I walked in and it felt familiar and right. There’s the crazy Dutch colonial façade has these illusions of grandeur about it. Our building in San Francisco has the same thing—it’s almost Venetian on the front. Most of the people in the building have been here a long time—there are only four other people in the building. I found out that Bruce Weber lived upstairs, and I’ve long been such a fan. We have dogs in common—he has golden retrievers; I have golden retrievers, and they happen to be related! It seemed like kismet.”

“Unfortunately, even though the place was relatively intact, it needed new kitchens and bathrooms. It took a long time to get all that done, but we moved in a year ago. It’s felt easy and normal and natural since day one.”

“I tend to fill up spaces with things I love. I shop for a living. We keep a really big warehouse in San Francisco. We had bought this crazy couch—it wasn’t green when we bought it at auction—and I had no idea how big it was. My team said I would never use it anywhere. But it fit here. I covered it in silk velvet. The sofa became the big idea and anchor for the space because the space is so big. My friends joke that most people’s first New York apartment isn’t like this. I lucked into it.”

“This is actually a true loft. That word gets thrown around a lot with modern spaces that are ‘loft-like’. But this is really a hippy loft from the ’70s and it was completely wide-open. There was a bedroom, but we created a second bedroom/library space. But we kept it as wide-open as we could because I think the space is so compelling and I didn’t want to compartmentalize it to make it feel like an apartment—I wanted it to still feel like a loft. At the same time, however, I think it’s important for there to be intimacy and for it not to feel like a giant bowling alley. There are lots of seating groups—some of it’s practical because the team meets here at the great old library tables. I found the ratan chairs up in the Hudson Valley.”

“The big bookcase is from the New York Public Library when they were redoing it—it has all the adjustable shelves. We tried to create areas that allowed for more intimate conversations and various work modes going on, rather than having traditional workspaces—it’s much more organic. We treat it more as a residence than a design studio. We have client meetings going on, work sessions going on at the same time.”

“As great as the space is during the day, it comes alive at night. We should open a club! We’ve made friends having designed some good restaurants in the city, so some of the best chefs in the city have come in and cooked. We get a bartender and a piano player—I never want to leave!”

“I bought the bar stools at auction and I’ve been obsessed with them. We customized the bases because originally they were screwed down to wherever they’d been. We covered them in cobalt blue crocodile. They’re so sexy. Originally I bought them thinking I might use them in a restaurant project, but they were a little expensive and then they got a lot more expensive by the time we covered them—so I decided to keep them and we ended up having a big bar where I could finally use them.”

“If the building was burning, God forbid, what would I take out? If I’m talking about possessions, I’m mildly obsessed with the Aldo Tura bar cart, which is covered in parchment. I could wheel it out and I could make drinks, so that would make me really happy. It even has a built-in ice bucket. It’s hard not to have a good time with that thing and it’s really beautiful. I appreciate it now, but when that was made, life was sexier—it’s from the ’60s. And I happen to have, which I built years ago at auction, a Fornasetti table that is the largest one I’ve ever seen. It’s nearly 72 inches diameter. I bought [it] thinking I’d either use it or sell it. I didn’t have a home, but I couldn’t bare to get rid of it. This is the first time that we’re really using it, even though I’ve had it for many years. I adore it. That would be the other piece that I’d rescue.”

“[My drink of choice is] always tequila. And I love really good champagne. If you’re going to drink it, I’d drink a good vintage of Krug or a great vintage Dom rosé. My everyday drinking champagne is Ruinart, which is the oldest champagne house in France. But my go-to is good tequila. I’m obsessed with my version of a margarita, which involves really good tequila, lots of fresh lime juice, you need a little bit of Cointreau, and then I take a capful of mezcal. You know how margaritas can be too bright or too limey or too sweet? Mezcal takes it down. They’re addictive and good with a spicy, salty rim. We make a special sweet, salty, spicy rim—it makes a pink rim around the glass.”

“I grew up in Virginia in the south and a family tradition was always to have Sunday supper. Even then, when I was a little kid, it always mattered to me what the table looked like, the progression of the meal and the experience of it. So I’ve carried on the Sunday supper tradition, and the very first thing we had here was a Sunday supper. My friend, Mario Carbone, who has the restaurant Carbone, came and cooked. We had ZZ’s Clam Bar and made crazy cocktails at what is sometimes my desk, sometimes a DJ booth—that night it turned into the bar. We have a good friend, Cole, who’s like if Marvin Gaye and Harry Connick Jr. had a baby, and is a great jazz piano player with a soul voice and comes with a stand-up bass. It’s a party. When everybody walked in here, they weren’t sure where they were going, but it was a good mix of uptown friends and San Franciscans who were in town.”

“We’ve had a few beautiful dinners. My friends own a fashion brand called Rochambeau and they were competing in the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund, and we threw a fun breakfast for them. All the fashion editors came and we did a photo shoot with the models everywhere. We had Sadelle’s bring all the bagels—it became this great daytime event. We did host our book party here too, which had a great dancing rabbit… Our floors are still beat to shit from the dance party that ensued. I had a great time and it was packed. We turned the library into a book salon, so it was filled with swag we gave away.”

“No matter where we’re doing something—we have the good fortune of working on houses and projects around the world—one of the key ingredients is a sense of place. It influences, sometimes organically and sometimes very specifically, what you’re doing. New York definitely came into play here. I wanted there to be tension between this beautiful, somewhat raw building with these cast-iron columns and brick walls and the finery around it. I didn’t want it to be a ‘modern loft’ feeling, but I also didn’t want it to be a period piece. Having said all that, my comfort zone is, on a good day, fearlessly taking things you love and having the confidence they can work. Most everything here, I found and had some connection to. I always say I love spaces that don’t feel too decorator-y, too overly conceived that it’s thematic. I love to create spaces that are in some ways modern and energized, and in other ways they feel like they’ve always been there. I think people feel comfortable in it and can sink into it. If you do a good job, you feel like a chicer version of yourself when you’re in it.”

“The kitchen, like everyone’s home or office, is command central. We have this great old Italian table that was sanded down. It’s a happy spot for casual dinners and breakfast meetings.”

“Originally the kitchen was almost like a tugboat floating in the middle of the space. Wanting to organize the space better, we put the kitchen where I thought it belonged in this great bank of windows. It’s a big kitchen, but we kept it relatively simple to not compete with the space, but to have it feel compelling. We did a simple black cabinetry that we accented with these luggage corners that I’m obsessed with—they’re from old trunks, and it’s very smart, dapper hardware. I think all the soft, natural, unlacquered brass adds a warmth to the black-and-white. The wood floors run right into the kitchen, and being able to have that huge table in there is great.”

“An interior is an expression of yourself. But I always have to muck things up. I can’t stand it when things are all in one theme.”

“When we first moved into our building in San Francisco about 12 years ago, we moved into a loft that was crazy light-filled with a dozen skylights in it. There was no way to block the light out and there was no separate bedroom. My bed was in the middle of the space and so was my closet. We didn’t build any walls and the only door was to the water closet—even the shower was tucked behind a wall that didn’t go to the ceiling. It was very sexy, but I didn’t have a closet, so my clothes were like in a store, just hanging out in the open. We ended up having to put clothing clothes on them so they wouldn’t get bleached by the sun. Someone put my name on them—it’s insanely narcissistic, but I eventually got used to it because little pictures of my clothes go in the tags, so it’s like shopping every day. Then, I moved up to a house on a hill that’s the highest point in San Francisco. It’s a great house and, even though it has three bedrooms, we designed it as having no bedrooms because the master is like a loft overlooking the living room. I took over a large bedroom and made it my dressing room, but I didn’t want to build it out, so I ended up buying these beautiful haberdashery cabinets. Here, there’s a really large bathroom almost bigger than the bedroom, and a large closet by New York standards. Again, I didn’t want raw shelves. There’s something about the dandy-ism and the beautiful haberdashery shops, so I bought the cabinets in England and Ireland. Storing your clothes in an English shopkeeper's fashion appealed to my sensibility. Why not celebrate your closet? Why does it have to be ordinary?”

“You could have a party in my bathroom. It’s big.”

“When we got the place, the bathroom was filled with fabulous and awful green ’70s tile floor-to-ceiling with a big sunken tub. The only remnant we kept was the sauna that was there because I’m always cold. Especially in New York winter, I get chilled to the bone. Now we have a giant soaking tub and the big steel-and-glass shower. A big shower is my life’s luxury—it’s definitely on my top ten luxuries.”

“There are weird things that I follow in terms of rules. Any light that you can turn on needs to be groomed inside or outside. If I could, I’d dim the refrigerator. Wouldn’t your food look better if it wasn’t always horribly bright? In Latin, on the front of my book, it says, ‘Fear, the enemy of good design.’ I have to remind myself of that too, because I think that whatever you’re designing, we get afraid. We’re afraid people aren’t going to like it or someone’s going to judge us. But if everyone likes something, it’s probably not that good and not that interesting. I’m not saying you should be reckless, but don’t come from a place of fear. Especially in interior design, it can become that way where you get these homogenized ideas. Anything can be good, but all the same thing isn’t. That’s my guiding principle. Everyone has a miss, but it’s not life-and-death decisions. Be fearless, have a point of view, be an individual. Your interiors are meant to be a reflection of you and not a reflection of other people or media.”

“I have long had a love of clothes—since I was a little kid. It might have been because I was eight years younger than my only sibling and was fiercely independent, but it mattered to me. I picked out all my own clothes since I was six years old. I’d go and get little blue blazers made and shopped on my own because I cared. That’s been part of my DNA.”

“One of the things that’s been fun about New York is my love of fashion has really begun to manifest itself here. Last year we did an event with Veronica Beard and an experience that was essentially their apartment—it was up for 30 days and we did the fashion show there, which was a giant happening. This past spring, we teamed with IMG and had us be the creative directors of the New York Fashion Week experience. It was a look at fame and what that meant; the Instagram-filtered lives that we lead where everyone’s just a little bit famous.”

“We tend to create spaces that I think of as thoughtful and composed. The details matter to me; I obsess over them. And I tend to be that way about clothing. I love custom-made clothing. No matter where you buy your clothes, the best thing anyone can do is have a good tailor. I think about interiors that way: at the end of it, we’re tailors to make sure that everything fits perfectly and it feels bespoke. Even when it’s meant to feel a little undone, it’s still thoughtful. We all have casual clothes, but it doesn’t have to be slouchy.”

“People are afraid of color, yet it’s one of the biggest things you can do and it’s not expensive, and it’s only a coat of paint. One of my favorite rooms we’ve ever done was all black. It was so sexy and glamorous with beautiful big art. Everything pops off of it; the views come forward. It sounds crazy, but it’s so great. We’ll do green or blue or pink. We did a peony pink room at fashion week and it was so chic.”

“Buy what you love. If it’s good and you love the piece, don’t worry about whether it’ll work in your current space. I would buy it and it will work. Then you’ll have a collection of great things that you love.”

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