For interior designer Ken Fulk, every new project begins not with a swatch or a sketch, but rather with a story. “It’s funny. When you are working in design, people don’t expect you to start with words—but we do, and those words become our script, so to speak.” Step into one of his spaces, whether it’s an opulent art-filled Viennese estate or a groovy Palm Springs pleasure pad, and his approach becomes evident: Each unfolds like a movie, where rooms are scenes that flow from one to another, taking the plot through twists and turns to build a rich narrative. “Suddenly it becomes imbued with life and it becomes real,” he says.
Some projects—like the Commodore Perry Estate, a 100-year-old Austin manor that debuted in July as an Auberge Resorts Collection hotel—come with their own story lines. “Part of the beauty of these places is in the lives that came before,” he says. “It’s a tapestry rather than something newly created.” Others are the result of the kind of fantastical fiction that could spring only from Fulk’s mind. “It often begins with me throwing out obscure references, like Ralph-Lauren-in-Montana meets Jackie-O-in-Gstaad—what does it look like when those two have a baby?” That kind of free association is especially present in his newest projects, which include a fabric and wallpaper collection for Pierre Frey (launching next year) and a private sailing yacht inspired by royal Hawaiian tradition.
One thing you’ll never see from the design doyen? A signature style. “I find the idea of having a ‘look’ lazy,” he says. However his inspirations play out, the outcome is always in the spirit of its creator’s characteristic joie de vivre: never predictable, a tad over-the-top, and always extraordinary.
Playful projects like the tropical-retro Leo’s Oyster Bar in San Francisco have drawn many a comparison to the pastel-infused, hyper-realized sets of Wes Anderson’s films, so it’s no surprise the designer finds inspiration in the director’s whimsical oeuvre. “It’s that escape and childlike wonder that I love about Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel,” he says. “We all chase that sense of what it felt like when your imagination was big.”
Everyone Into the Pool
“There’s a very Gatsby-esque quality” to the Commodore Perry Estate, Fulk says. While he maintained the character of the 1920s mansion, he evolved the story of its owner, cotton tycoon Edgar Perry, for modern times, adding a Slim Aarons– inspired pool. “I imagine it’s what the commodore would have had in his backyard today—and his wife, Lutie, would have a fab little Pucci bikini to wear.”
Every completed project is christened with a cinematic reveal. For Casa Grande, a Los Cabos residence built by Mexican architect Víctor Legorreta, the unveiling was accompanied by an all-female mariachi band and a sky full of pink fireworks. “We danced on the tables all night,” Fulk says.
An animal lover since childhood, Fulk never misses an opportunity to add a touch of (ethical) fur or feathers to his projects, from his Animalia collection for Birdies to the taxidermied ostrich—adopted from a natural-history museum—in his San Francisco studio.
Fulk’s most enduring muse is the Massachusetts hamlet of Provincetown, where last year he restored the 18th-century house of historic figure Mary Heaton Vorse. “When we finished it, John Waters came and said, ‘I hope you aren’t insulted but this looks pretty much the same,’ and I said, ‘Thank you!’”
Head Over Heels
“The line between the worlds of design and fashion has always been very blurred for me.” That was especially true in 2017 when Fulk created for a client an Elizabeth Taylor-inspired floral headdress that served as the inspiration for an eveningwear collection in Dolce & Gabbana’s Milan runway show the following fall. “I was shocked when I saw Kendall Jenner wearing one of them in a double spread in Vogue!”