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WALKING INTO INTERIOR stylist Colin King’s New York City loft, I feel a surprising mix of emotions. They’re the sort of feelings I usually associate with walking into a gallery space or an impeccably designed hotel, or entering the hushed enclave of a beautiful church: a sudden sense of calm and just a touch of reverent awe. One thing I don’t feel? Surprised. Given what I know of King’s work as a stylist and a designer, I arrive expecting to be both wowed and calmed.
At first look, the open, airy space presents as a ’70s dream loft — the sort of place one might imagine everyone in New York City calls home if your primary frame of reference for big-city life came from the movies of the latter part of that decade. There are the expected high ceilings, a sprawling wall of windows, and tastefully exposed bits of pipe and electrical work. Less expected are the natural hues, floors polished to a glowing shade of honey, perfectly balanced placements of stone objects, wood furniture, and an unexpected green pop of a live plant. But more than anything, it feels remarkably warm. Despite the somewhat austere minimalism for which he is known, King has curated an apartment that doesn’t feel overly fussy or like a sterile studio set but rather like a place where I’d very much like to lie down and read a book. It feels like a home.
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Over the past two decades, King has made a name for himself as a master interior stylist and a celebrated designer, building a body of work that now includes developing his own product lines with Morocco-based Beni Rugs and the Scandinavian design shop MENU. A regular contributing stylist for publications such as Architectural Digest and Elle Decor, King also frequently collaborates with brands like West Elm, Anthropologie, and Crate & Barrel to help ensure their products are seen in the best possible configurations. This spring, his first book, “Arranging Things,” will be published by Rizzoli. For King, who has been content working behind the scenes, the book is not only a chance to showcase some of his best work but also a way to unpack a process that, for him, has always been both mysterious and intuitive.
After growing up on a farm in Ohio, King trained as a dancer, working for years in that world before finding himself as an interior stylist, almost by accident. “I had come back to New York City after living in LA,” he recalls. “Up until that point, my whole life had been about being a dancer. I remember thinking, I have no idea what I’m going to do here. Someone asked me, ‘Oh, do you want to get into styling?’ and my immediate response was, ‘No.’ I had a strong aversion to it at the beginning because I didn't understand it. I think, even when writing this book, it was difficult to articulate my process because I didn’t really understand it myself. [Because I am] self-taught, it almost felt like an imaginary craft in a way. I didn’t know how to talk about it, so it was fun to try and tease that out a little bit. For me, it was just about the feeling that you get when you see objects in relation to each other. It was something that always came naturally to me.”
He also credits his time as a dancer with informing what he does now: “There’s a musicality to design, a rhythm, a spacial awareness. There are lines, and movement, and gesture; and also living with negative space, shapes.” In retrospect, King can see that this kind of work, the reimagining of spaces, was something he had been doing for most of his life. “I remember when I was first old enough for my parents to let me stay at home without them,” he says. “As soon as they left, I would switch around the whole house. My mom would be like, ‘How the hell did you move this furniture up the stairs on your own?’ but I would find a way.”
“I was always super insecure about my voice growing up,” he continues. “I loved dancing because I just got to express myself without having to speak. I can do the same thing here. That’s actually why I had a lot of fear around making this book, because I have been so happy being behind the scenes. So to step out and be more vulnerable and forthcoming with my practice feels a little raw. But ultimately there is something really special about having the gift of this work — to be able to express myself without necessarily talking. I feel like I can say so much more with an image or how I arrange things than I can verbally.”
A big part of the joy in King’s work — and something readily apparent when flipping through “Arranging Things” — is its deceptive simplicity. The book is filled with images of finely wrought objects (glassware, lamps, bits of pottery, soft upholstered edges) paired with roughly hewn tables and brutalist blocks of stone, marble, or wood. And then there’s the frequent appearance of rocks, big and small, from his various travels. “I’ve had so many rocks confiscated on airplanes,” he laughs. His love of natural and found materials is at the core of his personal work, which routinely asks the viewer to reconsider — and celebrate — the simple things.
“I just find myself not really having a hierarchy to what I like. A stone is just as important as a vase, is just as important as a piece of art,” King explains. His work seeks to unlock the power of objects by isolating and contextualizing them in unusual ways, while never fetishizing newness. In fact, King’s interior styling always champions reimagining what’s already there, rather than simply replacing it. “I love to shop what the owner already has,” he says. “I like raiding their shelves, not holding any reverence for where an object is supposed to be. I like really pulling out things that aren’t on display or putting stuff away. This kind of work is always about making a strong edit. I think that’s really what ‘Arranging Things’ is all about. I think you can come to like almost any object if you find the perfect spot for it.”
For an artist with such a keen eye for objects and as someone who designs and develops his own products, King is surprisingly detached when it comes to possessions. His apartment, while artfully allayed, is devoid of tchotchkes and any ephemera that might date itself or project sentimentality. The spartan quality of the rooms transmits a timeless quality, something that could have existed 50 years ago but still feels remarkably contemporary. He shrugs when I ask about his favorites or to explain the provenance of some of the furniture. “It’s funny, I don’t have an attachment to certain pieces like some stylists do,” he says, looking around the apartment. “However, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but I still have my childhood blanket. That’s probably the thing I’m the most attached to, but that’s it.” Later, as he walks me through the apartment, I spot said baby blanket, gently folded over a corner of the bed.
Before saying my goodbyes and heading back out into the chaos of downtown New York City, I make a point to tell King how much calmer I feel, having spent some time in such a lovingly curated space. I ask him whether this apartment is, in some way, a direct reflection of his state of mind. “I think, for me, it’s the desired state of mind,” he says. “It’s my state of mind on a good day. When people come here and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s so serene,’ or ‘I feel so calm in here,’ I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s good!’ because I don’t know if that was necessarily the intention when I started creating [it]. But I think it’s a feeling that comes through with a lot of my work. Maybe that’s what I am trying to share with the world, this side of myself. Some serenity. In reality, I feel like a duck whose feet are swimming frantically under the water, but on the surface, it looks really calm.”
T. Cole Rachel is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media. He is currently an editor-at-large at Departures.
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