The Man with the Magic Touch

What does the inimitable designer Ken Fulk have in his mind’s eye?

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.