For a designer whose flights of fancy almost always include rich saturated velvets, layers of pattern, stylish witticisms, and the unexpected piece of taxidermy (his own Clarendon Heights home boasts a real giraffe bust), Ken Fulk is surprisingly resistant to the notion of a signature style. “I wasn’t aware I had one,” he says with a mischievous grin.
To wit, a Pacific Heights Victorian that Fulk set out to design for a New York couple and their three children offers a family-friendly take on his trademark edgy aesthetic. “I actually think this project hits our sweet spot,” says Fulk, whose multidisciplinary firm has masterminded everything from sleek branding to fantastical events to the design of the city’s progressive members-only social club, The Battery. “It’s a fresh, energetic mix of things that don’t always, at first glance, appear to harmonize.”
The clients preferred a more contemporary feel than their Victorian, muddled by previous renovations, could offer, so Fulk and project designer Daryl Serrett modernized the interior by raising—or, in some cases, completely eliminating—doorways and removing walls. Once upon a time, the now-expansive great room (or “modern-day salon,” as Fulk prefers to call it) was three smaller spaces; the top-floor media room, with its bateau-inspired beadboard, was also formerly compartmentalized. “Older houses just come with more walls and rooms than modern families actually need,” says Mike Shankman, of the project management firm Artthaus, who, with firm owner Riaz Taplin, oversaw scheduling, budgets and logistics. “The new open layout is a wonderful counterpoint to the home’s classic exterior.” Shankman also brought in builder Paul McKenna, who carried out the construction along with his co-owner in the company, James Gallagher.
The open feel of the gracious new spaces was not to be diminished by the likes of that staple of Victorian design: ornate crown molding. That said, the designers’ modus operandi was not to obliterate every last heritage detail, but to, as Fulk says, “take the tradition down a notch.” So while the moldings are gone, a witty homage to Victoriana can be found in the family room’s neoprene-like wallpaper, a squishy—Serrett likens the texture to memory foam—innovation by E´litis with a raised scroll pattern recalling the Victorian-era anaglypta wallcoverings.
Another example of the designers’ editing can be found in the breakfast area’s beautiful atrium. Originally festooned with upper panels of colorful stained glass, the windows now provide a clear-to-the-top view of the renovated backyard. Landscape designer Stephanie Stillman Stephens, working with her partner, landscape architect Jeanette T. Hill, gave the property a sleek update by complementing existing concrete walls and glass railings with a stainless-steel outdoor kitchen. A Mediterranean plant palette of rosemary, creeping thyme and olive trees went in along with blackened-steel planters that frame an unapologetic and maintenance-free lawn of artificial turf. “The outdoor space had fantastic bones,” Stillman Stephens says of the backyard’s bi-level topography. “But we wanted to refine it and tailor it to the owners’ needs and style.”
Inside, Fulk and Serrett proceeded to curate a classic-meets-contemporary mix of furnishings within the pared-down Victorian shell. Antique French armchairs in the living area are given an edgy remake with a graphic chain pattern, and the designers created a large custom leather-and-nailhead wall piece to anchor the master bedroom’s bed. In the entry, a simply framed lithograph by Ellsworth Kelly juxtaposes with an English Regency settee. But perhaps the home’s most striking piece is the dining area’s large-scale chrome chandelier, salvaged from Germany’s Palace of the Republic. “We wanted a big statement piece to identify the dining area within the larger great room,” says Fulk.
The owners’ collection of equally bold artwork inspired the muted grayish-taupe backdrop created with Benjamin Moore’s Tundra paint. “The neutral hue provides a calming environment for the art to really shine,” says Fulk, who, between the skillful mix of disparate elements and statement-making pieces tempered with approachability, manages to make it all shine. Proving, as he says, “beauty is a many splendored, many layered, thing.”
—Leilani Marie Labong