Lifestyle

Ken Fulk on Maximalism & the Art of Entertaining

As one of the most celebrated interior designers, Ken Fulk is best know for creating abundant spaces; rooms filled with pieces and art that feel collected over many years, along travels and adventures. Memories instead of objects. The antithesis to Modernism and Minimalism, Maximalism feels warm and abundant, enveloping you in the stories of “a life-well lived,” as Fulk puts it. Just don’t let the misleading moniker lead you astray; Fulk counters that every space they design have been curated and edited with the utmost restraint. It’s not about throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but creating a setting that invites you in, to stay a while, to curl up by a fire—or, you know, to stay and party till the wee hours of the night—in turn, creating more stories, more history.

In addition to interiors, Fulk’s 25-year-old firm—which has been included on the AD 100 list, Elle Decor’s A-List, and nominated twice for a James Beard Foundation Restaurant Design Award—is also known for throwing equally lavish parties for its varied clientele. Below, we spoke with Fulk about the restraint behind his work, “decrepit grandeur,” and designing a space around the art of entertaining. 

LEO: First, can you break down the key components of maximalism?

KEN FULK: Maximalism is simply creating an atmosphere of abundance and joy. It’s not simply Tony Duquette’s famous quote, “More is more.” Instead, it’s about leaning into the philosophy that our style and experiences should have an opinion. And if you have an opinion, why be shy about sharing it.

Photo Courtesy of Ken Fulk

What is it about this aesthetic that appeals to you and that you are drawn to?

Our projects and the history behind them really demand and deserve a layered design approach. As we begin a project, we gather a pastiche of style references and relevant history that we then use as a consistent narrative while we build upon the design, look and feel. All of those layers add a richness to the experience, and that often comes through as Maximalism, but in fact, we’ve practiced quite a bit of restraint and careful editing. 

Photo Courtesy of Ken Fulk

How have your illustrious parties influenced the way you approach decorating a home for someone who likes to entertain?

Your home is not simply a place where you exist alone; it’s about the daily rituals, celebrations and memories made there. Since I was a kid, I have always imagined that I know exactly how to give my friends and family—and now my clients—the best possible experience, whether it’s a holiday reunion, a disco party, or a breakfast room.

Now that we’ve done this as a business for more than 20 years, we bring our knowledge on a life well-lived to every one of our projects. Be it a residential space or a private club, our firm has become known for bringing an unexpected dose of magic to our clients. The idiom of ‘entertaining as an art form’ exists for a reason. Every event we create hones our skill and elevates our next experience.

Photo Courtesy of Ken Fulk

What are the most important things to keep in mind when designing a space for entertaining guests?

Inviting someone into your home is one of the most gracious acts, and something many folks missed the most during the pandemic. That being said, your home should authentically reflect who you are. It doesn’t have to be filled with pedigreed antiques or blue-chip artwork—just comfortable and elegant pieces that you love. You have to own your style fearlessly.

What are some basic and accessible ways for a guy who is not a professional designer to approach this?

Everyone can look in their closet to help determine their style—or if not their actual closet, maybe their fantasy wardrobe. We’re all designers every morning when we get dressed for the day, so use that as your template for colors, textures, style references and then gather photos of rooms you love, favorite restaurants and hotels, childhood memories. That is what your home should feel like.

Photo Courtesy of Ken Fulk

Do you have advice for single men avoiding the tragic bachelor pad look?

A tailored bed, dimmable lighting, and large rugs.

Photo Courtesy of Ken Fulk

In terms of creating an inviting home, do you have a favorite room you like to start with?

I love a dapper cocktail bar. Whether it’s a rolling bar cart, a repurposed roll-top desk or a behemoth built-in bar, this is a small-scale and easily achievable opportunity to show off your style and your bartending skills!

If you could pick one person—dead or alive—to design a home for, for the purposes of throwing lavish parties, who would it be?

Thomas Jefferson. I grew up in Virginia near Monticello and on historic tours of that property; I would be overwhelmed at the possibility. I could see myself living there; hosting incredible dinners and seasonal balls; setting the stage for important heads of state.

Photo Courtesy of Ken Fulk

What artists are you drawn to for creating “conversation” pieces in a home? 

I love vintage portrait paintings. Primarily humans, but I own A LOT of dog portraits. They are not only good company in a room, but often catch your eye and make you stop and wonder what that person—or four-legged friend—was like…The perfect conversation-starter.

Photo Courtesy of Ken Fulk

What do you consider to be your magnum opus?

I don’t think I’ve created it yet. However, I am very proud of our historic restoration of Mary Heaton Vorse’s house in Provincetown. There’s a decrepit grandeur to it that feels genuine. The space is both beautiful and purposeful; we fashioned it to support the local arts community, not only by being a gallery and lecture spot, but also by housing artists for our residency programs. Nothing about the house is too precious, but everything is just right. 

Mary Heaton Vorse’s house in Provincetown on LEO edit
Mary Heaton Vorse House. Photos by Stephen Kent Johnson 
Mary Heaton Vorse’s house in Provincetown on LEO edit

Do you have any particular design or furniture stores you would recommend for the average guy?

The average guy shouldn’t feel bad about shopping anywhere. From the big retail chains to the new online custom furniture shops. They have good-looking, budget-friendly pieces. Just challenge yourself to use your own imagination rather than buy the “entire look” as shown.

CHECK OUT KEN FULK

Ken Fulk Inc. & IG @KENFULK

Ken Fulk on LEO edit
Photo by Brendan Mainini