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There are triple threats, and then there’s Ken Fulk: designer, event creator, business owner, restorer of historic buildings… the list goes on and on. And he’s been named to a few lists of note as well, including the AD100 and the Elle Decor A-List (in addition to a James Beard nomination for restaurant design). And now, this bicoastal designer of homes, private jets, and… well, everything… has moved on to some exciting new projects, including the legendary Tosca Cafe in San Francisco and the Commodore Perry Estate, an Auberge Resort in Austin.

We spoke with Fulk about these chic new developments and some of the places where he finds design inspiration in his busy life. Read on to see photos of the revitalized and reimagined Commodore Perry and be sure to shop all his eclectic favorites on Chairish.

Ken Fulk shops Brimfield. Photo: Joyelle West.

Chairish & Shopping

What do you find most compelling about Chairish? 

I shop for a living — Charish makes that easy and fun. It’s like finding all of your favorite spots in one convenient place.

Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? 

An original Royere polar bear sofa and chair. 

What are three of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?

I love these vintage Frances Elkins loop chairs; this Kaare Klint sofa; and this adorable Jack Russell terrier portrait.

Now that we’re living with Covid and people are largely working from home, is there a demand for a particular room or category of furniture and decor that your clients are asking for? 

Everyone’s homes are getting a real workout. Seldom-used home offices are now essential. Being able to accommodate not just the occasional guest but the entire extended family is a reality for many. The one common thread I think everyone craves is comfort.

The seating area of a guest suite at the Commodore Perry. Design by Ken Fulk. Photo by Douglas Friedman.

THE COMMODORE PERRY ESTATE – AUSTIN

A hospitality project is of course very different from working on a residential home. How did you tackle a task like this to begin with? 

Actually, I tackled this very much like it was a residential project, because in fact, at its core, this is the Perry family’s original estate and we didn’t want to lose sight of that. The property itself is gracious and welcoming. When you visit, you’ll see the mansion is layered with styles and collections so that it feels as though it’s been like this forever. The hotel rooms were designed to feel equally residential; amid the Spanish-style architecture and plastered walls, the handmade tiles and scraped wood floors invite you to take your shoes off immediately and feel at home. 

What’s your favorite space in the hotel? 

The mansion suites are far and away my favorite spaces — I look forward to rotating through them because each is unique with their own tale and quirky designs. But if I’m on the property, you’re likely to find me tucked in one of the vintage leather chairs in front of the fireplace in the Solarium. That room features the original estate tile and is cloaked in rich garden-inspired drapes from Pierre Frey. And my favorite mezcal margarita is available just around the corner in the living room bar. 

The dining room at the Commodore Perry. Design by Ken Fulk. Photo by Douglas Friedman.

Designing 42 guest rooms and seven suites is no easy task. How did you source products for the hotel? What kind of vintage elements did you incorporate?

We designed many of the custom furnishings for the guest rooms and mansion suites. Throughout the rest of the hotel, we sprinkled a collection of vintage rugs and framed artworks that were carefully sourced during our twice-yearly trips to the Round Top Antiques Show.

What kind of odes to the spirit of Austin did you include in your designs?

We designed the entire brand identity as a tribute to the diverse history of this place, maintaining the famed motto “Keep Austin Weird.” So everything from the custom toile china and enamelware to the tooled leather coasters and menu covers are designed as handcrafted, unique pieces. We even helped compose the soundtrack that plays throughout the space.

Is it true that each room is furnished with its own bar cart? How did you decide to include those? 

This was always meant to be a place for celebrations large and small. The saying “a shared intention is reason enough for revelry” is at the heart of everything we designed. 

The library at the Commodore Perry. Design by Ken Fulk. Photo by Douglas Friedman.

TOSCA CAFE – San Francisco

You’ve already worked on designing several restaurants… what made Tosca special? Why did you decide to take it on as a co-owner?

Many of us who know and love Tosca feared it could disappear. The eccentric charm of old San Francisco is something that is under threat with all of the new. [Co-owners] Anna Weinberg, Nancy Oakes, and I felt that Tosca is an institution that simply demanded saving. It’s an understatement to say we are thrilled to take this on.

What kind of signature Ken Fulk elements are you bringing to the design of the restaurant?

Tosca is inherently cool with its legendary bar and funky back room. To maintain the essence and quirkiness of this landmark, we’re only planning a light-handed restoration of the historic interiors. 

Because of the quarantine, you recently pivoted to open Tosca as a pop-up outside the St. Joseph’s Art Society. How did that come to fruition?

Being able to adjust and pivot is key during this time. We really see Tosca as representing the indomitable spirit of San Francisco and that’s not confined to any one location. However at the moment, we are creating a new outdoor experience at Tosca’s historic location in North Beach. It will be a streetside cafe with roving musicians and an incredible menu by Nancy Oakes. 

Outdoor dining at the Commodore Perry. Design by Ken Fulk. Photo by Douglas Friedman.

Some DESIGN Favorites…

Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room: 

Color. Don’t be shy. 

Favorite iconic piece of vintage design: 

I’ve long adored the work of André Arbus.

Favorite decorating cheap thrill:

A dimmer switch

Favorite paint color: 

Tanner’s Brown by Farrow and Ball

A guest room at the Commodore Perry. Design by Ken Fulk. Photo by Douglas Friedman.

Favorite decor piece in your home: 

My Robsjohn Gibbings four-poster bed at the Tree House in San Francisco

Favorite designer from the past you most often turn to for inspiration: 

Billy Haines

Design destination every decor lover should visit at least once: 

Venice

Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received: 

Be your own business partner.

The grounds of the Commodore Perry. Design by Ken Fulk. Photo by Douglas Friedman.

Some LIFESTYLE Favorites…

Favorite vacation destination (next time travel becomes an option): 

Saint Barth

Favorite podcast: 

This American Life

Favorite Instagram accounts to follow: 

@englisheccentrichome and @saintjosephsartssociety

Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift: 

Vintage cocktail napkins

Favorite style icon: 

James Bond

Favorite flower:

Garden roses and peonies

Lead photo of the breakfast room at the Commodore Perry by Douglas Friedman. Design by Ken Fulk.

November 18, 2020

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