Urban Electric lighting

Ken Fulk: The Maestro of Color

Ken Fulk is no stranger to the spotlight. A prolific designer with offices on both coasts and a penchant for infusing every space he touches with equal parts color and history, he has long been an inspiration for up-and-comers as well as a beloved partner to homeowners and other design industry professionals alike—including us, through his acclaimed Legacy Records project in New York City. Herewith, a candid conversation with the maestro of color.

Urban Electric lighting

Can we please begin by talking about the Golden Globes elevator you designed?

Everyone has such a funny relationship to elevators, right? We stand in them, but are never sure about what to say or not to say. And, we all have such a cinematic history of elevator scenes, whether they be naughty or criminal; there is a lot a tension around that space. Personally, my favorite elevator is at Claridge's in London. It has a proper sofa you can sit in and a beautifully attired attendant. You can imagine the Queen Mum riding in that elevator–what a gracious thing. When we were putting together the elevator for the Golden Globes and InStyle magazine, I wanted it to be evocative of that kind of hospitality from another time, but to also feel sexy. Another challenge was not to compete too much with the fashion. People loved it! It has gotten millions of views online and on social media–more than the Golden Globes itself from what I understand.

The Flat shown in hewn brass finish with custom powder coat match Benjamin Moore #2036-10 Cat's Eye Green accents, customized. Hull shown in hewn brass finish and Benjamin Moore #2036-10 Cat's Eye Green custom powder coat match accents and opal glass. Interiors by Ken Fulk. Photography by Genevieve Garruppo.

What is your approach to designing commercial spaces or really any space that is going to be seen by a lot of different people?

Oddly, we don’t really approach a commercial space or a hospitality space any differently than we do a home. Certainly they are very different because of who is going to see it and where it is located—and all of those are major factors—but we start every project by telling a story first and foremost: We literally write a narrative. Because I think more than anything, we are storytellers and we are good at it. (It’s where my Southern roots come into play for sure. I love to tell a story, whether it’s the narrative of a family or of a place or of an elevator where someone may have only a few minutes.)

What else informs how you approach a space?

We hope that you use the word “bold” when describing our interiors. I like that word choice. I also strive to incorporate things that feel evocative and remind us of other places and times. They are not historical recreations, but little pinpoints that I think add some familiarity to all of it. You can’t exactly put your finger on it–you know it, but you don’t know it—and it provides a way for folks to gain entry in a way. There is some level of familiarity, but it is hopefully utterly fresh, new or bold, or it’s that combination of all of the above.

The Flat shown in hewn brass finish with custom powder coat match Benjamin Moore #2036-10 Cat's Eye Green accents, customized. Interiors by Ken Fulk.
Hull shown in hewn brass finish and Benjamin Moore #2036-10 Cat's Eye Green custom powder coat match accents and opal glass. Interiors by Ken Fulk.

Having observed everything you did with Legacy Records in making that space an experience, as well, and something to enjoy in a 3 dimensional way–it’s clear that is a signature part of your approach.

I think that’s really true. Part of me knew when I was a six-year-old boy, who definitely wasn’t like every other six-year-old boy. I would go and climb the step ladder and pick out patterns and clip flowers and sneak into my neighbor's yard and clip theirs, too. I knew that those things mattered, and that it was about the experience. It wasn’t about my vision. It was about the idea that, why wouldn’t we celebrate this moment? For us as a firm and for me as a person, I think that is what we do. We create experiences that sometimes last one night, like an incredible wedding, or we create something that may last generations, like a custom built multi-year project for a home. I think, in general, all of us recognize that in today’s world, where we are all hyper-connected by the devices that rule our lives or social media or the notion that the world may be going to shit, we all have a real desire to have experiences. Why they matter, how and where we achieve them—it’s all about how we imprint those memories. So when we created a space like Legacy Records [which we featured many lights from The Urban Electric Co. in], I wanted it to be singular and holistic. You may not see one element, but you experience it all together. For me, that is what makes it successful.

Rex Flushmount shown in bronze with hewn brass accents. Interiors by Ken Fulk. Photography by Genevieve Garruppo.

What are the design elements that are really crucial to a space?

We try to create spaces across the board that people can enjoy and use and not feel like they are too fragile. You do have more constraints in hospitality than you have in residential, of course. You have things that move and things that carry the weight, and you may not have the budget to use some things. At Legacy Records, which was truly a ground-up project, the use of bold colors gave it flair. Even walking into the lobby of the building with the floors and the walls, that building did a lot for us. And so, I try to create spaces that are meant to be used and will hopefully endure. I never want to feel like my projects are only for one moment in time.

If you could orchestrate the perfect table for a meal or a drink at Legacy Records, who would you include on the guest list?

I have had some pretty good ones there already! It’s all about communing in that space. I’d have to say my dream list would include a young Truman Capote, Lee Radziwill, Beyonce, Julia Child, perhaps, to add a different kind of gravitas. That would be really fun.

Lundy Hang shown in Benjamin Moore #PT-022 Fiery Opal paint selection finish with hewn brass accents. Interiors by Ken Fulk. Photography by Genevieve Garruppo.

Do you have a favorite color or pattern that you always come back to?

Yes, and I have had the same answer since I was four-years-old. My single favorite color has always been orange. I don’t know why it began as my favorite color (actually I do know why it’s my favorite: I am just not sure where it began). I am a lover of color in general. There is not a blue or a green (especially a green) or a blue-green that I don’t love, as well. Secondarily, I love pattern. I am not afraid to mix it up. I am not overly concerned about being “matchy-matchy.” I am constantly wanting to, as I tell my team, “muck it up.” I always say that things look too “decorate-y” and then I add in some unexpected elements.

Do you have a color, or palette or secret that you haven’t told anyone? What’s the ace in your back pocket?

Well, I talk a lot so I’m not sure how many secrets are still left to reveal. I guess my one tip is this: When all else fails, reach for the dimmer switch. Spaces are always weirdly overlit, especially commercial ones. We have all of this technology and consulting in lighting, yet everything is always too bright. One of the things I frequently do is walk into a project we’ve done and head over to the light control. I do it in every space I walk into. With just a little tweaking, the mood instantly changes in the room.

Pop Round shown in hewn brass finish with Benjamin Moore #2036-10 Cat's Eye Green custom powder coat match inset and gold-tipped bulb. Interiors by Ken Fulk.

At The Urban Electric Co., color is quite literally the ultimate expression of our customization capabilities, from any paint color or powder coat to mixed-metal finishes to one-of-a-kind fabric or wallpaper covered shades. Learn more about our custom color program here.