NEW YORK — Nick Olsen looks very much at home in an Andre Sornay art deco lounge chair in the salon he decorated in a 1905 townhouse, the setting for the 45th annual Kips Bay Decorator Show House opening Tuesday — the most exclusive design event in the country.
As you climb the winding steps to Olsen’s room on the top floor of 125 E. 65th St., on the market for a recently reduced $26.8 million, you can’t help but notice the jewel-toned colors and lavish details throughout the house: yards of velvets, stacked gilded birch logs and chinoiserie wallcoverings in the spaces transformed by 18 design firms.
Olsen, 35, is part of the new generation that has come to decorate at Kips Bay. A traditionalist who also embraces modern design, he got his start with well-known designer Miles Redd after earning a degree in architecture from Columbia University. His lively interiors mix different periods and are full of intriguing stories. In his show-house debut, he was inspired by the Paris apartment of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge: his daffodil-yellow duchess-satin curtains with claret red binding were painstakingly sewn by a former fashion designer. He’s blended a 1970s black glass coffee table, Christopher Spitzmiller lamp and an 1825 Austrian Biedermeier walnut desk.
Ichatted with Olsen about the gravity of doing Kips Bay, about design trends and the mood of decorating in 2017.
So why is there so much drama in this show house?
We live in dramatic times, in case you haven’t seen the news. There is a theatrical element to any decorating project. As designers we are insanely visual people. When given the opportunity, we will go full tilt.
What does it mean for you, at the age of 35, to be selected to do Kips Bay?
It’s a huge honor. I’ve been imagining it since I was a kid in Pensacola, Fla., reading Architectural Digest and Elle Decor.
What are the hallmarks of design in 2017?
It’s highly personal. I am fascinated by all the narratives the designers here used to create their rooms. Billy Cotton described a down-on-her-luck heiress he used as a muse. Ken Fulk based his dining room on amazing animals that come into someone’s life, and mine is an effete American expat living in Paris in the 1930s. Actually, I’ve always wanted to have lived during that era.
You have a super-looking bar here in your room set up on a lacquered blue faux malachite tray. Can you give us some ideas on how to set up a good-looking drinks tray?
You can set up a bar on a TV credenza or on a bookcase. If you have it contained on a tray, it’s more inviting. I love any tray with a color or texture in contrast to the surface it’s on: Burmese rattan is lovely in both the city and the beach, silver trays look nice on polished wood. Go to some flea markets and look for shakers, jiggers and other old bar accessories. Include a few fruit and vegetable juices and buy mixers in small bottles; they look better and keep their bubbles. Choose liquor bottles with attractive packaging. Put out some vintage linen cocktail napkins.
What design element must every room have?
Every room must have an outlier. It should be something a little bit strange or a little bit unexpected. Mine is this chintz chair. It’s a vintage English club chair I bought at auction. I used a glazed chintz fabric on it with hydrangeas in pink, celadon green and French blue. It’s cheerful and I love a little bit of granny in a room.
What trends do you see in the Kips Bay rooms this year?
There are lots of rich, deep colors around. Plus, the textiles are very luxurious and you’ll see walls of silk velvets, There are a lot of metallics. You have to be careful, though, as metallics can go south very quickly and look cheap. To avoid that, use actual gold or silver leaf or real metals — not something plasticy. Tapestry is a huge trend: we are seeing a bit of a neo-baronial moment going on.
When you’re not shopping to-the-trade, what are your favorite home stores?
I like CB2 and have used their cast concrete drum table for both indoor and outdoor use. I think they have great low-slung upholstery at good prices. I also like West Elm for unique accessories.
What are some of your favorite blogs or Instagram accounts?
I like Jennifer Boles’s “The Peak of Chic” blog. Ashley Hicks on Instagram is fascinating and fabulous, and of course I love Miles Redd on Instagram. I also like Apparatus Studio on Instagram because of their aesthetic, which is super clean and modern but with a bit of Studio 54 glamour.
What item do you covet from another designer’s room at Kips Bay?
I’d have to say the shearling-covered Fritz Hansen chair from Neal Beckstedt’s room.
Kips Bay Decorator Show House is open daily May 2 to June 1 at 125 E. 65th St., New York. Admission is $40 and benefits the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club. For more information, visit www.kipsbaydecoratorshowhouse.org.
More from Lifestyle: