Designer to Watch: Ariel Okin

By Jeanne Lyons Davis //

Haven’t heard of Ariel Okin? You won’t need help remembering the name, as the up-and-coming decorator is going places—fast. The design savvy social-media influencer has been making waves in interior design circles since she hung her own shingle just two years ago. From frequently contributing as a writer for vogue.com, Architectural Digest, and domino magazines, to name a few, to her impeccably-designed interiors popping up in print and online, Ariel’s keen eye and distinctive voice continue to catapult the New York-based designer into the industry limelight.

Most recently, Ariel designed the elegant and refined office space for the 2018 Real Simple Idea Home (pictured above) in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. From the dreamy grass cloth walls to the easy-on-the-eyes (and easy-to-clean!) patterned sisal rug, Ariel masterfully mixed elegant finishes with functional pieces in the chic space, a signature of her design aesthetic. In addition to executing large scale residential projects in Manhattan’s most prestigious zip codes, Ariel has ventured into enviable commercial projects, including the New York goop offices(!).

We chatted with Ariel and got the scoop on what inspires her and what’s next for the on-the-rise designer.

Pretty practical

My aesthetic is defined by a neutral palette layered with texture, color, pattern, and some glamour thrown in for good measure. I hope for my spaces to be classic, timeless, and well-edited. Functionality is also important—the flow of conversation in a living room, for example, is something I always think about when deciding on scale and placement. Ultimately, I want my projects to feel both polished and livable. 

She gets it from her mama

My mother was in the fashion and design worlds, so I was always surrounded by fabric and color. My parents worked with J.K. Kling Associates on my childhood home, and the design process stuck with me in terms of connecting memories so deeply with the environment we live in. (I chose a light blue bedroom with a scroll upholstered light blue linen bed—that was the first time I felt a real sense of agency in defining the space around me.) When I was 13 or 14 years old, I poured over Slim Aarons coffee table books, taking in the classic interiors and styles of the time. I also was a complete magazine hoarder, and still collect Architectural Digest to this day. The spark for interior design was always there, but I didn’t realize I wanted to make a career out of it until later in life. My mother always encouraged me to nurture my creative side (and still does!) and I’m eternally grateful to her for that.

Top design influences

I love everything Billy Baldwin ever designed and Billy Baldwin Decorates is one of my favorite books. I love the sophistication of Albert Hadley and Sister Parish, Tom Scheerer, Jacques Grange, Patrick Ahearn, Markham Roberts, Mark Hampton, Carrier and Company, Veere Grenney, Daniel Romualdez, and J.K. Kling Associates. I love the sense of fun, risk-taking, and whimsy in Dorothy Draper’s interiors and Luke Edward Hall’s art. I also love the “New Guard” of designers and artists who are really defining the landscape today, including Mark Sikes, Sarah Bartholomew, Clary Bosbyshell, Alyssa Kapito, Amy Berry, and William McLure.

Changing course

I was torn between politics and fashion during college. Pinterest had just launched, and I spent almost every waking moment looking at reference images and reading shelter magazines. It was my way to relax, unwind, and dive into beautiful worlds. At the time, I didn’t even realize that it was a profession I could pursue. I worked with Audrey Gelman on Scott Stringer’s 2013 political campaign. I am so lucky to have gained an incredible mentor in Audrey, who has gone on to do amazing things at The Wing, which she founded. After getting my Master’s in Strategic Communication at Columbia, I worked in public affairs with Audrey then in education (similar to Paloma!) but the bug was still there: I was still fascinated with interiors. What started as an interest turned into a hobby as I designed for friends on the side. I quickly realized I was spending more time on mood boards than anything else, and I started to think that maybe interior design was my calling. 

Taking the leap

I reached out to friends in the industry, and everyone said the best way to know if you want to be a designer is to actually design, so I started taking clients on the side. After six months, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I fell in love with the creative process and working with clients to help them realize a vision. After two years of working two full-time jobs (not to mention planning my wedding!) I built my portfolio up so I could start my own firm and design full time. It’s been a whirlwind, and sometimes I definitely have to pinch myself. I feel so lucky to be able to do what I love every day!

Full steam ahead

I have some exciting projects in the works! I designed a bedroom in this year’s Holiday House in New York (October 24–December 2), where I co-created a custom wallpaper with de Gournay (above). The room is inspired by the concept of a “modern royal.” As a huge fan of The Crown, I tried to envision what young Princess Margaret’s room would look like today. 

Project wise, I’m wrapping up the goop offices in New York, which has been the most amazing experience (especially since I am a huge Goopette!) I’m also working on a compound in upstate New York. Its location is positively idyllic. (It makes me want to live on a sheep farm!) I’m in the middle of a gut renovation in a pre-war landmarked building on Fifth Avenue, a full-floor apartment at The Four Seasons in Tribeca, and another gut renovation on the Upper East Side. I am also in talks for creating product, which is a true dream and goal of mine. It’s certainly been a whirlwind of a year, but I wouldn’t change a second of it. I can’t wait for what’s to come! 

 

Interior Images: Seth Caplan // Portrait Image: Noa Griffel

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