May 19, 2017
Q&A with Ken Fulk & Hannah Cecil Gurney of de Gournay on the Kips Bay Show House
Ken Fulk's stunning 'Madame's Magical Menagerie' room for the Kips Bay Show House featured a hand-painted custom wallpaper from de Gournay that set the fantastical tone of the room.
by New York Spaces
NYS: We loved your room design for this year's Kips Bay Show House. What was your theme and what design elements did you employ to create the magical storybook look?
Ken Fulk: We dubbed our dining room "Madame's Magical Menagerie." When I first saw the house, I imagined that it belonged an eccentric, yet impeccably stylish, grand dame, who loved to entertain. I thought she would invite her eclectic group of friends over for drinks, music and take-out served on perfect place settings. We set a beautiful polished mahogany table with the most exquisite Hermès china, Saint-Louis crystal, Frances I silver and monogrammed napkins from Leontine Linens. The massive marble bar and the antique piano completed the scene. But the story couldn't end there; looking out on the back garden, I pictured a zebra asleep under a lilac tree along with other escaped animals from the Central Park Zoo who landed in Madame's care—she fed them steak tartare and kept them secret so eventually more animals arrived and Madame's menagerie was complete.
NYS: What was Madame F. known for?
KF: Apart from her menagerie? The Madame was known in her earlier days for her style. She may have been
one of Truman Capote's "swans"—exquisite manners but also a wild side and a daring sense of fashion.We actually had some great gowns picked out for her in our early inspiration boards: A great I Magnin green jersey maxi with jeweled cuffs, an incredible salmon-colored silk opera cape.
NYS: How did you come to work together with Ken?
Hannah Cecil Gurney: Ken and I had become friends when we met perviously in Paris and San Francisco. He called me one night while I was home in London and told me about the dining room he was designing at Kips Bay Show House. He had this extraordinary idea for a bespoke hand-painted mural for the walls and this unbelievably imaginative story for the room: 'Madame's Magical Menagerie'. How could I not be in love already? Ken explained that he wanted the mural to depict these zoo animals that this imaginary grande dame was feeding out of her Upper East Side garden window. While Ken wanted to use a muralist, I insisted that no one would make it better than de Gournay! As we have an amazing design team with lots of experiences in custom work, the wallpaper could all be hand painted off site and even better, also removed and re-used after showhouse.
NYS: Is the wallpaper a hand-painted custom design? Tell us more about the process.
HCG: Yes! de Gournay's wallpaper is all hand painted. The wallpaper is installed on a layer of silk that allows it to be peeled off, re-backed and later re-hung somewhere else so all the beautiful work is not lost. Once Ken sent through his inspiration imagery, our artists got to work planning. Having worked with Ken before and being familiar with his aesthetic, it was easy to make his vision come alive. Ken came to see Jemma (our Design Director) and me to finalize the layout and color palette. Then we began to paint! Three weeks later (we normally require closer to 3 months to deliver custom wallpapers) the wallpaper arrived in NYC and was installed.
NYS: Tell us about the Panel sequences!
HCG: The panel sequences were designed to replicate Ken's magical tale of these wayward zoo animals having
escaped and finding happiness in the garden of this grand dame on the Upper East Side—A zebra quietly nibbling the grass in the shade of a lilac bush while a polar bear stands up on his haunches to meet a monkey. A giraffe peering into the dining room. A flock of flamingos cooling themselves in the fountain and a tiger relaxing on the archway entrance. All surrounded by beautiful greens and florals.
NYS: What was your favorite part about the custom design?
HCG: It was't until I attended the Show House opening night that I realized Ken had named all the animals! That was my favorite part. Finding out that the polar bear, whom I had developed quite a fondness for during the production process, had been christened Eugene!
NYS: What was your favorite part about this whole process? Was it your first time designing a room for Kips Bay? If not, what have your other themes been?
KF: It's liberating to have an imaginary client! Usually, it's either clients, friends or homes I'm designing for myself—the toughest of all clients! This project was more of a stage set and I'd love to do more of that. Maybe an opera or a Broadway show? I've never done the Kips Bay house before but it was much more fun than I imagined.
NYS: Tell us about that paint! That shade of green is to die for!
KF: Well, it wasn't a simple process. I had a green in my mind's eye—a classic emerald hue, but not too blue and with lots of depth and age to it. It was very hard to relay this color to our finish painter so we started with a custom green that was waxed and shellaced to get that final tone we were looking for.
NYS: The rug is absolutely beautiful and adds so much to the room without taking away from it. Tell us about it!
KF: It's an amazing antique Oushak borrowed from my good friends at Stark Carpet. They were kind enough to bring in a half a dozen rugs for us to try out on site so we could see them in the setting. This one had the perfect tones that nicely complement the silk mural.
NYS: We love how the mirror reflects the giraffe. Was that a happy accident or did you plan it?
KF: We knew that the room would have a few major focal points: the fireplace, the bay window and of course, that back bar, which we framed with the theatrical green drapes in silk generously donated by Pierre Frey. We mapped out the mural once we had the furniture chosen from Newel Antiques, including the mirror, so the monkeys that flank the mirror and the giraffe in the reflection was all purposeful—a wonderful collaboration with de Gournay.
NYS: What were some of your favorite items in the room?
KF: Apart from Eugene, the polar bear, and the flamingo family, who we affectionately named "The Joneses," we were all madly in love with that marble bar. Each of the carved marble pedestal bases weigh about 600 lbs, so it was touch-and-go getting that up the stairs. They had to come back with four more movers to try a second attempt to get it upstairs.
NYS: If you had to come up with a concept now for another room, what would it be?
KF: Hmmm, maybe it's the next generation of Madame F... perhaps her daughter comes to live with her and maybe the animals have multiplied and the house has fallen into disrepair... Sort of Grey Gardens meets Madagascar.
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