The Interview — Ariel Okin, Founder of Ariel Okin Interiors
Welcome to Talking Top 10, a recurring series in which we feature the founders, CEOs, creators, and leaders who are shaking up their industries. Ahead, read our Q&A with Ariel Okin, and keep scrolling to shop her Top 10 must-haves.
Ariel Okin is the founder of her eponymous firm, Ariel Okin Interiors, a full-service interior design firm based in New York City that specializes in luxury residential and unique commercial properties.
Ariel’s portfolio ranges from traditional to contemporary, with a focus on elegant, livable spaces. Texture, pattern, clean lines, and a mix of bespoke and antique items are hallmarks of her aesthetic, and she believes every home should reflect its owner’s personality.
Ariel has been featured and profiled in Elle Decor, Domino, House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, and New York Magazine, among others, and she is a contributing writer to Vogue.com, Architectural Digest, and Domino Magazine. Some of her recent notable projects include the New York offices for goop and Maisonette and Lena Dunham’s West Village apartment.
Make sure to follow Ariel on Instagram for daily home and decor inspiration!
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How did Ariel Okin Interiors get its start? Did you always want to be an interior designer?
I originally studied journalism and English in undergrad, and I went to grad school for strategic communications with a focus on public affairs. I started designing on the side for fun—people would come over and say they loved our apartment and would ask for help with theirs, and I started to take small side projects from my day job, which was in education at the time. I ended up doing design on the side for two and a half years while I kept my day job, until I had built up my portfolio enough to take the risk and leave to do design full time. I feel so grateful and lucky that I get to do what I love every day!
What inspires your design process?
I find inspiration from so many resources; old copies of shelter magazines, design industry friends on Instagram, archive imagery from resources like Getty, design and fashion and photography books. I also sit down with the client and discuss what it is they’re trying to achieve: how they like to live, how they intend for their space to be used. Because so much of the client’s day to day is what’s informing my overall design process.
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Tell us about an all-time favorite project you’ve worked on.
I really feel so lucky that I get to work with clients who I love and who really believe in the work we do and are excited about it. One project that was a favorite, in particular, is the first really large-scale project I ever worked on, a duplex on Park Avenue. The client was a seasoned pro and had worked with designers before, and she knew exactly what aesthetic she wanted and really let me run with it. She is the loveliest, most elegant woman with the best taste, and we still stay in touch to this day!
What are you working on right now?
We have fourteen (!) active projects right now which sounds insane, and it is! We are lucky that people are interested in doing e-design projects with us while we are all working from home, so we recently took on a home for e-design in Southampton, NY, and are about to take on projects in Bedford and Rumson, too. We also have our standard projects going at the same time: a home in Englewood, NJ, a home in Mamaroneck, NY, a home in Old Greenwich, CT, and several apartments in the city, all in varying stages of development. My furniture line launched with Society Social in April, which was really exciting, and my wallpaper line with Chasing Paper launches in June, so those are keeping me busy as well (not to mention my 8-month-old!).
What are your top tips for making a tiny apartment feel a little less tiny?
Sometimes keeping the same color palette in variations of one hue can make a space feel bigger. Tone on tone palettes amplify the square footage: for example, a neutral palette with varying shades of ivory, beige, cream, chocolate brown, etc., can make a space feel airier and lighter, and layering one color-family keeps things from feeling too cluttered or imposing. Great storage solutions also make a huge difference —if things are neat, and square footage is used wisely, lack of size doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style.
Do you have a favorite room in your home?
I really love our bedroom—I think it’s so serene and such a welcoming place to unwind after a long day in the city. The palette is soothing: pale blue and cream, with hits of navy and natural materials like cane and rattan.
What would we find you wearing on a typical workday?
Lately, in quarantine I haven’t been that exciting in the wardrobe department—there’s been a lot of Lululemon on repeat in this house. But on a normal workday? High-waisted Citizens of Humanity Rocket Crop jeans, with a white tee tucked in and a navy blazer, accessorized with my trusty Stan Smiths and black alligator tank watch.
Have you discovered any amazing beauty products lately?
I have always loved Egyptian Magic, a balm made out of royal jelly and all these amazing bee byproducts, but I’ve been using it even more now that my hands are rubbed raw from all the handwashing. I recently started using Augustinus Bader’s Rich Cream, and I have to say it’s quite nice, but I have dry skin so I do mix in a little face oil with it at night. I also started using Acure’s cold-pressed argan oil, which I hadn’t tried before and really like—it’s also priced insanely well!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career similar to yours?
I always tell people who are interested in pivoting from a different career into interior design, or people in school for interior design, to intern. I think experiencing the design world for yourself is single-handedly the best thing you can do when trying to pursue a career in the industry. You get on the job experience, you get to network with others in the field (and it is a small group of people, really!) and you get to try your hand at various elements of the job as an intern, typically. I think interning—in any field—is such a valuable experience: even if you end up not liking a job, you also learn that that’s one thing you don’t want to do, which is just as valuable in career planning!
What’s next for you and your firm?
This month we are gearing up for my wallpaper launch in June with Chasing Paper, which I am so excited about. I am the first interior designer Chasing Paper has done a collaboration with, so I feel really honored that Elizabeth [Rees, founder of Chasing Paper] chose to work with me; she is such an amazing person to work with. We are also, like everyone else in the industry, figuring out the mechanics of e-design, which has proven to be a really fun challenge and a great way to meet new people from all over, and we are also launching an editorial section to my website in June. So, lots of exciting stuff all around!