Finding the “Soul of a Space”: A Conversation with Designer Ariel Okin

Known for her ability to infuse traditional design elements with a fresh and modern feel, designer Ariel Okin’s work has been praised in the pages of highly respected design publications, Vogue, Elle Décor and Architectural Digest to name only a few.

Photo by Donna Dotan

Last year, she was named a House & Garden Gold List Designer, launched a capsule collection with One Kings Lane and saw her collection with Chasing Paper go into its second iteration. Recently the spaces she has designed for Lena Dunham (her West Village home featured on the cover of Domino) and for the Gwyneth Paltrow (Goop’s NY headquarters) has garnered her much praise. In addition to the spaces she designs through her eponymous firm which includes residential, commercial as well as hospitality projects, she also runs an editorial and e-commerce site (Fenimore lane), is a contributing writer for Vogue.com, Architectural Digest and Domino and she is currently working on her first book.

Photo by Seth Caplan

The designer is an inspiration both in terms of the beautiful design work does as well as her ability to juggle so many types of projects with so much success. “Writing has always been a huge piece of my life; I went to college for journalism and it’s always been a passion of mine, so I feel grateful that I get to continue to exercise that muscle even though design is my primary business. Being able to create product is really exciting, and I can’t wait for some of our new lines to launch this year – I have lighting coming out with Hudson Valley Lighting Company’s Mitzi, which is their Direct to Consumer line, as well as wallpaper with The Mural Source and a rug capsule with King’s House. The excitement of coming up with an idea and watching it come to fruition (and then into people’s homes or wardrobes!) is truly a thrill I will never get over. I like having my hand in multiple creative pots; it’s fun, extremely gratifying, and keeps me on my toes!”

Photo by Seth Caplan

Her love for design started early and has only blossomed from there. Growing up, Ariel spent countless hours honing her eye and dreaming of beautiful people and places, time which as it turns out was more than well spent. “When I was younger, in elementary and middle school, I wanted to be a fashion designer; I ended up taking a very different career path (I went to college for journalism and graduate school for public affairs) but I was always very interested in the arts and aesthetics. My mom used to take me to Barnes & Noble when I was younger and I would sit on the floor and pour over Slim Aarons coffee table books, taking in the interiors and the style. Friends started to come to me after I had graduated college and moved to the city, asking me to help them design their apartments, and I quickly realized it was something I enjoyed doing. It didn’t feel like work at all, and I ended up spending more time helping friends on the side than my actual day job! Eventually I realized this was something I could do as a career, and after taking on projects on the side for almost three years while working at my day job, I took the leap to become a designer full time. That was over half a decade ago, and I’m so glad I did! I feel so grateful to do what I do every day.”

Photo by Donna Dotan

While her designs are elegant, sophisticated and unique, her underlying goal when working with a space is simple: a functional space for her clients. “The majority of our clients are young families, and I never want to create a room that no one will go in with wine, or one that someone is afraid to eat in. I think houses should be loved (and used!) in every crevice, so I always start by asking clients how they envision using the space, and then the design ideation comes from there. Getting to create the “movie sets” that our clients live their lives and create their memories in – it really is a distinct privilege.”

Photo by Seth Caplan

The designer knows the importance of a functional and beautiful home firsthand, as her own childhood home continues to serve as an inspiration for her to this day. “Judy Kling of J.K. Kling & Associates designed the house I grew up in, and her approach to design – traditional, but clean-lined, well-edited, never fussy – is something I reference frequently. Her work is so timeless and chic. Judy had a huge impact on my aesthetic and how I think rooms should feel. Billy Baldwin, Albert Hadley and Mark Hampton are all legendary designers I look up to (and whose books I re-read often.)”

Photo by Seth Caplan

As an adult, she now has the chance to create her own special environment to raise her family in. “My home is traditional with a twist; I have a toddler and a dog, so nothing could be too precious, but I did want it to feel classic, warm and inviting. There is a lot of English roll arm upholstery, chinoiserie paper, kilims, sisals, antique suzanis, vintage wicker and bamboo furniture – I like to layer, I think that’s what makes a space feel personal and cozy. My favorite vintage piece in my house is a faux tortoise painted armoire that I got at auction for $137 from a downsizing sale in Greenwich – it is so beautiful and I use it as a bar in our formal living room. It has silly monkeys hand painted on the inside doors, one is drinking a glass of wine and one is smoking a cigar. They crack me up!”

Photo by Donna Dotan

To make each space she designs unique, she often looks to vintage and antiques. “I don’t think a room is complete without a few vintage and antique pieces; they are the soul of a space, the patina and warmth you get from vintage simply can’t be replicated by big box stores. Having something unique in your home that no one else does is what makes design so special and tailored to each client.” A piece of advice she follows when shopping vintage is one we would all do well to keep in mind: “I like to follow the old Billy Baldwin adage, “Be faithful to your own taste; nothing you really like is ever out of style” – it’s so true.”

Photo by Donna Dotan


Click here to shop Ariel’s curated TLV collection.

5 Questions with Designer Ariel Okin


TLV: Where do you look for inspiration when you feel blocked?

AO: I collect vintage design books, and I find so much inspiration in those!


TLV: Do you have a go to color combination? Or most beloved pattern?

AO: I am quite partial to blues and greens; I also love chocolate brown. I wish someone would let me lacquer their dining room entirely in chocolate brown! For patterns, a pretty chintz upholstered on the reverse is always a beautiful addition to any space.

Photo by Donna Dotan

TLV: Is there an era or a design style that you are particularly inspired by?

AO: I love 1960’s era Billy Baldwin, the slipper chairs, white rooms with pops of Quadrille, and Turkish ottomans. So chic.


TLV: Favorite travel destination for design inspiration?

AO: I love Italy for the variety of colors and Palm Beach and Paris for the antique shops; but at this rate, after Covid, just leaving my house is inspiring me.

Photo by Donna Dotan

TLV: Favorite way to unwind after a busy week?

AO: Cooking a delicious meal and sharing a glass of good wine and crusty bread with my husband at our kitchen table by some candlelight, catching up on our week.


TLV: What are you currently reading / watching?

AO: Currently reading Inside Comedy: The Soul, Wit and Bite of Comedy and Comedians of the last Five Decades (I needed something light given the state of the world – ha!); currently watching The Sopranos from the beginning.


Photos Courtesy of Ariel Okin / Profile Photo by Donn Dotan/ Text by Liana Hayles Newton





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