“I HAD LIVED HERE for a year but had never seen my apartment in the light of day until the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Colin King, a 33-year-old Brooklyn Heights-based interiors stylist. Before the stay-at-home orders went into effect in New York in March 2020, he’d spend his days running around to meetings with clients, or on his way to London, Copenhagen, Madrid or Marrakesh to produce design stories and advertisements for brands such as the Danish furniture company Hay and the American paint company Benjamin Moore. But it wasn’t until he was isolated in his 500-square-foot second-floor walk-up in front of an 1830s brownstone that King finally had time to think about what he wanted to do with his own space.
His landlords, who are active in the neighborhood’s historical preservation, had eschewed the kind of soulless renovations that provide renters modern conveniences at the expense of interesting period elements, so King’s space retains many of its original details: six-over-six windows with narrow muntins, a working marble fireplace, oak flooring and generous casings and moldings beneath the 12-foot ceilings, their edges softened by nearly two centuries of paint. Though you enter the one-bedroom apartment through a 1980s-era galley kitchen next to a nondescript bathroom with pink and black tiles, your eye is immediately drawn inward to the classically proportioned living room, flooded with light from a pair of nine-foot-tall shuttered windows that overlook the tree-lined street.
In his professional projects, King seeks to infuse the most banal spaces with elegance. But his Instagram is the purest expression of his style — a series of poetic still lifes, rendered in a palette of off-white, dark gray and brown: a grouping of ceramics beneath an arcing lone branch (King occasionally sources these from the city’s sidewalks after a storm) or an understated detail from one of his jobs — a forgotten corner behind a bedroom door, unremarkable to others but rendered somehow elegiac through his eyes.
When he began redoing his home, there was basically only a sofa (the Italian designer Mario Bellini’s classic puffy-but-pointy Le Bambole, released in the early ’70s), a place to eat (a creamy travertine round marble table, also from the ’70s) and a comfortable chair (a 1960s-era LC4 chaise by Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in beat-up black leather). The white walls throughout appeared too yellow in the living room and too bland everywhere else. Unless he was sitting at his dining table, he had to set his coffee on the floor, next to his low-slung mattress or couch. His collections of design books and contemporary art were either stacked against the wall or piled on the ground, and the sorts of things he was paid to find for others — ceramic vases, houseplants, table lamps, objets and mirrors — were essentially absent.
After repainting — it took three tries to get the bedroom the perfect shade of murky gray, and the rest of the apartment is now an off-white that’s neither too warm nor too cool — King started filling his space. From Cassina, he ordered a blocky white Utrecht armchair created in the 1930s by the Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld; a velvet and walnut stool from Ben Bloomstein and Aaron Aujla’s Green River Project in the East Village; a custom table lamp by the New York-based ceramist Danny Kaplan; and some vintage midcentury woven rattan Pierre Jeanneret chairs, which King borrowed from his friend the Chelsea gallerist Dobrinka Salzman. In the living room, he placed a hand-thrown Modernist vase by the early 20th-century British potter Lucie Rie next to an old mirror on the fireplace’s mantel. Unlike his styling gigs, which often involve hurried deadlines, populating his apartment was a slower, more deliberate endeavor: “I had time to listen to the space,” he says. The result is stark but layered, weaving together disparate threads of 1970s Italian design, early American architecture and French Modernism with a subtlety that few young designers, who tend to experiment with wanton eclecticism, manage to pull off.
KING’S APARTMENT enshrines the minimalist aesthetic he has been fine-tuning for years, but not without a few detours. He and his twin brother grew up on a farm in rural Ohio where idleness was discouraged; there were always chores to do, and since they lived an hour from school, they rarely saw friends. As a teenager, King recalls being “really self-conscious” about his voice, he says, “as if I came out every time I opened my mouth.” But at 13, he discovered dance, and when he turned 18, he moved to New York to continue his jazz and ballet studies, though he soon found the reality of making it as a performer disheartening; on a whim, at 22, he moved to Los Angeles, where he faced the same frustrations: “I was told, over and over, ‘You’re too tall, you’re too thin, you’re not masculine enough’ — at some point, you have to take the hint.” So he began working as a fitness instructor, followed by a brief stint as an estate manager, until he happened upon a job as a digital content producer with Consort, a design firm with a shop on Melrose Avenue. There, he was tasked with pulling merchandise from the shelves, styling and photographing a vignette and promoting it on social media. Finally, he had found something he was as passionate about as dance.
In 2017, he returned to New York. Like many of his peers, he found himself juggling several gigs to stay afloat: In the morning, he was a personal trainer; in the afternoon, he managed the social media accounts for the home brand One Kings Lane; in the evening, he scouted and pitched stories to magazines in order to establish himself as a stylist. Within a few months, however, King was fully booked, allowing him to focus on one job for the first time in his life.
But though he may be settled, his apartment is still evolving. He’s currently on the hunt for a large oil painting to hang over his bed, a vintage Joe D’Urso side table for his living room and a black olive tree, which will be his first plant. While so many beautiful homes are the result of elaborate renovations and expensive furnishings, his is a testament to the power of a lighter touch: one that reveals the innate beauty of a space — and the patience required to see it.