Style Master

Interior designer Nick Olsen's DIY approach shows that great design relies on personality not money. I profiled the New York-based talent for Belle.

New York City is a place where things happen. Well, those that live will tell you otherwise – there are the long hours, hard work and cut-throat competition to contend with – but it is undoubtedly a city where just about anything is possible. Nick Olsen knows this well. “Things happen with a lot of luck,” says the on-the-rise interior designer who got his start almost by accident. That’s not to say he’s untalented, rather that his career ascent was far from the ordinary.

Having originally studied architecture at Columbia University, Nick’s first job was as an assistant to interior designer Miles Redd, a position he held for five years and who remains one his greatest influences. As an aside to his day job, Nick decorated his own Manhattan apartment on a shoestring budget, wearing the hats of many different trades in the largely DIY overhaul. So impressed was his boss that he immediately picked up the phone and called Domino’s then editor, Deborah Needleman, landing the apartment on the magazine’s cover in 2006. “I mean how extraordinary,” says Nick of the unexpected turn of events. But really, was it?

With the proliferation of reality shows about home makeovers and the democratisation of design with high street-style retailers such as Ikea and Pottery Barn, the past decade has seen an enormous rise in the interest in and attention paid to interior design and decoration, and Nick Olsen became America’s poster-boy for it, and a handsome and enthusiastic one at that. Following that first magazine cover, Nick became Domino’s hugely popular ‘Deal Hunter’ blogger, where he posted affordable design tips.

More recently, Nick has been focused on building his own interior design business, Nick Olsen Style, largely comprised of residential projects in his home city of New York. “I’m the busiest I’ve ever been,” he says during our interview, with many of his clients returning from summer vacation at the time, ready to resume their home overhaul projects. As in his own apartment, Nick favours bold colours and pattern but has an innate ability to create combinations that don’t feel too fussy or over-the-top, a talent he shares with one of his idols, the late Albert Hadley. Nick shares much in common with Albert, including the type of projects and their geographical location, but he adopts his design characteristics and makes them relevant for 21st century clients with tighter budgets and less space and time.

“I’m all for DIY,” says Nick. “Of course that would be put me out of a job but I like adopting those principles of decoration to make even the smallest updates. You can paint a wall or add some patterned textures and change the feel of a space.” Evidence is a New York apartment Nick redesigned and subsequently featured on the August cover of The World of Interiors magazine, in which the paneled wall and ceiling of the home’s dining room are painted in a rich, glossy shade of turquoise, offset by dining chairs upholstered in red leather. A conventional approach, no, but such is the personality of the space that it looks completely charming. “Personality,” says Nick, “is so important.”

For more, see the latest issue of Belle magazine