Parsons Made Personal: Nick Olsen
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A talented designer with a penchant for bold colors and rich patterns, Nick Olsen was recently named a Rising Star of Interior Design by New York’s IFDA (International Furnishings and Design Association). With former stints with Miles Redd and as Domino‘s Deal Hunter, Nick and his recognizable style have had work featured in numerous design publications and all around the web. A long time fan of west elm’s Parsons Collection, Nick showed us how he used some key pieces from the west elm Parsons collection in his small apartment in Manhattan.
What inspires you?
According to a certain birthday book I was born on “The Day of the Beauty Lovers” and that couldn’t be more true. And really it’s the potential for beauty I find inspiring — I’m always looking at rooms, chairs, people (!) and isolating the beautiful bits and fixing the ugly. It’s a curse!
How would you describe your style?
Constantly evolving. I’ll always gravitate toward color and pattern and a mix of traditional furniture and modern art, but what I love has shifted over the past ten years or so. When you’re exposed to so much great design (and some not-so-great), your eye adjusts and personal style gets refined. And thank goodness — otherwise I’d still favor a Tiki Hut aesthetic like I did in college!
What’s your most prized possession?
A Blanc de Chine palace vase given to me by my former boss and mentor, Miles Redd. He knew I was about to buy a big plastic version but beat me to it before Christmas. The real deal had a big red bow and note reading “that other one was just too cheap!”
What’s your favorite place in the world to visit?
Pensacola, Florida. It’s my hometown, and when I visit I’m always amazed that the miles of white sand beaches remain pristine and uncrowded. Plus I get to see my family and gorge on fried food — heaven on earth!
Who are your favorite designers?
Miles (Redd) is my favorite decorator because he’s fearless with his choices but has also studied all the greats — his sense of history as seen through a modern lens is always compelling. In fashion, it’s hard to pick one favorite but Miuccia Prada never fails to create the entire fantasy in her collections. The structure of Azzedine Alaia’s dresses.
What are your favorite magazines, blogs, books or movies? What is your go-to source you can always count on for inspiration?
I’m always excited to see Steven Meisel’s work for Vogue Italia — they let his creativity run wild. The Peak of Chic is a fabulous compendium of decorating knowledge. I don’t see enough movies but Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” and Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” were two semi-recent standouts … sort of a filmmaker-as-master-tailor genre. Both made me want to burn my entire wardrobe and half of my furniture, it was all so crisp.
What’s your approach to decorating? More specifically, how did you approach decorating with the Parsons collection?
I tend to work from the ground up, usually starting with an interesting rug to build a color scheme. But I find Parsons furniture works in any scheme and with any style — I recently paired a Parsons style coffee table on a multicolor Moroccan carpet in front of a classic Bridgewater style sofa in crimson velvet. Its simple shape never fights with strong pieces.
What do you love most about Parsons?
I love the modernity and timelessness of the design — but also the ability to transform it with decorative finishes. I’ve seen Parsons tables painted in faux tortoise and malachite, or covered in marbleized paper. It makes a great DIY project — you don’t have to be an artiste!
The Parsons Desk comes in many different finishes (lacquered, mirrored and hand-wrapped finishes and ash/walnut wood veneers). Which are your personal favorites and why?
The mirrored finish desk is quite different from the other finishes — is there anything cool or tricky about working with mirrored furniture in general?
It does show fingerprints so keep the Windex ready! Perhaps not great for direct sunlight, but EVERY object looks better propped against it. I like to tilt artwork or photos against the wall for the reflective factor.
When styling open shelving, are there any rules to follow or tips to take into consideration?
I’m a stickler for keeping to height-order (or close to it) when lining up books, and I pull them close to the front of the shelves, but you have mix it up with horizontal stacks of books, small sculptures, decorative or storage boxes, to break up the monotony. Make sure an interesting cover or bookend is visible on the sides. I also love to hang artwork directly on the shelves, which is great for breaking up the horizontal Parsons supports.
How do you organize your desk? What is important for you to be able to show? What do you like to hide?
Well, they say a clean desk is the sign of a sick mind … but I have a favorite inlaid pencil cup, some small sculptures and postcards on my desk. I use a tray to hold paint decks scale rulers but prefer to hide the many receipts and fabric snippets — the detritus of decorating — in files that I keep in boxes.
When styling a table, are there any rules to follow or tips to take into consideration?
Play with scale and variety of objects — two stacks of coffee table books is a snooze! Break it up with a rattan tray, faux shagreen box, or a giant brass critter. I currently have a crayfish on my coffee table. A small bud vase stuffed with fresh flowers is the quickest way to perk up any table
How has your collection of books, objects and art grown over time? Where do you find/acquire these treasured objects?
Wherever I go — museums, flea markets, bookstores. The Strand in New York is a great source for out-of-print-books, and I’ve been hitting the Chelsea Flea Market for almost a decade, though I fear its days are numbered. I’ll probably never move because I don’t want to pack up all my books and tchotchkes!
You can see more of Nick’s work and his personal musings on his blog nickolsenstyle.blogspot.com.