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My Design Journey: Ariel Okin on Being 'Traditional With a Twist'

Ariel Okin headshot

Laurel Creative

In a few short years, Ariel Okin went from working in education and assisting friends with their apartment projects to becoming a major name in the design industry. Between working with high-profile clients like Lena Dunham and Sara Foster to recently launching a capsule collection with One Kings Lane, Okin has seen no shortage of success. As part of our series, My Design Journey, we spoke with Okin on her non-linear path, memorable career moments, and special projects in the works. 

On Her Entry Into the Design Field 

Okin studied journalism at the George Washington University before moving to New York City and enrolling at Columbia, where she completed a master’s degree in strategic communication with a focus on public affairs. “My career path into interior design was anything but linear,” Okin reflects.

After graduate school, when Okin was working in education on the public affairs side, friends visiting her apartment would ask her for sourcing details or tips on how to merge spaces with a significant other. “Interior design started really organically for me as a side hobby, and it quickly turned into a full blown passion,” Okin shares. 

Okin’s design assistance for friends, along with jobs she took for free, paved the way for extensive career growth. “I realized pretty early on that I was spending more time working on mood boards for friends’ apartments than anything else, and that was when it hit me that maybe this passion could become my career,” she reflects. But first, she needed to build a website.

Okin hired Jane Beiles to professionally photograph her apartment, then uploaded the images to a site she created via Squarespace. Then, it was time to find clients. “I sent out an email to everyone I knew with a link to the website, telling them that I was doing this on the side, and if anyone needed help or had a friend who was moving to send them my way,” Okin says. 

She quickly was noticed, rising through the ranks at the now-defunct Homepolish. In just two years’ time, Okin went from being one of the company’s entry-level designers to one of only a handful of premier designers across the country. Meanwhile, she was still working full-time at her day job.

Pivoting careers was the best decision I ever made, and I feel so grateful and lucky every day that I get to do what I do.

“After two and a half years of seeing design clients on nights and weekends—and working two full time jobs, plus writing on the side—I finally built up my design business to a place where I felt comfortable leaving my day job and going all in,” she explains. “I left Homepolish a few months later to fully go out on my own, which was definitely scary, but also so liberating. Pivoting careers was the best decision I ever made, and I feel so grateful and lucky every day that I get to do what I do. I have a team of six now, and I really feel like I have to pinch myself every time we have our all-hands meetings.” 

On Her Design Style—and How It Compares to That of Her Clients

Okin is a grandmillenial’s godsend—her spaces are frequently peppered with grasscloth wallpapers, chinoiserie accents, and other classic elements. “At my firm, we are known for creating interiors that are ‘traditional with a twist,’ blending the hallmarks of traditional spaces with a contemporary bend, and so we attract clients who are looking for that aesthetic,” Okin explains. “But, sometimes we do get a client who wants more modern look or a very restrained neutral palette without any color, which is always a fun challenge as it encourages me to push outside of my comfort zone.” 

“My personal style, both in interiors and in fashion, is very much edited, but comfortable," Okin says. "I am always super inspired by English interiors and the ease and authenticity you find in them, the layers that come over time, and also the simplicity of well-made furniture, be it antiques or pieces that are passed down. I think the mix of old and new, retail and bespoke, is what makes spaces feel personal and interesting.” 

On Writing and Fenimore Lane

In addition to her design work, Okin has written for outlets including Vogue, Architectural Digest, and Domino. Last year, she introduced her own editorial and e-commerce site, Fenimore Lane. The site has since featured interviews with designers and entrepreneurs including Kathy Kuo, Mark Sikes, and Julia Turshen, to name a few.

“I get so much pleasure out of writing, especially about design, travel, and food,” Okin says. “I enjoy writing and design equally—for different reasons—but both ultimately allow me to express different sides of my creativity, which feels like a gift.” 

Okin says that she launched Fenimore Lane “out of necessity” last summer. “I wanted to keep writing the types of articles I usually write freelance, but there was a bit of a freeze on pitches,” she explains. “I was really excited about the concept of being able to write something without needing to get it approved by an editor first—it was an idea I had been toying around with for a few years.”

Inspired by Paloma Contreras’ podcast, The Style Files, Okin dove headfirst and went for it. “I get so much joy out of our Talk Shop series, where we interview creatives on how they got their start, how they run their businesses, and more, and we’ve published over 150 articles to date since launching last summer. I’m really proud of the content we’re producing, and I really enjoy the process.” 

On Current Projects and Looking Ahead

Last year, Okin launched a furniture line with Society Social—which went on to be the brand’s best selling collection to date—and also unveiled a wallpaper line with Chasing Paper, with a second iteration to soon follow. “Creating pieces from your imagination that you get to see come to life—and then seeing those pieces living in people’s homes—is the ultimate dream,” Okin shares. 

In addition to working on the new Chasing Paper collection, Okin is making progress on a lighting line to be released in 2022 and a wall-covering collection in conjunction with The Mural Source. “I’m also working on shooting for my book, which I am over the moon about,” she shares.

Oh, and then there’s her day-to-day work with clients: “We currently have 16 active residential projects across the country right now, from Greenwich, Connecticut to Kenilworth, Illinois,” Okin notes. “It’s been a busy time—I could not be more grateful or excited.” 

Creating pieces from your imagination that you get to see come to life—and then seeing those pieces living in people’s homes—is the ultimate dream.

Okin’s team and scope of work has grown significantly within the past year, and she is eager for what lies ahead. “We hired two new members on the team, and we also took on double the amount of new projects from the year prior,” she says. “With so many people moving to the suburbs and relocating, it’s definitely been an interesting and extremely busy time in the design world. I am very excited to see what the future holds.” 

On This Busy Season of Life

The past few years of Okin’s life have been full of milestones. In addition to partaking in exciting brand collaborations, launching Fenimore Lane, and seeing her business grow, Okin and her husband purchased a home and welcomed a baby girl to their family.

“Truthfully, my 18-month-old keeps me the most on my toes, even more than work,” Okin says. “I think balance is a myth—some days, you’ll do your best in one area of life, some days in others, but very rare are the days where you do it all at 100 percent in each category. What I’m trying to work on is accepting that, and not beating myself up about it.”