With his Edwardian suits and bow ties, Ken Fulk may appear to be a throwback to an earlier era, but looks can be deceiving. The San Francisco–based decorator and event planner is very much a man of his time. He maintains a jet-setting pace catering to the needs of high-profile clients, a mix of Pacific Heights blue bloods and tech billionaires. A lavish entertainer, he drives his black Maserati around town and heads to his 76-acre Napa ranch on weekends. "I'm a fortunate fellow who lives a crazy, charmed life," he says.
Still, whenever he can, Fulk jumps at the chance to leave his extravagant California lifestyle behind in favor of a much simpler existence on the opposite coast. "I daydream about coming here," he says, referring to the weathered old Victorian cottage in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which he and his husband, Kurt Wootton, have lovingly restored with a sense of restraint and respect for the past.
Fulk has long been drawn to this seaside resort at the tip of the Cape Cod peninsula. The picturesque town has a reputation as a bohemian mecca, luring generations of artists and writers from Eugene O'Neill to Mark Rothko to Norman Mailer. "I moved to Boston after college, and a friend took me here," says Fulk, who is a native Virginian. "I was enchanted with this funny little fishing village."
Even after moving to California, he and Wootton would travel to Provincetown every summer, and they eventually bought a place there. Then, several years ago, Fulk noticed a striking house in a prime position directly on the harbor. In fact, the home was hard to miss. While it had many lovely features, including a wraparound porch, antique rope-and-chain pulley windows, and a refined cornice, the once-elegant structure was in a serious state of disrepair. Its occupant had been the late George D. Bryant, a brilliant local historian and MIT–trained architect who suffered from a hoarding disease. "It was the Grey Gardens of Provincetown," Fulk says. "Everybody would walk by it and gasp. But I would walk by and say, 'Look at that place!'"
He spent four years trying to buy the house from the Bryant family. When he and Wootton finally took possession of the keys, they hired a local contractor, Deborah Paine, who had helped their friend, designer and shopkeeper John Derian, renovate his nearby 1789 sea captain's home. "Deb is a blustery New Englander who understood that I was adamant about not losing the house," Fulk says. "I wanted to keep the old plaster walls, the crooked and imperfect floors. It was a daily conversation on what to keep and what to fix. I felt I could always go forward, but you can never go back."
With Paine, they went about updating the late-19th-century cottage so that it appeared as though it had never been touched at all. They were helped by a box of photographs that showed how the house had once looked, a gift from a previous owner who had stopped by unexpectedly to visit her childhood home on her 100th birthday. And it was an advantage that little had been done to the place for decades. Still, it wasn't easy. "When we started, the waterside end of the house was just hanging in the air on a couple of sticks," Paine says.
Paine replaced the foundation—along with all the plumbing and electrical wiring—while preserving the antique windows and polishing the old plank floors. When she discovered plaster walls in lush colors like shell pink and seafoam blue behind the peeling wallpaper in several rooms, the new owners opted to leave the imperfect surfaces intact. "They look like frescoes," Fulk says. Meanwhile, he filled in the gaps with salvaged elements, from vintage chain toilets he sourced for the bathrooms (while undoing their 1950s-era renovations) to the refurbished antique Wedgewood stove and the old sitz bath that he repurposed as the kitchen sink.
The house in Provincetown is hardly a hushed hideaway. The couple travel here from San Francisco each summer with their three golden retrievers, Hubbell, Delilah, and Duncan, who love jumping off the porch and into the ocean at high tide. The six diminutive bedrooms are crammed with a constant stream of guests. "You can always find somebody curled up on a chair in the library, on the glider on the back porch, or in the living room," Fulk says. "And we have a dozen old bikes."
With a New York City office about to open and his eponymous home-furnishings collection poised to launch this fall at Pottery Barn, Fulk is busier than ever. But he keeps his priorities straight. "If I had two weeks to live," he says, "I would come right here and sit on the porch and watch the water and hope my friends would come by. My heart and soul is here."
Tour photos of this house in the gallery, here.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Siweb