Event Designer and Decorator Ken Fulk’s House in San Francisco

Event planner, interior designer, and bon vivant Ken Fulk is a master of maneuvering between the various spheres of San Francisco society, from blue bloods to newly minted Silicon Valley tech titans—and beyond. He can’t help but grin as he notes that his design studio was formerly a bondage-leather shop or recounts the time a few years ago when he infamously flew in burlesque performer Dita Von Teese to writhe around on a velvet-upholstered mechanical bull at a party for fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Indeed, the charismatic Fulk is known for bringing diverse groups together and making special things happen. In 2012 he orchestrated a Halloween fundraiser for the Strand Theater that shut down an entire city block for a four-course dinner and a private Stevie Nicks concert.

When it’s time to go home, though, the style maestro retreats to a perch above it all. “Welcome to my tree house!” he announces at the entrance gate to his hilltop residence in Clarendon Heights. It’s an appropriate description for the dwelling, considering it’s constructed largely of old-growth redwood and located in San Francisco’s highest neighborhood. Wearing a bow tie and a bespoke suit, Fulk leads a tour through his Zen-inspired garden and into the house, a 1950s design by prominent Bay Area modernist Warren Callister. The structure is composed of two perpendicular volumes topped by boatlike arched roofs. The smaller single-story section contains an office and bathroom, while the other features the bedrooms and entertaining spaces, including a dramatic triple-height great room where a 27-foot-tall window frames picturesque views of the city, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.

The 3,200-square-foot house was commissioned by Dr. Cloyce Duncan, a former head of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. As with a number of residences designed by Callister, it blends midcentury modernism and traditional Japanese elements.

In 2011 Fulk learned that Duncan’s widow, Gwendolyn Evans, was considering selling the house and arranged for a walk-through. Intrigued by his initial daytime visit, he requested to return and see it at night, and he found himself sitting in the great room in silence for an hour. “San Francisco looked like Oz down below,” he says with a sigh. “I thought, I am supposed to buy this house.” Not that it would be that simple.

Evans announced that she was seeking a buyer who would fully respect the home’s integrity. So Fulk embarked on a letter-writing campaign to assure her that he and his husband, Kurt Wootton, a classically trained pianist, would be gracious custodians. “I told her the house had a soul and was meant to be this way,” he says. “It’s an architectural jewel.”

Duly convinced, Evans sold to Fulk in late 2011, and soon afterward the decorator began a sensitive update, restoring original materials—wood, glass, concrete—and undertaking modest changes that remained true to the spirit of Callister’s design. Matching redwood was brought in to replace linoleum floors and aluminum door frames, while he took out the kitchen’s redwood island and installed a larger concrete version and refurbished the wood-burning stove. “In 50 years they hadn’t changed a thing—not a hook, not a single knob, nothing,” he says. “They treated it like a museum, and rightfully so.”

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