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Nick Olsen, who was once wrote the Deal Hunter column for the sadly missed Domino magazine, has become known for being able to design truly stylish rooms on a budget. Although he did tell us that he would not object to working in an 17th century palace with little else but a few museum quality antiques, we loved the cleverness of his tiny Nolita apartment and think his skills might be wasted should he ever be sent to redecorate Versailles.

You’re a really good writer yourself – you had a column in Domino, didn’t you?

I did—I was the Deal Hunter. They had just shot my [previous] apartment. It was total whirlwind, I was working for Miles Redd at the time. I finally had a housewarming party and invited Miles and everybody. While he was there, he called Sarah Costello at Domino and said you have to come scout this apartment … I wound up on the cover. It was my dream come true. I was 24 years old.

And they offered you the column as well! Everything is downhill from here…

Yes. That December they were re-launching their website and they said we like what you in terms of style on a budget, will you be our Deal Hunter. Absolutely. I’ve always liked to write—I mean papers in college I always wrote the night before, but I do love it.
A view of the front living room.
Nick’s sunglasses and other essentials are placed atop a colorful tray from IKEA.
The front room, a combination kitchen and sitting area, is covered in a tomato-red, high-gloss lacquer from ‘Fine Paints of Europe.' Tidiness is a prerequisite for open kitchen shelves. The Roman head is from the 26th street flea market.
Where did you go to college?

I went to Columbia undergrad with the intention of being an architect [laughs] … that dream fizzled sort of quickly. But my favorite course was a seminar by Suzanne Stephen, she’s the grand dame of architectural criticism. She believed in my writing and I interned for her at Architectural Record.

So you’ve become known for the ‘design on a dime’ type decorating—I’m wondering as you progress and make more money, will you abandon budget decorating?


Oh … people say ‘design on a dime’ and I kind of cringe. I like high style on a budget, it’s kind of with a wink. I want to convey that I know the difference but I kind of know how to fake it too.

What is the trick in not making it look ‘junky’?

It’s about scale and kind of picking your moments.
Bookshelves from Urban Outfitters are filled with art and design books. The walls are covered in drawings and prints collected over the years. An oversized white ginger jar was a present from Nick’s friend and former employer, Miles Redd.
A photo of the ‘young Baryshnikov’ leans atop a watercolor of a nude by Saul Lishinsky. A couple of flea market finds are hung in a staggered fashion above the living room bookcase. Custom fabric-covered folding screens camouflage apartment plumbing.
Nick designed and painted the geometric floor pattern over one ‘exhausting weekend.'
You’re very resourceful. And you like a deal.

Oh, there is no better feeling! That’s kind of what you have to be. You have to be handy. You have to be precise.

Where did you grow up?


Pensacola, Florida.

Could you live there again?

Part-time. It is part of my sensibility. Before I could drive I was walking down to the thrift store—the sofa in there [in the NY apartment living room] I bought for $40. I told my father I’d bought a sofa and I need you and your van to go pick it up …
An Italian carved wood urn lamp from George stands atop a stack of favorite reads. Fresh hydrangeas perk up a corner of the living room.
Nick’s own homage to mid-century artist John Little adds a touch of Abstract Expressionism to sitting area.
Zero-ing in on Nick’s chic and eclectic mélange of patterns.
And you were how old when you bought that sofa?

I was probably about fourteen …

[We laugh] Fourteen?! You were born to do this!

You know … kids have their strong suits. You know growing up, my sister was a very accomplished dancer and dance was her thing, and academics was more my thing. I was an A-plus student …

You’re a perfectionist.

If I could take back those hours!

And what would you have done with those hours?

Off the record? I just wish I’d had more fun in high school.
A jaguar-patterned pillow from Clarence House is arranged atop a sofa covered in vintage chintz of the same provenance. Nick purchased the couch for $40 when he was a fourteen. Nick’s own homage to mid-century artist John Little adds a touch of Abstract Expressionism to sitting area.
Looking into the open kitchen from the living room.
Do have fun now?

Oh—too much fun.

What’s your idea of fun?

Someone told me recently that the factors in your quality of life – the biggest negative factor would be a commute, and I’ve never had a commute more than three subway stops. And the biggest positive factor is having dinner with friends. And I have dinner with friends every night.

So you economize on the way you live so you can have those dinners—is that the philosophy?

I don’t travel very often, although I’d like to travel more. I don’t spend a lot on entertainment. And people want gadgets like iPads and all that stuff—I couldn’t care less. I’d rather eat a good meal at a decent restaurant with my friends and order a cocktail and not have to worry about it.
Two paisley coverlets from Iran, the perfect camouflage for a corner chair won at auction, were gifts from Nick’s Aunt Pat. Peeking into the living room from the bedroom.
A still life oil painting from Aunt Pat sits atop the bedroom fireplace mantel.
Are working alone right now?

Yes, self-employed. Nick Olsen Inc.

You mentioned earlier liking the idea of being a prop stylist – is that something you’re going to pursue?

Well I would but I’m having too much fun being free and easy. I just love styling. I go into my friends’ apartments and I’m always turning things at right angles and stacking books … people have approached me—I feel like every decorator under a certain age is approached by the TV market … most likely my nails-on-a-chalkboard voice will keep me from being on TV.

People are obsessed with those shows.

I can’t watch them. They make me cringe. I don’t want to be nasty …

Oh do be nasty!

The taste level is in the basement.
A linen press from Housing Works was given a complete paint overhaul.
A lively hand-block print bedspread from William Wayne is topped with a Kelly green wool blanket.
Nick refreshed a pair of vintage lamps with white paint and black paper shades. The embroidered pillows are from Chelsea Editions; the sheets are Schweitzer Linens. Nick gave a bureau from IKEA personality by covering it with a bold red-and-white patterned fabric. The black lampshades are re-fashioned with the help of a glue gun and red grosgrain ribbon.
A colorful 1960s abstract oil painting contrasts with the tailored green-and-white stripe Ralph Lauren fabric that envelops the entire room.
What do you like watch on TV?

Oh, I’m addicted to the Bravo network, like everyone in New York … I’ll watch anything except Top Chef. As much as I love food, it irritates me that you can’t taste the dish they’re making.

They call those kinds of shows ‘gay adjacent, I’m told.

What does that mean?

I think it means they capture the female and gay male viewers.

Oh that makes sense. I’m a complete stereotype in that sense.
A French coral leather side chair is placed next to a roaring red under-desk table.
A Victor Vasarely print, with its repetitive diamond shapes is skillfully placed next to a vintage lamp that also has a surface diamond pattern.
A current project.
A white marble Roman head shares space with the everyday stapler.
You seem very comfortable with yourself.

Oh, that’s good. I often feel like a giant ball of nerves. It’s so weird how clients … anybody … will say “I need some of your calming energy” or “You’re a very calming person.” [Yet] I feel like an electrical line that fell down in a storm!

[Sian] No, I think you seem a little nervous, a little bit of a worrier.

A worry wart and a control freak.

So what kind of cocktail are you looking forward to tonight?

I love a good gin and tonic.
• Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
• Photographs by Jeff Hirsch





© 2013 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com