How One Interior Designer Turned an Abandoned Church into an Arts Club

In a former church, Ken Fulk unveils his vision for Saint Joseph’s Arts Society

Words by ANH-MINH LE

By the time Ken Fulk set foot inside St. Joseph’s Church in 2015, the long-vacant historic landmark had, quite literally, gone to the birds. “It was filled with pigeons and it was raining inside,” he recalls. Still, Fulk—who has orchestrated events and interiors for clients such as tech mogul Sean Parker—was undaunted. “It was all forlorn, but it was breathtaking.”

Built in 1913, the neo-Romanesque structure in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood was damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and subsequently closed. After Fulk came on board, a new vision for the venue emerged: Saint Joseph’s Arts Society, a members club for those passionate about the arts. The society is limited to 400 invitation-only subscriptions. A portion of the annual fees underwrites arts programming that is accessible to the public. (Subscribers can nominate artists for membership, and their contribution comes through creative participation.)

To transform the church, Fulk worked with architecture firm Page & Turnbull, which specializes in historic preservation. The addition of a mezzanine upped the square footage to 22,000, allowing for ample party and exhibition areas. Catherine Wagner’s large-scale photographic installation Sala degli Imperatori (Hall of the Emperors) and Dutch artists Darwin, Sinke & van Tongeren’s “The Angels Are Above,” an exhibit comprised of sculptures and photography, are currently on view, along with 34 pieces from Carpenters Workshop Gallery inside its debut West Coast space. Beneath the 50-foot-tall dome, the apse has been reimagined as a stage for performances and dinners.

For the immersive dining experiences, Fulk plans to enlist past culinary collaborators such as Gary Danko, Jennifer Puccio and Tyler Florence. Also open to the public is the vestibule, devoted to retail spaces curated by Fulk, as well as outposts of Mr. Fulk’s Flower Factory, the Assouline bookstore and Paris’ L’Officine Universelle Buly apothecary.

In the nave, members can retreat to eight salons bedecked in hundreds of yards of Pierre Frey textiles. Although Fulk is involved in myriad high-profile projects, such as Miami’s Swan and Bar Bevy with Pharrell Williams and David Grutman, Saint Joseph’s “is certainly the most personal,” he says. “I dreamt of it as a place that would once again be about community and celebrations.” 

This article original appeared in the November 2018 issue of C Magazine. 

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