New York, NY
Nick Olsen's final project in architecture school was a media center shaped like a life-size wedding cake, complete with real icing and plastic columns. The in-person critique included words like ‘failure’ and ‘waste of a college education,’ but the silver lining was the push it gave him toward his true calling: interior design. After cutting his teeth working for famously fearless designer Miles Redd, in 2010 Nick opened his own NYC firm designing dynamic interiors with his signature mix of traditional and modern with a dash – or four — of the unexpected.
The playful irreverence he’s become celebrated for has spilled over beautifully into his personal art collection. “Most of what I collect has a sense of humor or an element of the absurd,” he explains, citing a giant folk art sculpture of a pencil and a tramp art Stegosaurus on display at his house in Upstate New York. “I like an artist or work that takes a risk and makes me raise an eyebrow.” The Florida native gets a certain thrill from Misha Kahn's exuberant, bizarro-world chair sculptures and Florian Baudrexel's high-relief cardboard sculptures and installations, but he also finds inspiration in less obvious places. “My clients' children are often very gifted artists,” says Nick. “I'm always framing 'kid art' and hanging it all over their homes, even in prominent rooms.” For spotting hidden gems, bet on the guy who started buying art — from neighborhood estate sales — when he was still in elementary school.
“Sometimes art is our only escape. Twyla Tharp famously said, ‘Art is the only way to run away without leaving home,’ which feels especially true in 2020. And the pieces created during this time will reflect our scary world and hopefully propel some change.”
How do you decide what to buy next?
“Most of what I collect has a sense of humor or an element of the absurd. It's not so much about provenance, just whatever strikes my eye and makes me smile. I like an artist or work that takes a risk and makes me raise an eyebrow.”
What role does art play in fueling your own work and creativity?
“Art to me is every form of self-expression. I'm constantly observing how strangers carry themselves, how they wear clothes or tell a story. That inspires me to keep creating as much as any Vuillard painting in a museum. Also I'm lucky to work with true artists and artisans who can take a small kernel of an idea and make it beyond what I ever imagined. Oh, and a virtuoso ballet performance could bring me to tears.”
What does living with art add to your life?
“I need a lot of visual stimulation to stay happy, and living with art gives me a daily little rush as well as a jolt of nostalgia. And moving around pieces you've owned for years is even more satisfying! When friends come over and notice aspects of a painting or sculpture I own, I see it through fresh eyes.”
What art or artists are you gravitating toward lately?
“I was blown away by the Vogue cover portraits painted by Jordan Casteel and Kerry James Marshall — literally stopped in my tracks when I saw them. I love the Japanese artist nendo for his impressive roster of sculptural chairs, and I'm always inspired by my friends the painters Mary Nelson Sinclair and Sally King Benedict.”