We last caught up with interior designer, Ariel Okin, at our Spring on Bleecker pop-up last June, where she set a gorgeous table for us. Over coffee, she mentioned talks of a furniture capsule with direct-to-consumer brand, Society Social. Fast forward nine months, and the stunning seven-piece collection has come to life, perfectly marrying traditional elements with a contemporary twist, at a democratic price point suited for young design enthusiasts.
The collection features silhouettes inspired by historically important pieces, updated with pops of color and natural materials like wicker, grasscloth, and rattan. An array of styles are featured, from an upholstered sofa inspired by Bunny Mellon’s legendary Antigua estate, to a grasscloth upholstered coffee table taking cues from the lines of Karl Springer’s iconic furniture. It all comes together for a beautiful balance of relaxed and refined, collected yet sophisticated.
We sat down with Ariel—over Zoom of course!—to learn more about the design process, why it never hurts to ask in life, and how she so gracefully balances motherhood and running a business.
Tell us about what the past year has looked like for you?
The past year has been an absolutely wild ride! I had my daughter (my first child!) at the end of August, I created a furniture line with Society Social and a wallpaper line with Chasing Paper, and we shot, installed and published a few projects over the past twelve months – one of which landed on the cover of Domino. We also launched a curated shop on my website.
It’s all been so exciting and packed to the gills, and though some moments were overwhelming, I wouldn’t change one second of it! I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I love and also be a mom. Most of all, the arrival of my daughter this past year has been the biggest blessing, and I feel so lucky that she’s mine. She’s 7 months now and she makes me laugh every day.
How did your relationship start with Society Social?
My correspondence with Society Social actually started on Instagram – Roxy Te, the founder of Society Social, reached out to me via DM to see if I’d be interested in incorporating one of their rattan pieces in my daughter’s nursery. I, of course, said yes (as I love their product) and the conversation naturally flowed from there. I eventually said to her – I’m not sure if you would ever be interested in doing this, but would you want to do a furniture collection together? And the line was born! I felt a little nervous asking, but it was proof that you never know until you try!
Where did your inspiration come from for this collection?
I started by pulling about 300 reference images – magazine tears of homes that I absolutely love, iconic imagery of residential properties, gardens, people, etc. I really wanted to establish the mood and overall aesthetic of the collection first, before getting into the nitty-gritty of each piece. Once I had that finely defined, I made a list and thought about pieces that I had been looking to use in my own projects but could not find. A few came to mind off the bat: a wicker tromp l’oeil coffee table with an upholstered top, a rattan bookcase with a bit of height between the shelves to optimize the styling of objets, a charming side table with slim dimensions that could fit in almost any space, and a console that was narrow enough to fit in the smallest of New York galley entryways.
Describe the collection in three words.
Timeless, fun, sophisticated.
What did the process look like from ideation through creation?
Roxy was truly incredible about taking my inspiration images and bringing them to life through the talented artisans who work in the Philippines and North Carolina. She really made the design process a collaborative breeze, and working with her was so fun – there was such good energy and synergy. I would send a few reference images, receive a few different options in sketches back, and then we’d refine and make notes. Then we would incorporate our revisions into a few more rounds until everything from the welt to the pitch of the furniture was just so.
What was it like working on your first furniture line as a designer?
Surreal! Every time I got a sketch back I couldn’t believe I was being given this opportunity; Society Social was making an investment in my taste and my brand, and I felt so lucky that they placed that level of trust in me. I am so grateful to Roxy and her entire talented team for helping me bring my ideas to life and create tangible pieces out of the dreams in my brain! Seeing these pieces in people’s homes will be the ultimate pinch-me moment.
What are some of your other go-to furniture brands when shopping for interiors projects?
I absolutely adore Chairish and 1st Dibs – we source so many vintage pieces for our clients, and both of those retailers are integral in our sourcing process. I also love EBTH – a resource that pulls together all of the estate sales in the country; you have to really dig but you can find some absolute gems on there. We use a lot of D&D trade-only vendors with COM (customer’s own material) capabilities, based in North Carolina, too – EJ Victor, Baker, Century etc. And then a ton of CB2 on the retail side, as well as RH for sofas. And of course, Society Social! Since the crisis, I really want to shop smaller going forward; House Beautiful ran a great piece on the 50 best small home shops in the country, and I really want to try to pull from those stores in my current projects!
Did working on this line mean taking on fewer interior jobs?
No, funny enough! If anything, having my daughter definitely put a pause on work for a bit in the month before I had her and then the 2 months after I had her, in terms of taking new projects on, but then once I was back from maternity leave I picked back up where I left off. It was definitely stressful but I actually loved getting back into work; it makes me feel like me, and I absolutely love what I do and my team, so it feels like such fun each day.
How do you envision the pieces being used? What is the price point?
I designed this collection with myself and my clients in mind. The price points range from $230 for our custom, hand-printed chinoiserie Belgian linen pillows, to $2,950 for the Bunny Sofa, which is inspired by a vintage sofa that we found in reference images of Bunny Mellon’s legendary estate in Antigua (now owned and lovingly restored by Tory Burch.) The Susie and the Charlie pillows are a collaboration between the artist Dawn Wolfe, whose work I use in so many of my projects, and myself (10% of all proceeds from these pillows are going to No Kid Hungry.)
My goal for this collection was for young design aficionados to be able to create the traditional look and feel of a collected, warm home, and deliver some of the polish that an interior design firm brings to its projects with the ability to do contrast piping, tape trim, etc. on all of the pieces. I hope that the pieces stand the test of time and are used for many years – I would love to see the Bunny sofa threadbare over time in someone’s den or beach home, or the Bobbie wicker coffee table with kids bouncing around it. I just hope it brings joy and beauty to people’s everyday lives! With so much “fast fashion” in the furniture industry, I hope that people cherish these pieces for years, and let them develop a patina, and pass them down generations. Pieces don’t need to cost a fortune to become beloved and prized possessions, and I hope that comes across with this collection.
What is the story behind the names of the pieces? Do they have a personal connection?
Yes! Every piece is named after a person or place that is near and dear to my heart. The Amy Console and Franny side table, for example, are named after my mom and grandma, respectively, and the Fenimore coffee table is named after the street I grew up on, Fenimore Lane. It was so emotionally gratifying for me to be able to do that!
What did you learn from this process?
With Society Social being based in North Carolina, and me in New York, I certainly learned the value of over-communication. You really cannot discuss things enough when you’re working on something so detailed, so far apart. Learning to have clear language around aesthetics is something that I already know a lot about from the interior design side, but it applies to product design as well. I also learned that I have a passion for ideating and creating product, and it’s something that I want to continue doing in the future.
What do you hope to tackle next?
Next, we have the launch of my wallpaper line with Chasing Paper in June, which I am so, so excited about. Chasing Paper shares so much of the same ethos in terms of company mission as Society Social: democratizing traditional elements of design for the masses, at an affordable price point. My collection with Chasing Paper has about twelve different patterns, all executed beautifully by the artist Ashley Begley of Ashley D Studio, who helped me bring my visions to life. They will be available in both peel and stick (great for renters, and what Chasing Paper is known for), and traditional, a first for the company.
The capability to see what your room will look like in the paper through VR technology will also be available which I’m excited about, and it will retail at $40/roll. Elizabeth Rees, the founder of Chasing Paper, is an absolute dream, and I can’t wait to debut that line to the world soon! We also got to work with Abby Ward, the former Art Director at Tory Burch, who is the most exceptionally talented and kind human on earth, to create a set of limited edition mood boards for seven of the paper themes. I’m excited to post soon to Instagram as a way to introduce consumers to the collection.
How has it been juggling motherhood and life as a designer?
It’s been a balancing act for sure, and I’ve come to realize that it’s very rare when you feel like you’re doing everything (momming and running a business) at your best in one day, and that’s ok. Some days I’m more present with my daughter than I am at work, and some days I’m more present with work than I am with my daughter, and I am trying to just accept that fact and not beat myself up over it. It’s a cumulative effort, not a day to day scorecard. I feel so much fulfillment from both roles, and I feel so lucky and grateful that I get to do both, that I really try not to hang myself up on the little details of “did I do enough of X” today!