Being open to change has been a regular theme in Kiel Wuellner‘s life — although, it hasn’t always been that way. Growing up in Minnesota, Kiel shied away from his uniqueness, constantly trying to become someone he wasn’t. It wasn’t until his mother’s sudden passing when he was in college that he truly found his voice and learned to appreciate who he was. He began to surround himself with positive people who celebrated him, and his active pursuit to better his life and achieve happiness is something that continues to drive him to this day.
Since he was a teenager, a lot has changed in Kiel’s life: He packed up his life, chased his career, and he now lives in New York’s Chelsea / Flat Iron neighborhood with this partner, Matthew, and their miniature Boston Terrier, Rufus. He works as a creative director by day, and an interior designer under the name Even Kiel by night. His manifesto caters to budget-conscious city-dwellers who still crave beautiful spaces, something which he personally knows a thing or two about. Between his former 300-square-foot space (which he shared with us last year) and his new 800-square-foot space, Kiel has had to become his own client at times, a challenge which he happily accepts.
Facing the Manhattan skyline, Kiel’s apartment is layered with furniture and decor both new and old, including pieces from his childhood and quirky, secondhand finds. Just as he applies to his own life, no corner or nook is overlooked, and today, from the sanctuary of his living room, Kiel is joining us to open up and share more about what inspires and energizes him, and what struggles he continues to face. –Sabrina
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Kiel! Originally from Minnesota, I somehow ended up living and working in Manhattan. My adult life has all been a game of chance. I spend my days working as a VP/Creative Director for an Interior Finishes Business, and I also started my own design business called Even Kiel. While most interior designers work with a higher-end clientele, I target those who are at the age of wanting that “grown-up” apartment and help them to achieve balance (hence Even Kiel) in their home life. Those who are perhaps ready to trade in the IKEA furniture for something a little more unique. I love meeting new clients, understanding how they use their space, and learning what we need to do to make them more comfortable by creating a space that reflects them.
What does home and this space mean to you?
I moved from a 300-square-foot studio in the Financial District into an 800-square-foot, 1-bedroom space. It’s been quite the transition, and I finally feel like I can breathe! Living a very fast-paced life and balancing two jobs means the new space needed to be a true haven, as well as a place to finally be able to entertain!
I like to create spaces that are layered with new and old, so the furniture is a true collection of pieces from my childhood, new pieces, the blending of my boyfriend’s and my own (which was surprisingly easy) as well as the pieces we have since bought together. Our new space is in a newer high-rise with panoramic corner windows facing the Manhattan skyline. It’s rather eclectic with a mix of modern pieces, a few antiques, and pops of color in an otherwise neutral space. I tend to change things up often, whether it be new throw pillows, swapping out lamps, or moving a few things around to take advantage of the space.
What makes it so comfortable?
I spent my entire childhood and adolescence trying to be like everyone else, but after finding my voice, I knew I wanted the opposite: to do what I wanted, and surround myself [with] things that truly express me. I’ve had friends describe my style as “edited” as I am a neat freak and everything has its place — I sometimes wish I was more laid-back, but I am most comfortable when everything’s in its place, and I am able to enjoy the space we created.
To that effect, I tend to gravitate towards pieces that are unique and a little less cookie-cutter (such as the old file sorter I use to hold books adjacent to the sofa, or even the large frame on the wall that used to hold a chalkboard). These things add some architectural interest to our otherwise modern, new, high-rise apartment.
What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?
Living in fast-paced New York, I witness countless people that will scratch their way to the top with no consideration for others, and as a Minnesota guy at heart, I sometimes can’t handle these actions.
When it comes to my biggest fear, I have to admit that I don’t have many at all. I had a bit of a roller coaster of a life when I was discovering who I truly am and what I aspire to be in life, but I knew I wasn’t about to let fear stop me or hold me back in any way. I’ve got one life, and I want to make the most of every opportunity and experience.
Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?
After losing my Mom when I was in college, I realized how precious life truly is. She often hid behind her insecurities — she didn’t let people know how talented and amazing she was. I miss her every day, and am thankful for the creativity she passed along to me. After her death, I completely changed my way of thinking, the people I surrounded myself with, and my overall end goals. I had to stop being so soft-spoken and begin voicing my opinion. I had to face all of my own fears and insecurities in order to move forward knowing that some day, I wouldn’t struggle; I’d be at peace, and my hard work would pay off. It’s been 12 years since her death, and I wake up every single day thankful for every chance I’ve taken, and am grateful for everything life has given me. I know she’s up there, and hopefully very proud of me. She’s inspired me to take every chance in life, whether professionally or personally.
What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?
If I had a day to myself I’d spend it with my dog (and best friend) Rufus, exploring the neighborhood with no agenda, just seeing where the day takes us. If I had a week I would pack my bag and head out to the Hamptons for a week on the beach with a stack of books and enjoy some “me” time. If I had a month all to myself, I’d really want to get away and unplug (which I’m convinced is impossible these days). I spent a few weeks in Italy as a teenager, and still have vivid dreams about sitting on the rocks of the bay in Cinque Terre, so I would love to go back and take it all in as an adult.
What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?
All I cared about was what others thought of me. I was insecure and alone because I lacked any opinion or viewpoint. I wish I would have known that it’s okay to be different.
How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?
Give me a beach and I’m a happy guy! I try to escape the city as many weekends as possible in the summer months. The sun, the beach (and a bottle of rosé). If I can’t escape the city, I love a quiet night at home with Matthew. We can always make each other laugh, and he always encourages me to unwind and turn off for a bit.
Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?
I tend to over-commit professionally — and at one point was working a 50-hours-a-week day-job and coming home and working five to six nights a week on freelance design work. Even though I was thankful for the opportunities, I knew I had to slow down as I wasn’t living here just to work.
What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?
Less negativity, more positivity and forward thinking.
What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?
What lies ahead?