When the Pandemic Hit, This Designer Gave Up the City for Square Footage

These were her nonnegotiables.

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Ariel Okin always knew she’d eventually leave bustling Manhattan for the suburbs. The interior designer (whose client list includes actress Lena Dunham) and her husband, Ben, had only planned to stay in the city that launched their careers a few more years, until their daughter was old enough for school. But when her local diner uptown shut its doors in mid-March—along with the rest of New York—she could sense their timeline was about to go into overdrive. 

“Luckily, our lease was up at the end of May, so it worked out perfectly,” says Ariel. They gave up their Upper East Side apartment in search of outdoor space and square footage. “With an almost-1-year-old who is very much on the move, and a dog, we really just needed the space,” she adds.

Ariel Okin

She’s not alone: The lockdown sent young New Yorkers packing in waves. Some unemployed, others furloughed, most realizing that remote work was becoming the new normal—and that a cramped studio wasn’t the place of choice for quarantine. “A lot of our friends have also moved to neighboring towns during the pandemic,” says Ariel. While many 20- and 30-somethings temporarily put belongings in storage and moved back home, a lucky few are starting bidding wars everywhere within a two-hour radius of the island. 

The Okins put an offer on the first house they saw: a center-hall Colonial on a cul-de-sac a few blocks away from Ben’s parents’ place, just outside the city.  The two generations have grown even closer since. The couple and their daughter have been quarantining with relatives while their new spot receives a light makeover (emphasis on light). Think: a coat of paint on the walls and a new kitchen countertop and backsplash. “Something that needed a big gut renovation was out of the question, because we needed to move in quickly,” explains Ariel.

Her other nonnegotiables: proximity to town, an office (both she and Ben now work from home, and she just launched a new lifestyle website, Fenimore Lane, on top of juggling client projects), a formal dining room (to host holiday parties one day), and a guest bedroom for her mom. “We walked in and it was just such a happy house with great natural light and a fireplace. It felt like home,” she recalls.

As they wait to move in around Labor Day weekend, the family is adjusting to a quieter pace, and Ariel has even taken up gardening. “A daily nature walk has become my new pastime,” she notes. Still, the designer is already looking forward to returning to the city streets for weekly client visits when things reopen.

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Gabrielle Savoie


Gabrielle is most often found digging through 1stdibs in search of Tobia Scarpa sofas, hunting down the newest cool hotels, or singing the praises of Art Nouveau. She spends an inordinate amount of time looking at real estate floor plans and listening to podcasts. In her free time, you’ll likely find her bouncing on a trampoline at Fithouse, snacking on a crudo at the latest cocktail bar, antiquing for French silverware, or dogsitting for anyone who will ask—yes, even you.