Anne Korman

Interior Designer

Conducted by Sophie Swanson on August 16, 2018 at Anne Korman’s apartment, New York, New York

Anne Korman with architect Goil Amornivat, New York School of Interior Design, ca. 2010. Photo courtesy of Anne Korman.

Anne Korman is an interior designer and professor at the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID). Born and raised in New York City, she first pursued a career in modern dance, studying under prominent choreographers like Martha Graham and appearing at Jacob’s Pillow. Before enrolling at NYSID, Korman worked in the offices of architect Marcel Breuer. She graduated from NYSID in 1967 and pursued a successful design career, first working for the firm of J.P. Maggio Design Associates and later establishing both partnership and independent design practices. Korman’s design work is broad and her experience extensive; her portfolio spans residential, contract, hospitality, and other public spaces. A few of her many notable projects include the apartment of gallery owner Marianne Goodman, the Congregation Or Zarau synagogue, and model condominiums for a number of refitted developments in Soho. Over the years, her work has appeared in publications such as Interior Design, Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and House Beautiful.

Alongside her design practice, Korman has maintained a second lengthy career at NYSID teaching Color Theory and Residential Design. Although retired from professional practice, she continues teaching at NYSID, where she also serves on the Board of Trustees.

In this interview, Korman looks back on her long career, reflecting on her early calling as a dancer and subsequent professional trajectory as a designer. Revisiting early renderings and photographs of more recent projects, she explains her design process and aesthetic sensibilities. Korman remarks on changes in the interior design profession at large and her experiences as a teacher.

Interview duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes. Transcript length: 16 pages

Sophie Swanson (SS): Okay, this is Sophie Swanson. I’m sitting in Anne Korman’s Study on the Upper East Side. Today is Thursday, August 16th, 2018. And we are going to start by asking Anne a few questions about the beginning of her career. So, Anne, you identify professionally, as you’ve said before, as an interior designer.

Anne Korman (AK): Correct.

SS: So I’m going to ask you about your transition. Before you were an interior designer, you studied modern dance. So tell me a little about that.

AK: Fine. I studied modern dance with very famous teachers. One was José Limón. Mary Anthony, Alwin Nicholas, Martha Graham, and Hanya Holm.

SS: Wow. Some of those names I don’t even know.

AK: Oh well they were the stars, and they were really quite incredible. And I didn’t mention Mary Wigman because I had an experience when I went to Berlin to study with her because she was such an icon. You asked me that—it’s in the questionnaire here—so I didn’t mention her name because I didn’t find it a good experience for me, studying with her. But she was an icon. So it was very easy for me to move from modern dance and navigate into design because they are very very similar. They deal with spatial relationships. In dance you are placing dancers on a stage and in design you are placing furniture in an interior. And the things that you have to be concerned about are: is it open? Is it closed? Is it heavily trafficked? What are the pathways? The accessibility—the adjacencies, the entries, and the exits. Proportions, style, lighting, and color are all components of both disciplines.

SS: Very true.

AK: And the body and eye have been trained to evaluate these conditions that make the transition easier. It’s a natural process. When I viewed the Barcelona Pavilion, I felt like leaping into the space. There are no conventional room enclosures. It is a space without any sense of confinement, where nature is part of the environment. The visual sense is akin to both art forms.

SS: That’s so true.

AK: So that’s the first question, now we have a second question—

SS: Which is that you were working with Breuer. So, Anne, you worked with Marcel Breuer in his offices in New York City.

AK: That is correct.

SS: Tell me about your experience there.

AK: Well, we called him “Latzie.” He was Hungarian and he was such a wonderful wonderful person. And what I did—first of all the office was a big switch to me from chintz to tubular steel, as we saw in his furniture designs. Decoration was pared down and practically non-existent. Function became a primary factor. He used a lot of built-ins, uncluttered spaces were recurrent themes. And everything was hand-drawn—floor plans, elevations—sheer poetry. The blueprints and perspectives all hand-drawn. They came to life. And there was a wonderful rhythm in his space planning. He opened new dimensions for me. Although all I did was answer the telephone and type letters for the architects. I had taken a course in speed-writing and typing. At that time it was entrée to securing a job. There were no computers at all. Everything in that office was hand-drawn. The furniture that Breuer designed was integrated into the projects. I didn’t know until I was answering these questions that the Wassily chair, which was made of tubular steel—and he was one of the first architects to use tubular steel—was designed for the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky and it was based on the bicycle that he [Breuer] rode to the Bauhaus every day to work. And the Cesca chair, a very famous chair, was attributed to his daughter, Francesca.

SS: Oh she was also a designer. That’s cool.

AK: No, she was not a designer. I don’t know what she did, but it was attributed to his daughter. The principal architects were Herbert Beckhard, Hamilton Smith, and Robert Gatje. They are all gone now. The only one around is Robert Gatje. And the architects of that time were working on very important commissions. They worked on a leper colony, UNESCO in Paris, the Breuer Whitney, and they did the offices of Vera Scarves and her home.

SS: Neumann, yes Vera Neumann.

AK: Do you remember Vera scarves?

SS: Mmhmm.

AK: Well that was very in. And Breuer was a rare human being. He never lost his temper when mistakes were made. He was warm, dignified, and approachable. But I felt it was time to move on from answering telephones.

SS: [laughs.] Yes, but what an amazing experience though. To be immersed in that work and to have primary exposure to that kind of design on such a high level.

AK: Yeah.

SS: So avant-garde.

AK: And all those marvelous designs he did for furniture. They were really fantastic. And he was such a kind person and very thoughtful. And the thing I remember, when I told them that I was leaving, they had a lunch for me in a cafe that was right around the corner from the offices which were on 57th Street and Third Avenue.

SS: Very close to here. Or well not that close, but pretty close—

AK: Yeah. And oh did I tell you that in that office, there was a woman who sat in back of me and her name was Mary Louise Wilson?

SS: And she worked with you answering the telephones?

AK: Answering the telephones, the letters.

SS: Yeah yeah yeah.

AK: And she was in Grey Gardens. And she was also not only in Grey Gardens, but she played the part of Diana Vreeland.

SS: Really? In a movie, yes?

AK: No, on the stage. All she wanted to do was to be an actress. She was delightful.

SS: Yeah she was Edie in Grey Gardens on Broadway.

AK: You remember her?

SS: On stage, no, but I love that movie.

AK: It was a very exciting experience for me because when I first met “Latzie,” or Marcel, I didn’t know anything about architecture. I knew one thing, and that’s what I said when he interviewed me. I said, “I love Radio City Music Hall.” [laughs.] And that’s Art Deco, and he’s the king of Bauhaus! And he laughed, and I couldn’t imagine why he was laughing, but I was not very savvy.

SS: Yeah, but I mean I would have said the same thing. I think Radio City Music Hall is phenomenal. So, you know. [laughs.]

AK: [laughs.] Yeah but—

SS: [laughs.]—but I see why he was maybe a little bit perplexed.

AK: You know he laughed. I didn’t ask him why. But now I, of course, understand why he laughed. So that was really quite an experience. Oh I remember the name of where the luncheon was—the Isle of Capri.

SS: The Isle of Capri.

AK: Have you eaten there?

SS: No, is it still around?

AK: Oh yes. It’s charming. It’s right around the corner.

SS: We should go.

AK: Oh absolutely. When this is all done, let’s go to the Isle of Capri.

SS: Okay, well so you had this amazing experience at Breuer’s office. How did you end up studying at the New York School of Interior Design—NYSID?

AK: What happened was I bumped into somebody that I knew casually, and I asked her what she was doing. And she said, “Oh well, I’m a designer now.” And I said, “Oh really, how did you become a designer?” And she said, “I went to the New York School of Interior Design. And they are having a show right now.” And I said, “Oh really.” So I went down to the—it was on 53rd Street—and they had room arrangements, models, and renderings. And the minute I saw that, I said, “That’s for me.” Because I could see the connection between designing and dancing, and it had a lot of the same ingredients. So I signed up the next day. I went to the school, signed up, and that was it. I was hooked. The courses were designed by Sherrill Whiton, whose book I have right here. I don’t know if I showed it to you?

SS: I don’t think you did.

AK: He had studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. He was a very stately man. And he taught us everything about interior design and art history. He wrote this book, The Elements of Interior Design and Decoration: From Antiquity to the Twentieth Century. And not only that, but he had wonderful lecturers that came—Vladimir Kagan, Jens Risom was another one. And I learned all about Lady Mendl, Elsie de Wolfe, and Syrie Maugham. And it opened up my eyes to another world, and I found it very very exciting. Because they really all lived very colorful lives, these people. They really did. And we studied, of course, Billy Baldwin. They were the leading exponents of the time.

SS: Mmhmm.

AK: So it was eye-opening to me.

SS: And the courses that you took?

AK: We covered Antiquity, the Italian Renaissance, and French, English, American periods of interior design and decoration. And we learned about materials, textiles, floor coverings, lighting, and wall treatments. And we also rendered—a lost art. We had courses in residential design, rendering, perspectives, maquettes, models, room arrangements, color for interiors, and elevation drawings. I couldn’t stop doing watercolors. Oh, one of the other people I want to tell you about that lectured for us was Edward Durell Stone. And they were really inspirational lectures. And I’m very grateful for having that opportunity to learn about all these people.

Anne Korman, hand rendering, New York School of Interior Design, 1965-67. Photo: Sophie Swanson.

SS: And had you been artistic at all before—as in visually—had you been a drawer or a painter before you started doing all these renderings?

AK: Never had a paintbrush in my hand. I had never sketched. But it was all inside of me and I never knew it.

SS: You were a natural.

AK: Yes, I never knew I could do these renderings and use watercolors. So no matter where I went and traveled all over Europe, Russia, New Zealand, and Australia, I was doing little sketches like that. See a lot of people have the talent, but it never comes out. And that’s what school and good teachers who are inspirational can bring out.

Anne Korman, hand rendering, New York School of Interior Design, 1965-67. Photo: Sophie Swanson.

SS: Yes. No one has ever brought out a sketching talent in me yet. [laughs.]

AK: I want you to wait. And let me see, after that—

SS: Well you graduated NYSID in 1967, and after that I think you began working for J.P. Maggio?

AK: Yes, I did. It was a wonderful experience because he had a lot of Wall Street type clients.

SS: Right, they had money.

AK: Money. And they were very conservative in the way they addressed their offices. I mean, you couldn’t use anything that was over the top or edgy or anything like that. It had to be very conservative and very traditional. So I enjoyed that because it was interesting to me—all these people. I was a bit of a bohemian, so they were very—with the suits, you had to dress a certain way when you went for the interview with them. It was a different time in history. It wasn’t as it is today. What people wear—jeans with holes in them. It was just the opposite. It was very conservative, and all these people were very conservative. They wanted their spaces to be toned down, refined, and non-controversial. It was my introduction to fully designing interiors from client interviews to working with contractors and supervising the entire scope of the job. And it was a good learning experience.

SS: So did you work with or under any big-name interior designers while you were there? Besides office interiors, what other projects were you on?

AK: No I didn’t. They were mostly architects. But oh, the most important thing was that while I was there, I met John Saladino.

SS: Right. Yes.

AK: That’s right. And I learned so much from him because he was a natural. He was so gifted. He’s a legend today. And he was so creative, and he understood space like nobody I’ve ever met since then.

SS: Wow.

AK: Yeah, he was really a bit of a genius. And his sense of color and of selecting furniture, it was just eye-opening to me.

SS: Did you ever get to watch him work?

AK: Yeah because he was right in the office, and he sketched beautifully. He rendered. It was old school. John was old school. And he was tough. You had to toe the mark with him, you know. He wasn’t frivolous. He was very much an artist. And he had great individuality, and I think the books that he wrote show what kind of a genius he was. He really knew how to manipulate space, and he understood lighting, and color, and everything.

SS: Pattern too.

AK: Oh yeah, he really understood all of that. So that was a wonderful experience. I learned on the job. I not only had to do floor plans and space planning, but how to work with contractors and how to supervise the entire scope of the job, so it was really quite an undertaking for me. And I thought about it and worried about it morning and night.

SS: There’s a lot more to do than in school when you just make the rendering, but when you have to actually execute it. [laughs.]

AK: Yeah it was very, very different. But luckily we had very nice clients. And we not only did their offices, but if they liked what you did, they would ask you to do the homes they lived in. You know in Westchester, in Princeton—wherever they lived. So that was a wonderful training experience for me. And after Maggio, I went into the design business with a partner that I knew. We had an office on East 58th Street right off of Lexington, and we had a very eclectic list of clients. My partner knew the famous Madoffs. Remember the Madoffs?

SS: Yeah yeah yeah.

AK: And we did their boat, called Bull. [laughs.]

SS: Appropriate.

AK: That’s right and their varied homes in New York and Long Island. Then I started to work on my own client list, which included doing the office of the head of the Ophthalmology Department at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. And I did many offices and homes of lawyers from the Paul Weiss firm and the offices at ASCAP [The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers]. And I worked with developers. There was one developer who really launched my career because he opened up fantastic jobs for me. I did the lobbies at the Beacon Hotel, the Oliver Cromwell, the Alden, and model apartments on Broadway in the 80s. One was at 56 Crosby Street, which I will talk about later. It was very exciting. I also was invited by one of my former students to lecture in Taiwan about my practice to interior design students. And I was very fortunate on this trip to do a home in Shanghai and a garden. I also designed the offices and the home of the head of British Oxygen and AirCo. He later was knighted. His name was Richard Giordano, and he became Lord Richard Giordano. He was a modest man, and when I asked him his favorite color preference, I remember he said “Yella.” [laughs.]

SS: Yellow for a lord.

AK: Yeah, well he was from New Jersey. [laughs.]

SS: [laughs.] Okay a New Jersey lord. AK: Yeah. And I also did a retreat, a kind of corporate escape, in Palmas del Mar. It was a resort in the Caribbean, in Puerto Rico. So that was wonderful. So this developer had not only the condos on 56 Crosby Street but he also had a building that he re-converted into condos in the 80s and Broadway. And I had to imagine who these people were who were going to buy these condos. So that was an interesting challenge. They were married. They had children. They were single. They were gay or straight. So it was a mix. So I learned how to furnish and design and decorate these condos. I looked to the Scandinavians to design because their furniture was noncontroversial, recognizable, comfortable and casual. And they used wonderful materials—cane wicker, canvas, and leathers. Natural. People respond to this. These materials reinforced a casual and relaxed background. I’ll pull out a picture.

SS: I have a photograph of it. Here it is. [points to image.] This is it right?

Penthouse of the Central Condominiums, Upper West Side. Penthouse of The Central Condominiums, interior design by Anne Korman, Upper West Side, New York, ca. 1990. Photo courtesy of Anne Korman.

Penthouse of the Central Condominiums, Upper West Side. Penthouse of The Central Condominiums, interior design by Anne Korman, Upper West Side, New York, ca. 1990. Photo courtesy of Anne Korman.

AK: Yes that’s it.

SS: Here, so I see you are talking about the cane, the Scandinavian influences.

AK: And nature.

SS: The plants—

AK: —and light. Light was a very important thing because they were in darkness most of the time in Scandinavia. So one of the essential things is to provide a lot of light. This was on the top floor, so it was flooded with light. And that’s where I did the models. And I didn’t use very edgy furniture. That came later on. I loved the furniture that was designed by Paul Karlholm.

SS: I wonder if I know him?

AK: His furniture is in MoMA [Museum of Modern Art] in the bar area. That’s all of his furniture.

SS: Oh cool, okay.

AK: It’s edgy, but it’s still comfortable. It isn’t so avant-garde that it’s over the top. But it’s beautifully designed.

SS: As you said, you were designing to an idea because you didn’t have the clients already.

AK: No.

SS: They were theoretical clients. [laughs.]

AK: That’s right. So you had to appeal to a wide audience because that’s what New York is made up of.

SS: Yes, a very wide audience. [...]

SS: After graduating from NYSID, you were immediately invited back to teach Color Theory?

AK: That is correct.

SS: And Residential Design. Is that right?

AK: Right. I was very lucky because I knew a woman who was teaching there, Olga San Giuliano, and she approached me and she said, “Anne I want you to take over my class because I’m so busy now that I have no time to teach anymore.” So I said, “Olga, I’ve never taught in my life before.” And she said, “Just be yourself.” And I thought, okay, and I said, “What are you doing that’s taking all of your time?” And she said, “I’m doing Woody Allen’s house on the island.”

SS: On the island.

AK: On the island. And she was a very special person. And I learned a lot from her. Because we would have conferences, and we would talk. It was a learning experience for me. And I also taught about color. Color Theory involved room schemes dealing with monochromatic, monotone, neutral, analogous, and complementary color schemes based on the colors used by [Josef] Albers and the tonal and chromatic values established by [Alfred] Munsell in 1905. And later I also taught Residential Design with a co-teacher, who was an architect. First with Scott Ageloff, dean of NYSID at the time, and later with a young architect. And here he is [points to introductory photograph.]—Goil Amornivat—and I can’t pronounce his last name. I never could.

Syllabus for Residential III taught by Anne Korman and Scott Ageloff, New York School of Interior Design, Fall 2000. Courtesy of Anne Korman.

SS: A-morn-ivat? Or something?

AK: Yeah. And he is a fabulous architect, and I enjoyed that experience so much because he was very strong on the architecture and I was strong on the interior finishes, et cetera. So I let him take care of the staircases and sections. [laughs.] So that was great.

SS: So do you teach students about what colors look good together, and what makes different colors pop against each other well in an interior setting?

AK: Complementary colors, that’s right. And I said to always remember Christmas—you think of green and red. And for Easter colors you can think of purple and yellow. And I said that they did a lot of advertising with orange and blue. A lot of the boxes that were sold, cleaning materials, were designed with an orange box and blue writing. So just think of those things. And I once asked a student, “I want you to tell me about color schemes.” And she said, “I had that last year.” [laughs.] But people I think are instinctively born with a sense and eye for color combinations, but there are rules and regulations, and if they follow them, they can be very successful.

SS: I agree with you.

AK: I like to work in neutrals. That’s my proclivity. I couldn’t live in a bright green room. I would find that emotionally very disturbing. But I love paintings. I love to go to museums and look at the wonderful paintings. And I think the more you educate yourself, the more sensitive you are to colors and how to design using the pigmentation that you see in the Old Masters. I mean that’s a wonderful educational tool.

SS: Yes, it is. I’m always surprised when people put things together that I think would never look good, especially colors. Often it’s hard with color because experimenting with it, it can go so wrong, but also really work. And especially when you are working with non-neutral colors, I never know how it’s going to turn out. But I love it when people put it together and it works properly. And I’m like, that was bold, but boy does it look good.

AK: Yeah. You have to experiment, absolutely. And be daring. And evaluate and look at it. Edit—editing is so important. Because you can take one shot at something and it’s not right. So you have to edit, edit, and edit. And I’ve found that really a wonderful device—editing. As you would if you were writing a novel.

SS: Or a paper.

AK: Or a paper, exactly.

SS: Aha okay, so now we are on to the next question. How would you describe your work practice?

AK: Okay, these [pointing at plates.] are the materials we were given when I was a student. You can see how beautifully these are put together.

SS: So these are style plates that talk about the different design movements in furniture and history.

Plates 39 and 40 from Elements of Interior Design and Decoration by Sherrill Whiton, 1956. Photo: Sophie Swanson.

AK: That’s right. So you have a Louis XV mantle and you have a Chinese Chippendale mirror and you have here an American colonial mirror. And so this is all about mirrors, and then you have furniture and tables.

SS: And so you used these books as reference materials?

Anne Korman’s copy of Elements of Interior Design and Decoration by Sherrill Whiton published in 1957 showing her margin notes from her time as a student at NYSID. Photo: Sophie Swanson.

AK: Oh all the time, all the time. I used this, and I used the book on decoration and wall treatments—look at this. [not depicted.] So you knew about moldings—the only thing missing here, how do you open the door?

SS: Oh yeah, where is the door handle? [laughs.]

AK: Yeah where is it? I always tell the students, how do you open it? And here’s one on fireplaces. So this was a wonderful learning tool. Look at all this. English and French mantles—it’s great stuff.

SS: Super interesting.

AK: And this is what every student would get when they went to school. They would get these references.

SS: And what’s this examination question? “Lesson 1: fundamentals in good taste of interior design.”

AK: So this is a book that goes through the fundamentals of interior design—the training of an interior designer, analysis of interior design, and taste and fashion. When you look at it now, this was in 19—

SS: —57 I think is what it said inside.

AK: But it’s very important to look at these things.

SS: Yes, important documents.

AK: I mean nobody designs like this anymore. It’s passé.

SS: [points to photograph of modernist interior, not depicted.] But you could still see that today.

AK: That you could see, yeah. Absolutely.

SS: [reads text.] “Room designed in the modern idiom. Utility, convenience, and functional expression dominate the design.”

AK: And look at this, this is funny.

SS: [reads texts.] “Sophistication and taste.”

AK: Sophisticated taste, I mean this really is a riot. [...]

SS: The book has some examination questions at the back.

AK: Okay here you go. Come on, Sophie, answer them. [laughs.]

SS: Oh no. [laughs.] Oh gosh okay. [reads text.] “What are the various methods for attaining unity in the decoration of a room?” Well, ah, shape, color—

AK: Okay.

SS: —pattern, I mean the basics of what you do anywhere—but making sure they all speak to one another, harmonize, I would imagine. I guess the feng shui. You can’t create narrow passageways that block movement, I would imagine. But I don’t know what else. [laughs.]

AK: You passed!

SS: Good, yay!

AK: And they have something about mirrors and putting things at an angle. There are certain no-nos in that feng shui. But this went back quite a while ago. See, I don’t know when people are designing how much intellectualization goes into it. You know, when you are looking at pattern, non-pattern, whether it’s just not almost instinctual, what you know. Exploring too much, then it loses its spontaneity.

SS: Yes I agree.

AK: But training is important. It has to do with the eye—that’s why hand drawing is so important, I believe. Because it’s a different kind of mindset. The mind works differently when you are punching into a computer. The reality is the computer is here to stay, and it does some wonderful things. But I was never trained that way. I’m of the old school where it was the pencil, the paintbrush, and the piece of paper that you were working on. When I have a project, I would take it to an architect. And it would be a young man—Goil—and he can put it into a computer like that. And we’ll get to that later about the amazing things they do on the computer now. It is just unbelievable. Should we talk about it now?

SS: Yeah, if you’d like to! We can talk about that. So the question is—so we’ve talked about how computers are completely changing how interior designers are both learning and practicing their craft. Could you elaborate more? Or what are the advantages and disadvantages of design working on computers?

AK: Well we are really in a very fast society. Everything is instant. And computers today can design the space—you know, you could agonize over a piece of fabric. Today, click. You put the computer on, and get fabrics right on the computer. Furniture, same thing. You look at it, but you are not in the space where the furniture is. Because of this fast-moving society, that is how interior designers work today. Now I think seeing a fabric on the computer is different than really touching it. You don’t know what it really feels like. Is it soft, is it hard, is it velvety? It’s a very different way. But that is what is happening today. You know when I first started out, you had to have practically a passport to get into any of these design firms. And you had to dress a certain way, and people wore white gloves. That’s how fancy-schmancy it was. That you couldn’t just be somebody in the street with the holes in your jeans. And today anybody can get into any, any design building without accreditation.

SS: Yeah I could walk in.

AK: Yeah but then they were very, very strict. I was once at Clarence House, which was a very snobby place—

SS: —very shi-shi.

AK: Very shi-shi. They had a shop on East 57th Street. First of all, when you walked in there, there was a very nasty person sitting at the desk, and she said to the person in front of me, “You can’t get in here. You have to have your interior designer card or an architect’s card.” and the woman responded, “I am the architect.” [laughs.] I thought that was great.

SS: Don’t mess with me.

AK: Don’t mess with me, I am the architect. And you could never see anything in that showroom. You had to ask for a flashlight because the light was so atmospheric. They were trying to create a mood. So you couldn’t see anything. But it was very, very different. Shopping in those days. Now, everyone welcomes you. They want you, and they didn’t have buildings like they have today.

SS: Yeah, now everything is consolidated.

AK: Everything. I mean how easy it is to go into a place. You can get rugs, you can get furniture, you can get bathroom equipment, marbles, stone. Everything is under one roof. And people really—again, it’s that energy. It’s very fast. And you could spend a whole day. When I first started out, I would go to the edges of Brooklyn to look for something, because that’s where they had it. Or I would go to the Bronx. [laughs.] I mean we didn’t have the Architects & Designers building, the Decoration & Design building, or 200 Lexington. It didn’t exist. So it meant that if you were charging by the hour, it was very costly for the client because you had to spend days rummaging through to find what you wanted. And today you just go into the buildings, and if they don’t have it, somebody else will. Just take the elevator, that’s all you have to do. And I just find that it has changed the way people decorate. Today is mostly on the computer. To think that you can specify a material that you don’t feel—it’s on the computer—how do you feel it? So they are going to do something with the computer that it’s going to come through. I bet they are going to have to do that. If you want to see what the wood tone is, you can see a beautiful reproduction of what the wood looks like, but maybe you want to see what the actual grain.

SS: Yeah sometimes on the computer, the tone will look different than when it’s printed on a piece of fabric. Because, you know, the materiality changes the way the color appears.

AK: Exactly. Today, I’ve seen these computer [programs] that when you’re sitting and looking at the screen, it walks you through as though you were in a movie. It’s like a movie set, and they go from, say, the dining room into the living room.

SS: Yeah virtual tours.

AK: Virtual reality. I was so disappointed because I saw that wonderful house in Paris, the Maison de Verre, and then I saw an exhibition—I think it was at the Jewish Museum. And it lost the whole quality of what this place really looked like. And I think part of the education—should be to spend time in France, Italy, Spain, or Asia and see these incredible houses that were designed. The Glass House or the Maison de Verre in Paris is just—have you seen it?

SS: No.

AK: Well you must see it. You have to go to the Glass House on Rue Saint-Guillaume. You come from the cobblestones, and then you see this glass, and it was the house of a gynecologist. It functioned like magic. Everything you looked at had another function—turned. Another incredible house, which unfortunately I never saw in reality, was the Rem Koolhaas in Bordeaux that has a lift that goes up.

SS: Yes.

AK: Isn’t that the most amazing? Oh, just what an imagination. You just have to keep going to these places, looking at them—I remember going up to Connecticut and looking at the Philip Johnson house, and it was quite an amazing house. Except there was a public road in the back, and for having an open plan, that disturbed me. It diminished the privacy of the house. And we talked about the Barcelona Pavilion. And the Villa Savoye—my French is terrible.

SS: I mean, I don’t speak it at all.

AK: You don’t. Well that was really incredible—in Poissy, France. And I remember visiting this house, and it was just amazing. You felt as though you were floating on the sea. And the way he [Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret] connected the various levels and the roof. He incorporated a rooftop garden, and he let nature into the villa. Spiral staircases created the traffic flow between the floors. There was an absence of any ornament. It was truly a machine for living. Oh, another amazing house was Fallingwater.

SS: I still haven’t been there. I really, really want to go.

AK: Sophie, that is a treat. When I first saw Fallingwater, it truly took my breath away. Cantilevered over this dam, and this wonderful sound of the music of the water. It was really otherworldly. He [Frank Lloyd Wright] used concrete, glass and steel. He designed all the interior furnishings. [...]

AK: You asked me about contemporary designers who have also really inspired me. One is Annabelle Selldorf. Previous designers were going to put a building in front of the Russell Page gardens at the Frick Museum. You know, there was a lot of controversy about this. We don’t have that much greenery in the city. Annabelle Selldorf came up with a brilliant idea. She had a vision. She is going to build a subterranean auditorium so that nothing happens to the existing garden. Visitors walk through a door, they go downstairs, and they have their auditorium. And I thought that was a fantastic vision. The other thing that she did, which I thought was beautiful, is the Neue Gallerie on 86th Street. It was bought by the Vanderbilt family. It’s a museum for—

SS: Austrian and German art.

AK: Austrian and the Expressionists. You know all this. Including Kandinsky has some work in the Neue. So I think she did a beautiful job. The result of her renovation is an elegant, intimate space that preserves the historic elements of the building. She captured the old world Viennese charm of that time period.

SS: Yes, she stayed very true to its origins.

AK: Yes she did, she stayed very true to it. So I thought that was really a wonderful restoration. And then I think the wonderful Café Sabarsky downstairs in the Neue also recreated what these places are like in Europe. It reflects the cafe life that still exists today. She installed that there, and it had a view of Central Park. I mean what could be more eloquent than that?

SS: It’s lovely.

AK: She just connected all the threads and made it into an experience. You go to a museum and it’s an experience besides the art, so I think she did a beautiful job. So I applaud her for her vision, and I think she made a great contribution, and I hope she will be recognized in time. Because there is still a lot of controversy about her approach, but I think she did a beautiful job. Do you agree?

SS: Yes I do agree. I hope that she is more recognized in the future.

[break for lunch.]

SS: How would you describe your work practice? Is there a process you like to follow?

AK: Yes I like to discuss with my client what he or she wants to achieve—their preferences. What style if he or she has one. I find out what colors they like, and then I will prepare sketches. We create ideas that evolve through sketches. A residential job usually deals with multi-spaces. An office is usually one space, one client, and has different functions from multiple spaces. Hospitality must address a larger community and fulfill different requirements. I have to reach out to multiple people. I try to keep the environment non-controversial. By that, I mean a more toned-down approach in the selection of colors. I usually pick a neutral scheme with accent colors and comfortable, non avant-garde furniture. I consider the occupation of the client. Is it a priest? Or a rock star?

SS: [laughs.]

AK: I find out the preferences—likes and dislikes. Do they prefer strong colors? Neutral tones? What textures in fabrics do they prefer? Or are they more interested in expressing their individuality? And I discuss the functions. Is it a library stacked with books or a gym with machines? The profession determines the outcome of the appropriate design. Function determines the result. An office is mainly business-oriented, and the home is a reflection of the occupants' social rather than professional activities.

SS: Entertaining—

AK: Yes absolutely, entertaining. A lot of socialization. And also you find out if you can determine the age of the people that are inhabiting the space. Because that will be a direction in finding out what the style of the furniture is. I use that word non-controversial, but is it recognizable? Easy to sit in? Does it function well? Are the adjacencies convenient?

SS: What do you mean by the adjacencies?

AK: What I mean by that is if you have a chair or a sofa, you should have a surface next to that. That’s what I mean by an adjacency.

SS: Aha, that makes sense. Great, and although you teach Residential Design, you’ve mentioned that you have designed for many different kinds of spaces—so commercial spaces, office, hospitality, and even religious. So tell me about how that process differs and what things you might consider for a religious space than for other clients?

Congregation Or Zarua, interior design by Anne Korman, architecture by Scott Ageloff, Manhattan, 2001. Photo: ©2017 David Matero Architecture.

AK: Well I designed the space for a congregation called Or Zarua on the Upper East Side. It is a congregation that uses its facilities for various purposes. It is a sanctuary for prayer, religious observances, a gathering of intellectual constituents who enjoy exchanging ideas and spirited debate. A place for reflection and meditation in quiet surroundings with a minimum of noise. Using a neutral palette throughout with an accent of blue creates a non-controversial background. Subtle lighting is equally important to achieve a peaceful background for contemplation and harmony. I quote from a review from the New York Times [in 2002]: “It is one of the most surprisingly happily interior spaces in the city. As you sit in its steep-set pews made of beechwood from Israel and covered in blue velvet cushions, you feel like you are floating above the service. Such restrained sumptuosity contributes to the religious mood but never overwhelms it.”

SS: There you go. I like that, “restrained sumptuosity.” You chose a lot of blues for the congregation Or Zarua.

AK: Yeah I did, because blue is a peaceful color. It’s tranquil. Too much of it could be very sad, because when people don’t feel well, what do they say?

SS: I’ve got the blues.

AK: I’ve got the blues. I feel blue. It works beautifully when incorporated with neutrals.

SS: Yes it does. It can be a nice pop too. Okay, so moving on, interior design is an inherently collaborative process. How do you handle working with the client, architect, contractor, and any other people involved? Can you tell me about a collaboration that was particularly difficult and or successful?

AK: I’ve been very lucky in having first-class architects working on the job and contractors to oversee the project, and I find that this collaboration is essential to seeing the job through. And I worked with a wonderful architect who happened to have been the dean of our school. And he’s very gifted and very, very talented. He’s a problem solver. The one job I’m thinking of was a famous art dealer who wanted to make a duplex.

SS: Marianne Goodman?

Apartment of Marianne Goodman, interior design by Anne Korman, Manhattan, 1999. Photo Courtesy of Anne Korman.

AK: Yes Marianne Goodman. In order to create this duplex, we used a space that housed the building’s old mechanical equipment no longer in use. He transformed this room and it became part of the duplex. It had sweeping views—north, east, west, south—and it is really one of the most breathtaking apartments I’ve ever seen in Manhattan. The panoramic view is spectacular. Also, it serves as a wonderful background for her fabulous art collection. So it was very successful because everybody pulled together and created this really astonishing space.

SS: And it’s mostly a neutral, gray, white palette?

AK: Yes, neutral because the art takes care of all the energy that you want to put into the space. She also mixed the contemporary with the old. And that is a much more interesting way of designing, I feel, than just having everything bland.

SS: What’s an example of a mixing in that apartment?

AK: Well she used some Renaissance pieces juxtaposed with the contemporary idiom. And this really makes for a much more varied palette—it’s a home to live in, and I think she wanted to express who she is. She’s a very sophisticated woman. Extremely knowledgeable. So I think this combination of the old and the new complemented her personality.

SS: Oh, and I remember that you mentioned that you used to have a cabinetmaker who was really good to you.

AK: Oh yes, he was fantastic. His name was Joe Nevido, and he came from Puerto Rico. He had never been to New York. He learned English, and he was a craftsman par excellence. He was incredible—his finishes. You know, you see these bookcases here. [points.] I said I wanted white ones against the gray. I thought that would be terrific. But when they came in, I said they were pretty awful. “Joe, what are we going to do?” So I gave him a book cover, and I said this is the color they should be. And he was so easy to work with. Of course I gave him a lot of work, but still, he was so compatible—I really loved him. He was a master of his craft, and you don’t find too many people like that. And there were no delays with him. If he told you a job was going to be completed at a certain time, it was completed. If you wanted to make changes, you could make changes. I’m not so sure that there are people around like this today—that are so dedicated and devoted. It was a different climate.

SS: Craftsmen like that are very valuable indeed.

AK: I have been very, very lucky to have worked with people for years. We shared a very wonderful communication because of the longevity of time that we worked together. I’ve been very lucky. They were hard workers. They did exquisite work, and they were very dedicated. They just didn’t put things together to get it finished on time. They made sure everything was perfect—as perfect as it could be. There were never problems with the delivery. It was a very easy flow because we had worked such a long time together. That connection paid off. The only time I had difficulty was when the client was difficult. When they knew more than any of us knew. This made it a tricky situation, and nothing you could do could ever please that person. After a while, I was intuitive enough to acknowledge the fact that there are some people who are difficult to work with. So I’d just tone it down, and listen, and didn’t say very much. It’s a good way to handle these people. Let them express themselves, try to tell them the good points and the not so good points of a certain conclusion they have come to, and usually the result is a good one. [...]

SS: So, Anne, we’ve talked a lot about the past, now we are going to project into the future. How do you see the future of design taking shape in the twenty-first century? Is technology changing the way we use and decorate space?

AK: Technology has changed the way we decorate today. Purchases for material and furniture are available online. It saves time and covers a greater variety of choices. Designing is done on a screen and changes can be made simultaneously. It is edited not by drawings but by manipulating the computer. It is the wave of the future. And in this fast-moving society, it is a practical device that is used worldwide. Time marches on, materials and furnishings are specked online. A changing society demands different approaches in the way we design spaces. Designing has become animated.

SS: How will considerations for sustainability come into play?

AK: I say it should be mandated that designers specify sustainable materials so that future generations will be able to live in a habitable, non-threatening environment. If not, the earth will suffer dire consequences.

SS: Yes, very true. It’s terrifying. [...]

SS: The last thing we haven’t talked that I’d like to touch on is your view on the status of women working in the interior design profession—as both a teacher and professional.

AK: Interior design was made for women of a certain social class. The people that I mentioned like Syrie Maugham—it was a society thing. They went into it. A lot of them were dilettantes. They didn’t have the education that they have today, and it was a different way of designing. It was mostly traditional. It was not avant-garde. It was not edgy. It dealt with a certain strata of society. As I told you before, when the lady decorators or “desecrators” as they were known, went to a showroom, there was a certain arrogance about them. It wasn’t a democratic environment. And it’s wonderful that today people go to school, they learn about design, and they are much more knowledgeable. It’s not only traditional. It’s not only hospitality but healthcare and contract. So interior designers today have more opportunities because they cover many more professions.

SS: You mentioned the word desecrator above talking about the “lady desecrators” of the past. You’ve mentioned to me before that you don’t like the word decorator.

AK: No because it seems flimsy. Decoration—it doesn’t seem intrinsic, it doesn’t seem basic. It doesn’t seem that it involves a whole world of design. It just seems superficial. I guess that’s what it is. It’s decoration. And what is decoration? What is the definition of decoration? It’s not a big body of work. And I think when you undertake to do a house or you take a commercial job or do something with hospitality, that’s a very big undertaking. So I don’t call it exactly gilding the lily. It’s intensive. And I think that word is a little fragile. I mean it’s decoration, like you decorate a cake. I ain’t decorating a cake! I’m doing a very hard job of trying to solve all of the problems in a particular space, and it isn’t decorating a cake. And that’s what decoration means to me.

SS: You are designing.

AK: You’re a designer, exactly. Bravo, brava! I have to use the right tense.

SS: Well perfect. I think that’s a really great note to end on.

[End of interview]
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