Feb. 14, 2020

I lived on Union Turnpike in Flushing, across the street from Jamaica Estates, where Donald Trump was brought up. As a woman, what could you be besides a schoolteacher? You didn’t have options. My mother insisted I go to FIT. It didn’t cost us anything other than the carfare to get there and art supplies. My mother was a widow, and I remember having to scrape to get the carfare.

A really good teacher brings out what you can do—it becomes more about you than her. Helen Klupt was that kind of teacher. And Henriette Reiss was able to see colors and designs when she heard music. When she painted, you knew right away whether she was listening to a Tchaikovsky or a Chopin—you could see it in the art. She was very, very different. But boy, was she good.

After graduation I worked at Wamsutta, making $60 a week. God, was that a lot of money. We did flower designs for furniture and draperies. The fabric designers in the studio were absolutely phenomenal. When they did a rose, that rose stank—it was that realistic. When I started out, I had to take their designs and paint them in different colorways. Then I started designing on my own. I was being paid to do something I would have done for nothing.

At that time, we put out a line of home textiles by Melanie Kahane, an interior designer who was an icon of culture. Our studio floor was spattered with paint, and she came in dragging a mink coat on the floor. I was so impressed. I couldn’t believe someone could drag a thousand dollars of mink on a paint-spilled floor. When I found my ultimate fur coat, a kolinsky, it had a huge opera-type hood, yards and yards of fur. When I dragged that coat on the floor, it was the most marvelous thing I ever did. Melanie Kahane, eat your heart out.

Inspired by Kahane, I became an interior designer. You gave me $500, and I’d completely redecorate your house—and I’d give you back change. In 1976, I incorporated and became Designing Woman. I did the sample houses for new developments—I became rather successful at it. I sold the company in the late ’90s. When I first retired, I thought I was going to go bonkers; it was not easy to find my place. But now it’s so wonderful. I volunteer as a docent at the Woodmere museum, and I paint. I hadn’t painted since I was 16. Guess what I paint mostly? Flowers! My gosh, can I paint a flower.

Top Photo: Kinstler Ney flips through some of her paintings.