Getting that invitation was the highlight of my year.
Mrs. Plant had asked me to come over for an afternoon visit, and I was incredulous and baffled as to what I had to offer her in the way of company or conversation. She was my third-grade teacher and, as it turned out, lived in the same town as I, although her house was on the other side of a street that bisected our neighborhoods. At that age, my corner of the earth was small and flat. It seemed to me that if I ventured beyond the area surrounding my house I might fall off it. Nevertheless, I set out for this grown-up adventure with the hope of experiencing something grand.
Later, sipping lemonade in her living room, I took in the pale, apple-green color of the sofa, the heaviness of the drapes, the dark walnut polish on the furniture and the shininess of the picture frames arranged carefully on top of a formal sideboard. I was intrigued. I felt newly aware and curious about my surroundings and so I piped up, “Can I see the upstairs?” Unfortunately, Mrs. Plant thought my request rude and shot me down. I had only wanted to see the layout of the space. I look back on this memory and simultaneously laugh at and applaud my own pluck. Everywhere I go I am always assessing my environment and redesigning it in my head.
When it was time for college, many of my friends were accepted at The Cooper Union School of Art and Pratt Institute. I badly wanted to attend a fine art school, too, but my parents were skeptical. Ever practical, my mother found what she considered a more suitable channel for my talent and presented me with an ad for the Fashion Institute of Technology that she had cut out of The New York Times’ education section. Design school, she said, would at least ensure that I could get a job afterward. That was OK with her.
She was right: I was employed one week after graduation. This was no small thing coming from a family for whom the “immigrant experience,” although one generation removed, was alive and well. I went on to become the first woman in the family to live on my own, entirely self-supporting, pursuing a career. I didn’t really think much about that at the time, because I was too busy working hard and enjoying city life. But looking back, I can truly appreciate what interior design has afforded me — choices and opportunities as a professional woman.
After college, I moved to Brooklyn — back when it was an affordable outpost — and, even though I couldn’t get anyone to visit me there, I spent a lot of time decorating my apartment, which I had the resources to do thanks to my mother’s example of cultivating frugal ways. While my contemporaries were throwing down expensive drinks in Manhattan and chasing each other around clubs, I was kicking back in a beautiful brownstone in an architecturally rich neighborhood. Those were my priorities then and now.
Having since moved to Westchester, I have proven against all popular wisdom that it is entirely possible to maintain a splendidly decorated home while raising a child, despite his attendant messes.
My interior design projects are mostly residential these days and, although I have been doing this for a long time, I still love it. With the advent of Instagram, I can binge-view gorgeously curated interior images all day long until I’m dizzy, which I do often. Now in the digital age, I have the freedom to peek at the upstairs of anyone’s house to my heart’s content.