New York, New York with interior designer, Timothy Macdonald
THE SON OF A TAILOR, AT THE AGE OF 18 ANGELO DONGHIA LEFT VANDERGRIFT, PENNSYLVANIA FOR NEW YORK CITY TO STUDY INTERIOR DESIGN AT PARSONS SCHOOL OF DESIGN. UPON GRADUATION, HE JOINED THE DISTINGUISHED FIRM OF YALE BURGE INTERIORS. WITH BURGE AS A MENTOR HE HONED HIS CRAFT AND DEVELOPED A PERSONAL STYLE. IN 1966, ON THE RECOMMENDATION OF BILLY BALDWIN, MR. DONGHIA DESIGNED THE OPERA CLUB AT THE METROPOLITAN OPERA HOUSE AT LINCOLN CENTER WHICH, WITH SILVER FOIL CEILINGS, BLUE CHANDELIERS AND BLACK UPHOLSTERY, WAS MET WITH GREAT ACCLAIM. HE WAS SOON MADE PARTNER OF THE DESIGN FIRM, THEN RENAMED BURGE-DONGHIA.
WITH A PENCHANT FOR BUSINESS, MR. DONGHIA’S DIVERSE TALENTS WERE CONVEYED NOT ONLY IN THE WIDE RANGE OF INTERIORS HE DESIGNED BUT ALSO IN THE MANY PRODUCTS THAT CARRIED HIS NAME. SAID DONGHIA, “I KNEW THAT WHAT I HAD WASN’T ENOUGH AND THAT MY GROWTH HAD TO BE THROUGH MEANS WHICH WEREN’T THE DECORATING BUSINESS.”
DONGHIA’S DESIGN PHILOSOPHY, A LESS IS MORE APPROACH, EXTENDED TO ALL HIS PROJECTS. “HE STARTS WITH A CONCERN FOR LIVING,” STATED THE LATE GRACE MIRABELLA, BOTH A CLIENT AND EDITOR OF VOGUE. IN HIS INTERIORS HE CREATED TOTAL ENVIRONMENTS – NOT JUST ROOMS – ON THE TENET THAT “YOU SHOULD FEEL AT ALL TIMES THAT WHAT IS AROUND YOU IS ATTRACTIVE . . . AND THAT YOU ARE ATTRACTIVE.”
ANGELO DONGHIA WAS AS INNOVATIVE IN BUSINESS AS IN DESIGN. HE WAS THE FIRST DESIGNER, TO MY KNOWLEDGE, WHO CREATED AND PRODUCED THE FURNISHINGS, THE FABRICS AND WALLCOVERINGS THAT HE INCORPORATED INTO HIS RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL DESIGNS. HE OPENED DONGHIA SHOWROOMS THAT CONTINUE TODAY TO BE THRIVING ENTERPRISES IN DESIGN CENTERS IN A NUMBER OF AMERICAN CITIES.
WHEN TIM ARRIVED IN NEW YORK, HIS FIRST (AND LAST) JOB WORKING FOR ANOTHER DESIGNER WAS WITH THE EXTRAORDINARY ANGELO DONGHIA.
TIM, PLEASE TELL US ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE! ONCE YOU MADE THE DECISION TO RELOCATE, WHAT IS THE ARCH OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL HISTORY?
Within a few weeks of arriving in New York, I interviewed with the legendary designer Angelo Donghia. I had followed and admired his work for years as it appeared in all the design magazines. Angelo’s design philosophy encompassed a broad range of styles. A Fifth Avenue townhouse would of course have a very different aesthetic than a Key West, cypress wood octagonal house. He loved 18th century English wood furniture as well as classic art deco rattan and wicker pieces. But most of all, he was a master of upholstery. He demanded that all upholstered furniture be beautiful and, above all, comfortable.
Within a couple of years, Angelo had put me in charge of his residential design firm, where I managed a staff of ten and worked with all the top clients. We had a who’s who of clients at the time: Diana Ross, Mary Tyler Moore, Ralph Lauren, Barbara Walters, Neil Simon, Donald Trump and in 1980, I had my first big client on my own, Liza Minnelli. The results were presented as the first fold out cover of Architectural Digest and the biggest selling issue to that time.
EVERYONE LOVES AN INSIDER’S VIEW INTO THE WORLD OF CELEBRITIES. WHO WERE SOME OF YOUR CELEBRITY CLIENTS AND IN WHAT WAYS IS IT THE SAME AND IN WHAT WAYS IS IT DIFFERENT THAN WORKING ON A REGULAR PROJECT?
For a number of years Architectural Digest sponsored guest programs at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Together with a few other designers, I was invited to present a slide talk on what it is like working for celebrities. Bottom line, they are no different than other clients. Every client is unique and each brings their own point of view. Ralph Lauren wanted an environment which was devoid of color and pattern, other than natural wood, velvet carpeting the color of natural wood and lush green plants. We wanted to give him a place of visual serenity after hours of looking at color and pattern.
Liza Minnelli, growing up in Hollywood, the daughter of a film director, thought of home as a movie set and wanted her apartment to include references from her father’s films, such as the distinctive “Minnelli” red in Gigi. We had a ball working together.
WHEN DID YOU LAUNCH TIMOTHY MACDONALD INCORPORATED AND WHAT PROMPTED THAT DECISION?
In 1986, Angelo Donghia passed away and I left Donghia to start my own firm. I remember the day I met with his lawyers and realized I needed to leave. I went home and told my wife, “I have some news.” She said, “So do I.” I said, “You first.” She said, “I‘m pregnant.” I said, “I’m unemployed.” So Timothy Macdonald Incorporated was launched. Within a month I started with a secretary, a typewriter, a draftsman/designer and a phone number.
For the past several years, TMI consists of myself, my business partner, Robin Berg, my design partner, Greg Kundsen, an assistant designer, an administrative assistant and a draftsman.
OFF TO AN AMAZING START, WITH THE IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCE OF REALIZING FIRST-TIER PROJECTS AND DISCERNING CLIENTS, TIMOTHY MACDONALD INCORPORATED LAUNCHED.
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK AS TIM SHARES HIS LIFE AS CEO AND PRESIDENT OF ONE OF THE MOST ESTABLISHED AND ON-GOING NEW YORK BASED INTERIOR DESIGN FIRMS.