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International Interior Design Association

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Living Heroes

By Eileen Watkins

True heroes take risks that, in retrospect, seem like strokes of genius. They not only succeed in their field, but change it forever for others. True heroes give generously of time, energy, encouragement and spirit, making the way easier for others who will build upon the foundation they have created.

The five heroes profiled here are trailblazers in the industry of interior design. Their individual philosophies, projects and working styles have inspired and set examples for generations of designers.

The firm of Gensler Architecture, Design & Planning Worldwide, began in 1965 as a tenant development company with a three-person office in San Francisco. Today it is one of the largest architectural firms in the United States with 1,800 professionals in 27 cities around the world. Under the leadership of its founder Arthur Gensler, who now serves as its Chairman, Gensler earned the title of Firm of the Year from the American Institute of Architects in 2000.

M. Arthur Gensler Jr., FIIDA, FAIA

Gensler attained an international reputation as an expert in office buildings and work settings. Although his primary responsibilities today involve overseeing and directing the firm's international operations, he still brings into play his vast knowledge of planning and design.

"Art has built an organization that is the envy of his peers," says A. Eugene Kohn, FAIA, RIBA, JIA, Chairman of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC. "His success is based on excellent client relationships, service and design.

"I am tremendously proud of all the wonderful relationships I have developed over the years—with my Gensler colleagues, clients, design professionals, consultants and vendors," Gensler says.

He has served as an advisor to the United States General Services Administration and as a consultant to major companies, institutions and public agencies in the United States and abroad. Trained as an architect, he also is widely credited with establishing interior design as a recognized profession. He is a fellow of both the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the International Interior Design Association. He is a professional member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a cofounder of the AIA's National Interior Architecture Committee.

A graduate of Cornell University, Gensler serves on the university's Board of Trustees and the Advisory Council of its College of Architecture, Art and Planning. He has taught as a visiting professor at Cornell, Arizona State University and the University of California at Berkeley.

"He has accomplished his dream by surrounding himself with excellent talent in both partners and staff," Kohn says. "He is the cheerleader, always there when needed, and his devotion to his team is matched by their loyalty. His energy is boundless, to go along with his 'big' presence and unlimited commitment. Art has been and still is the leader, the inspiration and the soul of the firm."

"My legacy, beyond establishing the firm with my wife, Drue, and Jim Follett, is that we built it to endure," Gensler says.

Albert Hadley, FASID Born in Nashville, Tenn., Albert Hadley graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York. He worked on his own for a short while before joining the venerable New York decorating firm of McMillen, Inc. In 1962, he and legendary interior designer Henry "Sister" Parish formed Parish-Hadley Associates. The two created personal and eminently comfortable spaces for such clients as William S. Paley, Brooke Astor and Ann Getty. Hadley always considered himself a Modernist, though, and during their association he encouraged his partner to embrace more contemporary designs. In 1986, Hadley was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.

Albert Hadley, Fasid

Recognized internationally as the "Dean" of interior design, Albert Hadley is renowned for the elegance and livability of his residential interiors. Following the death of legendary interior designer Henry "Sister" Parish, Hadley closed the doors of Parish-Hadley in 1999, and archives of the firm's work became part of the permanent collection the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Now working through his own firm, Albert Hadley Inc., the designer still emphasizes clean lines and classical proportions, carefully edited decorative schemes and a sense of tradition combined with an appreciation of the new. "I'm as much involved with architecture as decorating," Hadley says. "I'll move a door three inches, rip out a wall or put one up—whatever it takes to make the background as attractive and comfortable as possible. I'm interested in the architecture of living."

He has taught at his alma mater, the Parsons School of Design, in both New York and Paris. In March 2005, the school awarded him its first Parsons Centurion Award for Design Excellence.

On that occasion, Parsons Dean Paul Goldberger said, "Albert Hadley transcends usual limits. Who could be in the field of interior design and not honor both his extraordinary creative talent and his remarkable grace as a human being? It is Albert Hadley's gift to be able to make the old seem fresh, the new seem classic, and their combination seem altogether natural.

"He is a designer who understands—more instinctively than any other, I think—the harmonies of space, color, proportion and texture, and their relationship to well-being," Goldberger said. "He is admired and beloved as a designer who has communicated his passions brilliantly across the generations."

Richard Haworth joined the family-owned, Holland, Mich., contract furniture business in 1964, when it went by the name of Modern Products Inc. He started as Assistant Sales Manager and soon moved up to Vice President of Research and Development.

After two years in the army, he returned to Modern Products as an Executive Vice President, and helped develop the Modern Office Module system (now the UniGroup® Office Interior System), which debuted in 1971. That year sales exceeded $5 million and the company expanded to 136 people. It changed its name to Haworth Inc. in 1975, and the following year Haworth became President and Chief Executive Officer. In that position, he helped develop and introduce the industry's first electrified, panel-based systems office furniture, ERA-1®.

Richard Haworth

The efficiency of the modern office owes much to Richard G. Haworth. He invented the first three-circuit, prewired panels for use in office cubicles. In the 1970s, he risked his modestly sized business to begin manufacturing this new product. Today Haworth Inc., is one of the largest contract office manufacturers in the world.

By the early 1990s, Haworth had acquired many European companies, globalizing its talent and products. In 1994, Haworth became Chairman of the Board. Over the next 10 years, he led the company from a single product line, with sales of $10 million and 225 employees, to build a broad-based, multiproduct company with sales of $1.26 billion and 7,500 members worldwide. Today, Haworth continues as Chairman of the Board and CEO of the company. The firm holds more than 150 patents and has dealers around the world and manufacturing plants and sales offices in 120 countries. It has pioneered several environmentally friendly products and safe factory practices, and its designs have received numerous awards.

Ken Krayer, Professor and Chair of the Product Design Department at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, served as Haworth's Director of Design from 2000 to 2003. He notes that while Richard Haworth probably will always be remembered for the "power panel," his contribution to his company's culture has been equally important.

"Dick would show up and talk to the product design people who were doing the work," Krayer says. "And he was especially knowledgeable about the engineering aspect. Many management people look mainly at the aesthetics and are not pragmatic about performance. Dick takes a hands-on approach, and his door is always open."

"I would like my legacy to be one of helping to create a lasting organization that delivers superior products and services to its customers," Haworth says.

Sally Sirkin Lewis began in the 1950s, doing sketches for a line of sportswear in Florida when she took on her first interior design project. She worked for several East Coast architectural firms, specializing in corporate hospitality projects. In 1964, when a client asked Lewis to design a West Coast showroom, she decided to relocate her business to California.

She opened her first showroom on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles in 1972— when such a venture still was unusual for a woman—and named it J. Robert Scott after her children. Her firm soon became known for its innovative mix of natural materials, neutral palettes and accents of antiquities and exotic signature pieces.

Sally Sirkin Lewis

Through her firm J. Robert Scott, Sally Sirkin Lewis created a style of "California Design" that has attracted an enthusiastic following around the globe. J. Robert Scott maintains showrooms in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and London and is represented in every major market in the United States and throughout the world.

Each year, J. Robert Scott still introduces new furniture, lighting, accessories, textiles and wall coverings that perpetuate its trademark, elegant style. Lewis has been awarded more than 100 American and British patents for her part in those innovative designs.

"I'm proud I've never compromised my integrity or the design and quality of the interiors or products I've been responsible for producing," Lewis says.

She was named one of the Top 100 Interior Designers by Architectural Digest and one of the country's 101 Most Influential Designers by House Beautiful. She was inducted into The Interior Design Hall of Fame in 1989. Lewis was the first American designer honored with a 25-year retrospective of her work by the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles. She joined some of the nation's leading furniture companies to form the Foundation for Design Integrity, which fosters industry and consumer awareness of the need to protect original designs.

"Sally is an icon in the industry and still innovative," says Kenn Shlaes, Senior Designer for Sally Sirkin Interior Design and acting Creative Director for J. Robert Scott. "She has inspired me to design at a completely different level. Sally is challenging, demanding and an amazing problem solver. It still surprises me that she can always come up with a new and better solution."

"I hope I will be remembered as a total professional," Lewis says. "Honest, caring and fair, with emphasis always on the side of my art and vision, rather than financial gain."

Margo Grant Walsh After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1960, Walsh joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in San Francisco. She spent 13 years with that firm, rising to Associate Director of Interior Design. In 1973, she joined Gensler as Interior Design Director in Houston. Six years later she established the Gensler New York office. Soon, client demand for her personal attention and expertise led her to open the firm's Boston, Washington, D.C., and London offices. She became founder and Managing Principal of the Eastern Region Division and a member of Gensler's Board of Directors and Management Committee. Today Walsh serves as Vice Chairman Emeritus of Gensler. She supports the efforts of the firm's London office and is currently completing projects for two major law firms in New York and Atlanta.

Margo Grant Walsh

Margo Grant Walsh has become one of the most powerful and influential women in American architecture and interior design. She not only pioneered the way for women in her field, but helped establish the profession as it is defined today.

Starting in 1979 with a staff of two, Walsh now has a staff of 280 and serves a client roster of more than 1,850. She has participated in and supervised work on top corporate design projects for Mobil Oil Corp., Goldman Sachs & Co., Newsweek, Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, Davis Polk & Wardwell and Morgan Bank, among others. She has been credited with helping to establish Gensler as one of the world's largest and most successful design firms, and in 1995 became its Vice Chairman.

In 1987, Walsh was inducted into the Interior Design magazine Hall of Fame, and in 2000 she received a Leadership Award of Excellence from the New York Chapter of IIDA. Her alma mater presented her with a medal in 2002 for her professional and personal achievements.

"Margo distinguished herself as an interior designer when the profession was still in its infancy," says Jennifer Busch, Editor-in-Chief of Contract magazine, which in 2002 presented Walsh with its first Legend Award. "Moreover, she did this as a woman in a largely male corporate world."

"I would like to be known for participating in the creation of the leading design firm of the last half of the 20th century," Walsh says.

Busch adds that throughout her career Walsh also served as a role model and mentor to countless younger interior designers. "There are many designers today, great successes in their own right, who would name Margo as a positive influence on their career," Busch says.

"I'm very proud that through inspiration and example, I was able to challenge many young professionals—
especially women—to become part of the ever-evolving profession of interior design."