New Television Workshop Collection

New Television Workshop Collection Oral HistoriesDesign Archives

Melanie Kahane Interview

Alternative Title:
Design Archive: Interview with Melanie Kahane

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Rights information is unidentified.

3 videocassettes of 3 (VHS) (180 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in.
3 videocassettes of 3 (Betacam SP) (180 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in.
3 videocassettes of 3 (180 min.) : sd., col. ; 1 in. master.

One of four interviews conducted in 1981 as part of the New Television Workshop's (NTW) Design Archiving Project. The "Design Archives" was an NEA-sponsored project originally conceived in 1980 as an attempt to record lengthy interviews with four "national treasures" involved in various fields of design. The others were O'Neil Ford (architecture), Charles Blessing (city planning), and Paul Rand (graphic design). Plans to broadcast portions of the interviews never came to pass, nor did plans to transfer the interviews to videodisc in order to provide a resource for researchers and students in the field of graphic design. Other NTW projects undertaken to interview famous artists were the "Dance Archiving Project," in which tap dancer Honi Coles was interviewed in 1981, and the "Twentieth Century Artists" series, in which artists Judy Chicago and Lee Krasner were interviewed in 1979.

The interviewer is Rita St. Clair, an influential interior designer who founded her own Baltimore-based design firm (Rita St. Clair Associates Inc.) and a member of the American Society of Interior Designers. The interview covers biographical aspects of Kahane's life and her ideas on interior design.

Melanie Kahane was born in Sioux Falls, SD in 19??. She graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City and studied design for one year in Paris. She started her own interior design firm in the 1930's. She devised a control system to guide her business operations that became a standard in the design field. She drew fame for her Black and White in Pumpkin Room of the late 1940's, designed for an exhibition at the Grand Central Palace in New York City. She was also known for her industrial and product designs, especially her Red Hot Stove and colored light bulbs for home use. She developed products for companies such as Westinghouse and RCA. She also oversaw design and restoration projects for theaters and hotels, including work on rooms at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. She died in 19?? at the age of ??.

This is raw, unedited footage.

The original footage was filmed on three 1" cassettes. Preservation masters were made in 1999 on three Beta cassettes, as were three screening copies on VHS cassettes.

180-minute interview on three videocassettes.

Tape 1 (58:00): Childhood in Sioux Falls, S.D.; imaginative abilities of children; her children's books on design (There's a Decorator in Your Dollhouse); talent vs. environment and their influence on children's attitudes toward design; her father's influence; education at Parsons School of Design in New York; difficulties in finding jobs after graduation in the Depression; studies in Paris and travels in Europe; decision to go into interior decorating; starting her own business; development of control system for her business; importance of cost and budgets in design field; her knowledge of color; differences in trends in fashion and interior design; effects of history on design (Industrial Revolution, Victorian era, WWI) and effects catastrophic events have on design.

Tape 2 (59:00): Need for designers/architects to know the human body; need for designers to work in difficult situations; economy of space due to economics; argues there is no distinction between the designer and decorator; her Black and White in Pumpkin Room design of the late 1940's -- inspirations for it and its impact; importance of gaining publicity for one's designs; origins of her Red Hot Stove design and its impact on her becoming known for kitchen and cabinet design; her product designs for Westinghouse, especially colored bulbs for home use, and RCA; role of computers in design; life with her husband; their travels in Russia, Portugal, and England.

Tape 3 (58:45): Importance for designers to be able to completely visualize projects before they begin; changes in business of design over the years; education of the consumer in design matters; her designs for the Schubert Theater in Boston; her restoration designs for rooms at the Waldorf in New York; her determination of fees for jobs; favorite and least favorite types of jobs; the need for designers to be involved in all aspects of the design business; interests in urban renewal; her designs for cabinets used in the space shuttle; value of NASA research in everyday life; the upbringing of her daughter; the need for young designers to struggle and try many experiences to become well-rounded; the need for design schools to teach business elements; her input in Harry Siegel's book A Guide to Business Principles and Practices for Interior Designers; the need for design firms to become larger with a wide range of specialized workers, but the prevention of its happening due to ego.

St. Clair, Rita

Barzyk, Fred

MacLeod, Margaret

National Endowment for the Arts--Design Arts Program

Interior decoration
Interior decorators
Interior architecture
Industrial designers

Unedited footage

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