1978-1980—Publications and Interior Design

I returned from Joe’s funeral in 1978 feeling not sad but joyful. The community of friends and neighbors that surrounded and loved him had embraced and loved me and our whole family and carried us through that time. Mother and Dad even smiled.


My life had taken an upturn. In 1977 I accomplished a goal that had been long hanging over me. My dissertation on Edna Ferber was published! I was still an Associate Professor in 1977, having just gotten tenure and been promoted to Associate in 1973. If I expected to be promoted to Full Professor, I had to show something to the Promotion and Tenure Committee. So I had sent around my dissertation to a number of publishers, and at last Gordon Press ( New York) published it. They were doing a series on women writers, and the editor liked my book-- so much, it seemed, that he asked me to do a similar book on Fannie Hurst. I had hardly read anything by her, so had to begin reading her stories. Whenever I had a stretch of time, e.g., a morning or a whole Saturday free, I would run to the library and dig into old Saturday Evening Posts or Cosmopolitans to look up her stories. I found her exhilarating, full of zest and vitality. I was astonished at how productive she was. She wrote eighteen novels, eight collections of short stories, numberless short stories that were published in magazines but never collected, an autobiography, two plays, magazine articles, letters, speeches. On top of that, twenty-six movies were based on her books and stories. Although all her works were flawed by excess (of sentiment), they had overshadowing strength and were wonders of detail and character. Her plots were her weak spot. If she had let an editor prune her works, she would perhaps have been first rate, as she wanted to be, but she was too independent. I sympathized with her on that, as I am independent and carry things to excess myself. I devoted myself to it over the summer of 1978, including staying at a cottage in Michigan for several weeks just to write. I managed to finish it by that September. Gordon Press published it in 1981.

25th College Reunion 1977 had also been the twenty-fifth reunion of our St. Mary’s College graduating class of 1952. I felt a deep bond with all those with whom I had graduated. We laughed at the quaint customs we had followed, like the hat and hose that we had to wear into South Bend whenever we went out, like “signing out,” and being “campused” for missing chapel. To me those were “golden days in the sunshine of our happy youth, golden days full of innocence and full of truth,” as the song goes. Reunions continued into June. Astri Knudson stayed with me a few days before going back to Norway.
I Give Up Some Addictions, Thanks to My Brother

After I stopped smoking

During Joe’s long illness I became more prayerful. The Psalms especially comforted me. I went through and wrote out the ones that expressed my feelings. During Holy Week of 1978, actually, on Good Friday, I made a vow to stop smoking. I had been smoking for about ten years and had tried to stop a number of times. It took my brother’s fatal illness to get me to vow to God that I would stop for good. Joe didn’t recover, but I never smoked again. A vow made on Good Friday for one’s dying brother was inviolable.

And I let Hans go. When I received a letter from him offering his sympathy about Joe’s death, and mentioning that he had been in Chicago (at the airport), and had “resisted the urge to call” me, I shrugged and told myself, ‘That’s it.’ If he felt proud of himself for not contacting me, I would feel proud of myself for no longer concerning myself with him. Success!

During my brother’s illness in 1977, also, I had begun to study Interior Design at Harrington Institute. When I announced my intention to my mother, she shook her head. I was off in another direction!

In spite of how successful I thought I was, my mother privately thought of my life as “just one crazy idea after another.” I had a streak of the rebel in me that she was afraid of. I kept her awake at night. When I went to St. Mary’s College, an all girls’ school, she was glad I would be looked after by the nuns and wouldn’t get into trouble. When I went off to the convent, she breathed a sigh of relief. I was safe at last. When I complained about anything in the convent, she was alarmed. I was showing my rebel streak to my superiors. Why did I get changed around every couple of years? Wasn’t I cooperating with the principals? Did I complain about the principal and ask to be transferred? (Actually, I did, once.) When I left the convent in 1966, though, she wasn’t surprised. No wonder. I was always a rebellious child. She didn’t cry, as my dad did. But her worries began all over again.

When I went to the University of Chicago to graduate school, she was sure I would meet and fall under the influence of unsavory characters. When I brought Dan home, she was relieved that he was a Catholic, and asked him to look after me. Then when she came to Chicago and I was dating Tony, although he wasn’t a Catholic, he was still okay. Would he please look after me? Then Bob. Well, he would do too. Would he please make sure that I didn’t go around at night alone?

When she came to visit me while I lived in South Shore, which went from a mixed neighborhood to a predominately black neighborhood during the few years (1967-1973) I was there, she wrote me a very serious letter telling me that I would never meet anyone there, and that no one would want to come and visit me there. The sooner I moved, the better. I wish she had the instinct for real estate that her mother Helen had; she would have seen opportunities to buy all the vacant vintage apartment buildings that were going for a song, when their white tenants fled to the suburbs. (I did move to a condo in Hyde Park; she bragged that her daughter had a condo overlooking the lake.)

When I finally got my PhD and tenure in 1973, she was relieved. I had a permanent job and a permanent home. She could get some sleep. Then I began my wild, wandering ways again, always wanting to go somewhere, complaining about my job. She was afraid I would get fired. “You should be glad you have a job.”

Her idea of a successful woman was not a university professor, it was a married woman, like my two sisters. They stayed home, in Kansas City, looking after their husbands and children, and in return, they were looked after and secure. They had nice homes and they played bridge and tennis in their spare time. They weren’t looking for something over the rainbow, like I was.

To her it looked like I went from one man to the next, and from one hobby to the next. I would never settle down. When she came to visit me, she and Gerda (an older German lady who lived in my new home, the Barclay) talked about me. “She won’t settle down,” she would say to Gerda. “She’s an unruhige seele,” Gerda would answer, “a restless soul.” They both preached at me. It was like having a mother and a mother-in-law.

And now when I told her I was going to study Interior Design, she shook her head. Another crazy idea! Wasn’t one job enough? Why did I want to go to night school? Was it safe to go down town in Chicago at night? It was a good thing I lived in Chicago and she in Kansas City, and we only talked once a week. She worried about me every night, she said, and couldn’t wait until I called her every Saturday morning to report that I had made it through the week safely. After that, she wasn’t interested in hearing anything more. I had to talk to my architect Dad, who fortunately was interested as I told him about our construction and design problems at Harrington.

Interior Design

Well, why had I decided to go into Interior Design? In the fall of 1977, while my brother was dying of brain cancer, I felt the horizons of my life closing in. I needed to begin something new and creative, to reassure myself that my life was not over. I was a little bored by teaching, although I liked the research I was doing for the new book on Fanny Hurst. I had always liked decorating and designing and redoing my apartment, hadn't I? Why now focus on that, instead of taking a course here and there as I had been doing in art. Hadn't I had always loved design, drawing, color? Hadn't I worked at Dad’s firm in college, doing drafting and rendering? Perhaps in a different age, might I not have become an architect as my brother had? The mysterious compass of my life seemed now to be pointing toward Harrington Institute of Interior Design downtown in Chicago.

At that time Harrington was located in the Fine Arts Building. I took evening classes, from 6 to 9, three times a week. In the first year, 1977-78, the courses were Color, Drawing and Drafting, the first term, and Interior Design, Drafting, and Rendering Techniques the second. In the drawing class, Rosenberg, the instructor, asked us to draw views of our homes. I was always good at drawing and my home afforded lots of exotic items from my travels. Every direction offered an interesting view, and I arranged my still lifes to include candelabra, crosses, bottles, plants, wall units. Later we had a course in perspective drawing, which I had always been good at. Drafting 111E was taught by Bristow and included things that I already had done in my father’s architectural office when I was in college, like standard architectural lettering and alphabets. In Basic Design 121E, Redman had us doing graphic designs—which I also had quite a bit of previous experience with, as I did with color.

I kept this model of my Japanese House for years before finally destroying it.
For our first interior design project, due in the first part of 1978, I designed a Japanese house. Everyone else did something contemporary, but I was seduced by pictures of Japanese homes, and wanted to imagine what living in one would be like. I studied books on Japanese houses and laid out the house along traditional lines, putting a deck for viewing the moon, scrolls, shoji screens, using traditional materials--bamboo, tatami mats on the floors, even landscaping along Japanese lines, so that all paths angled, and there was a deck around the outside, and every room opened to the outdoors. The surrounding landscape was part of the house, so I indicated where the paths would lead, where the water would be. To me it seemed an ideal solution. With its overhanging roof my model looked marvelous. The instructor was somewhat taken aback, but didn’t let on.

My favorite courses were those about architectural drafting and detailing and construction. For 213E (Jeffery) I still have the plans showing Door Details and Schedules (10/25/78), Reflected Ceiling Plan (2/10/78), Suspended Ceiling Plan with Lighting Details (10/10/78), Jointery used in Carpentry (11/15/78), Cabinetry and hardware schedule (11/15/78). Jeffery’s comment on one was “very good drawing style and sheet composition,” and “Your linework has a lively quality in spit of the fact that you don’t have high contrast in line weights.” I was reminded of my dad always telling me to “bear down.” For 214E, Detailing and Construction, (Berger), I did a Curtain Wall on a concrete building, and steel frame construction (Sill and Head Details). For this class, I also did a set of plans of the Pappagorgia Health Club, showing a Construction Plan and Plumbing Fixtures, a Reflected Ceiling Plan with Electrical Fixtures, a Telephone and Electric Plan, and Elevations showing Plumbing Fixtures and Accessories. In 315E (Howard Kagan AIA) I did some of my best projects: a Winder Stair for Susan Einhorn’s home (due 12/6/79), a Brick See-through Fireplace, Proposed New Cabinetry for my own home, and a complete set of plants for a New Kitchen for Melissa Tatman, including 10 sheets, beside the title and index, there was the demolition plan, construction plan, elevations, sections and details, reflected ceiling plan, plumbing and telephone and electric plan, furniture plan and master schedule and legend—this last occupied me from October 1979 to February 1980. It was a sort of final in Detailing and Delineation. The professor wrote “Excellent drawing,” and “Enjoyed looking at your work.” My dad was very proud when I told him, since Kagan was an architect.

Among the other students, Susan Einhorn, who lived in Hyde Park, and I became friends and drove to class together and worked on the design for her winder stair together.

Among our many Interior Design projects, an early one was to design and make a model of the SLR Gallery (June, 1978). I have no plans for this, only a picture of the model, and don’t have any memory of it at all. It looks interesting and shows that I was learning to be contemporary. Perhaps it was a group project for which I only made the model, as I photographed it on my living room carpet.

The distinction was made very early between the open plan (without walls) and the closed plan (with walls). I preferred the open plan. In 233E, the instructor Habegger assigned several good projects. One was an office at Sears’ Tower. I loved brick, especially Italian brickwork, and the work of Louis Kahn. So I made my space be the Circle Brick District Office. I used brick on the curved walls—showing how the space with an open plan and a closed plan. The client would get to choose between the two proposals. For this I included beside the floor plan, an interior perspective, a reflected lighting plan, brickwork details, door details, an illustrated floor plan, and a materials board. We were learning what to present to a client.

The other project for Interior Design 233E was the Nine-Square Residence I designed for 233E, showing an isometric and floor plan of the house. I was thinking of my Japanese House and wanted the space to be as open as possible. I broke out the corners with squares and had the entry hall and the solarium as atriums, walls only around the core and used wall units as room dividers . I used the same colors as were in my home—with reds and magentas, and blues, based on oriental rugs.

One of our Interior Design teachers, Romy Wyllie, was from Hyde Park too, and Susan and I got to know her a bit. I looked up to her as a model of what the professional designer should be. She had her own firm, Intekton, which had recently renovated/restored Hampton House on 53 rd St. in Hyde Park. She assigned us a project to design a unit there for an imaginary client, using an actual empty unit, which Susan and I duly measured. I wanted to design a Spanish interior—I was still influenced by my travels to Spain, so I invented Senor Juan-Bautista Leon de Cadiz for my client. Naturally, he would want a Spanish style home, and would bring many of his antiques. Romy’s comment that my contemporary furniture didn’t go well with my traditional Spanish furniture was valid.

In another design course, possibly also with Romy, we were given a hotel suite to do a conventional room (beds separated) and an unconventional room(the beds were together). I liked the conventional style better, although now it seems that most hotel rooms put the beds together.

We were also assigned in that course to design the space for a store, Prototypes, at Northbrook Court. I checked out the stores in Northbrook and decided that my space would have a circular staircase connecting the ground floor and the upper floor. This project required, in addition to the Floor plans, isometric views of both floors, reflected ceiling plans, and section perspective.

Other courses we took eventually included a World History of Architecture, World History of Furniture, Lighting Design, Architectural Standards, and Business Practices. I remember the instructor asking us what we expected to be earning in ten years, by 1990. I knew what I could be making by then as a college professor, so I piped up and said “Forty thousand.” It sounded like a lot to everyone there, but in fact, I was probably earning more.

In Interior Design 335E, one of our last projects was a restaurant. I wanted to design a restaurant in Moorish décor. Alcatraz is a Spanish name meaning penguins, but it sounded Arabic to me, and there are great views of San Francisco from it. So I set my restaurant on Alcatraz, and incorporated a rendering of a Moorish scene into the presentation: Dining at the Alhambra, 1380, with the Dining over Alcatraz, 1980. I thought it turned out quite charming, but I recall the professor being somewhat aghast that I had real photos of San Francisco by night visible through the windows of my imaginary restaurant on Alcatraz.

As I look back on my designs now, two things are apparent. The ones I like and remember best were those with foreign and oriental settings--Japanese, Spanish, Moorish, reflecting my travel bent. The other was that underlying whatever design project I did (except the SLR Gallery) was the research that I enjoyed for its own sake. In fact, I enjoyed the entire three-year course for its own sake, and didn't practice much, especially when I saw that clients often really wanted a shopping partner with a retail tax number who could get them into the Merchandise Mart.

In June 1980, I was finished with the program. I was an interior designer. I was very pleased and decided that I should treat myself to something very special as a reward.

I would go to England!

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