Our collaboration with Barbara Littman—a true design diva—and our team produced some of our best work.
Recently, Barbara Littman passed away, but her enduring passion for design and how she integrated design—including fashion, interiors and architecture—into her daily life remains an inspiration.
I met Barbara after she decided to formally pursue architecture. She already had a degree in interior design, yet yearned for more. She had the tenacity and brilliance to pursue an architectural degree at that point in her life (dare I say 50 years old). Upon her graduation, I had a chance to really get to know her; I invited her to assist me while teaching an overseas program in Venice. Barb put forth a riveting presentation on Carlo Scarpa’s Olivetti showroom located in St. Mark’s Square, an architect that she had admired. The students were jazzed!
She later approached me, during the height of the financial meltdown, to work with her on an apartment—a penthouse that she and her husband, Lenny, bought in New York City. At that point, she was a grandmother and felt she earned the right to design a ‘dream space’ in the sky and chase her muse. She wanted to surround herself with everything that she collected and loved about design. She had furniture by Ron Arad, Ettore Sottsass, and Michele De Lucchi, and artwork by our favorite artist, Louise Nevelson.
We began to collaborate on the interior design; her only requirement was to make it reductive and modern. We came up with a spatial design that celebrated the reason they purchased this particular apartment: the bright light and city views. I suggested a fashion runway that took you from the front door, up a stairway, bringing you to the rooftop sculpture garden. It was a simple axial procession of entry-path-goal.
Barbara’s personal design aesthetic is restricted to black and white, with an occasional shade of gray. This prescriptive pallette encompassed everything she pursued: Fashion + ID + Architecture.
I encouraged her to bring a little color into her life! So we chose an accent wall that divided the private from public space; the circulation armature that led you to the upstairs rooftop garden. I suggested an acid yellow. “Are you insane?” was her reply. After she left the site that evening, I had the painter hit it with a brilliant Van Gogh yellow. The next morning I got a phone call: “You jerk, I love it!” Later in her New York Times interview, she described the color as a really unexpected pleasure, introducing a strong statement that was both powerful and yet calming.
For her, it was a “lifestyle by design.” She remains an inspiration to her students, colleagues, and collaborators, and continues to inspire all of us to chase our muse!