A fine aesthetic sensibility, discerning eye for quality and concern for comfort in the complete lifestyles that he created made Angelo Donghia one of America’s most influential interior designers. His style, characterized by simplicity of line, purity of materials, boldness of form and sensual textures and shapes, was sought after by many. However, what truly set Angelo Donghia apart from his contemporaries was his inclination toward business and an entrepreneurial spirit that, when combined with his innate sense of design, drove the creation of several successful product lines and numerous licensing ventures.
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.” By 1968 Mr. Donghia was already expanding with the establishment of &Vice Versa, a to-the-trade collection and showroom of fabrics and wallcoverings (later to become Donghia Textiles) originally inspired by the designs of friend Seymour Avigdor. This trend-setting company was quickly recognized as one of the most imaginative, energetic and contemporary textile and wallcovering collections in the market.
Mr. Donghia was also one of the first in his field to realize the importance of extending his point of view to mass-market products. Licensing his name and designs played a major role in Angelo Donghia’s success and, concurrently with his interior design work, he began designing a number of products including an award-winning sheet and towel collection for J.P. Stevens, an affordable furniture collection for Kroehler, and coordinated dinner and barware for Toscany Imports Ltd.
By 1972, with the passing of Yale Burge, Burge-Donghia was renamed Donghia Associates and served the areas of residential, contract and hospitality interior design. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s Mr. Donghia’s client list grew to include major corporations, cultural institutions, mass manufacturers, as well as a number of celebrities. Projects included the S.S Norway, the Omni International Hotels in Miami and Atlanta, and the St. Andrews Country Club in Florida while Ralph Lauren, Halston, Donald Trump, Barbara Walters, Mary Tyler Moore, Liza Minelli, Neil Simon, Grace Mirabella and Diana Ross were amongst his celebrity clientele. Angelo Donghia became so renowned throughout the country for his look that the Detroit News called him “the Saint Laurent of sofas” while Angelo Donghia himself noted, “The liberation we’ve achieved through clothing has happened to furniture.” Through his projects and friendships with such fashion icons as Halston and Ralph Lauren his reach extended beyond interior design; he was a fixture on the elite New York social scene, named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame and featured in countless publications from the New York Times to Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
His business continued to expand and in 1976 he opened the first of a series of Donghia Showrooms in Los Angeles. Well known for his lavish entertaining, the opening reception included such names as Edith Head, Joel Schumacher, Diane Von Furstenburg and Norma Kamali. Soon after, in 1978, he founded Donghia Furniture, a collection of made-to-order upholstered furniture sold exclusively to the trade. Mr. Donghia described his furniture design saying, “It’s not traditional but it has a sense of traditional forefathers. It looks as if it came from something romantic.”
Donghia’s design philosophy, a less is more approach, extended to all his projects. Inspired by Jean- Michel Frank, Angelo Donghia noted in a 1977 New York magazine piece, “I feel that I’ve developed my own style that is as classic and minimal as the thirties style it reflects.” Furthermore, he understood what people like and enjoy living with and had an uncanny ability to turn that knowledge into comfortable, elegant designs. “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.” His trademarks included the use of silver gray, often through gray flannel, an attention to ceilings and “fat” furniture. His design philosophy also translated into his homes, as indicated in the design of his sophisticated East Side Manhattan townhouse, relaxed late-Victorian Key West home, and traditional Lake Hill, CT farm. Consistent throughout every detail of every project in his career, Angelo Donghia demanded perfection.
The culmination of his diverse ventures, from interior design to furniture design and licensing, elevated the status of the Donghia name in the world of home furnishings. All the while Angelo Donghia remained disciplined and grounded, rising daily at 6am for a four mile run and referring to himself not only as a designer but a decorator. At the time of his passing in 1985, the New York based Donghia Companies included five branches: Donghia Associates, Donghia Furniture, Donghia Textiles, Donghia Showrooms and Donghia Licensing. “The traditional designer does very few of the things I do,” said Angelo Donghia. And, indeed, Donghia was much more than an interior designer.
Angelo Donghia was the recipient of many awards during his lifetime including: the Tommy Award for Fabric Design, the Annual Euster Merchandise Mart Award for Outstanding Leadership in the Home Furnishings Industry, an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Fine Arts by The New School of Social Research and Parsons School of Design, the Marshall Field’s “Distinction and Design” Award. He was also, posthumously, inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.
To this day Donghia, Inc. maintains the exceptional design philosophy of its founder. Angelo Donghia’s vision lives on through the company and also through the Angelo Donghia Foundation, which provides scholarships each year to promising interior design students in the United States. The Foundation has made such donations as the Angelo Donghia Materials Library and Study Center at the Parsons School of Design and the Angelo Donghia Studio for Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design as well as smaller donations to AIDS organizations for research and treatment.