My first career as an interior designer was stumbled upon, the path of least resistance. The aptitude tests one takes in high school seemed to point that direction, and I was content to be led. It was a good job for a few years, but when it came time to dive deeper and turn that job into a career I did some soul searching and turned to textiles instead. I had many positive influences along the way, starting with my mother, as I wrote about here, but when it came to defining what I actually wanted to do, where I wanted to be, the goal of the additional education I was about to undertake, I recall putting it very simply to friends: “I want Merle Lindby-Young’s job.”
In the early 1980’s Merle was design director at Knoll Textiles. As an interior designer this fact was on my radar 1) because I really liked fabric and was paying attention to such things, and 2) the local Knoll Textiles rep, Kristie Strasen, was a good friend. I heard many details about what Merle did for Knoll from Kristie, who, by the way, would later create Place Textiles . As I envisioned Merle’s job through rose colored lenses, in those days it seemed like the pinnacle of textile design professions. She was working with a storied company, founded by an icon of the industry, Florence Knoll. Merle collaborated with fashion designer Jhane Barnes to help bring her ground-breaking collections to market, and all day long ‘played’ with color and texture, meeting with mills and designers in the ultimate creative endeavor. Who wouldn’t aspire to that job?
I never achieved Merle’s heights at Knoll, although I followed her there eventually and did many of those same things I had dreamt of doing. Merle had moved on by then, working for other high-end fabric and furniture companies as a consultant. I wouldn’t get to know my idol until years later when she moved to Texas and I became a mill representative. She was working with Stratford Hall then and finally I had the chance through business and later friendship to hear the stories first hand, and get to know the talent and abilities of this remarkable woman over leisurely lunches and rambling conversations. I was impressed by how calm and deliberate she was. A magazine ad from the 1990’s shows Merle thoughtfully looking over the Stratford Hall line, the grace and elegance of this wonderfully creative woman captured eloquently.
We worked together a few more times after the Stratford Hall days, but had fallen out of touch when she moved back East with her husband Don. It was a surreal shock to learn that she had passed away this summer after a short illness that almost no one knew about. Did I ever thank her for the inspiration, for being that beacon pulling me toward a career that would come to fill and fulfill my life, for showing me how to be firm and fair, demanding and understanding, professional and accessible? I hope so, but if not, thank you Merle. You were my hero and one of a kind. We miss you very much. All who knew you feel your absence in our lives.