By Gillian Wong
I had a wonderful night last Thursday at a talk series event, entitled “Stories from a Classic,” to celebrate Hilda Longinotti’s 35 years at New York-based Herman Miller. It wasn’t the venue, nor the hors d’oeurvres that made it special, but the hostess.
Perhaps it was because she was in New York, her “hood.” Maybe it was simply the fact that those seated in front of her were her friends and her family, those she had known for years.
In all probability, it was just because she was Hilda Longinotti.
Richard Munsey, Herman Miller’s A+D East Area Sales Director, started off the evening, by describing her as a water-carrier. Tribes, he explained, placed water-carriers at the top of the chain, for they were the ones that helped the generations survive. It was a dignified way of summarizing Hilda’s role in the company, but the pace of the evening quickly took off from there.
The affectionate teasing between Richard and Hilda kept the audience on their toes, while Hilda peppered her dialog with comments about some of the guests present in the room. The fondness and familiarity with which many of her colleagues addressed her from the audience, made it apparent that Hilda is well-loved, and Hilda returned the favor by speaking of her company with definitive fondness. Herman Miller, she said, was “a love story that has endured for 35 years.”
Frequent jokes about “senior moments,” and the comedic banter about what was and wasn’t in the script, only served to make the evening even more memorable and amusing. Revealing all the behind-the-scenes stories and comical moments throughout her lifetime, Hilda drew the room in. Dynamic and magnetic as ever, she told stories of furniture-rescues at the freight elevators, even describing an event between George Nelson and Andy Warhol, before the latter became famous.
Successive photos of Hilda and her many friends and colleagues, merely exemplified the life of a person who continues to challenge the design world. The pretzel chair, the sling sofa, the coconut chair, the marshmallow sofa, the bubble lamp—the evolution of interior design played right before our eyes.
Both Hilda and the audience were reluctant to end the evening, but all great things must be ended to begin new ones, and this one was no exception. Gracefully looking around at the audience, Hilda smiled gently, making a reference to Casablanca: “I will always have Joe. I will always have George. I will always have Herman Miller, and I will always have all of you.”
The design world, it can be said, will forever and always have Hilda Longinotti.
For an interview with Hilda Longinotti, click here.