Furniture and textile designer, Nancy Corzine is tiny, elegant and very, very determined. Over the years she has single-handedly built a substantial business as well as raising three children. After nursing her mother through Alzheimer’s disease, she decided to spend a good deal of her time to being the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the development of drugs to prevent and treat the disease, of which she is the President. She’s quite a raconteur but when it comes to an inner voice, she is one of those rare people who has truly learned that listening to what your instincts tell you is probably one of the best ways there is to achieving any kind of fulfillment.
We really would like to know something about your background and how it led you into your furniture business, which has been a phenomenal success.
Well my background is that I was born in Seattle, Washington and it’s kind of a long ways away from Manhattan, and, er … as a little girl, my father built this beautiful doll house and I just loved to re-do my doll house. My other pastime (because it’s very rainy in Seattle–you have a lot of days when you don’t go outside and play), so I played paper dolls like every little girl, and I used to design their clothes. My mother supplied me with these big tablets and I always carried them around with me. I was drawing houses, I was drawing clothes. There were no Barbie dolls then. And I can remember that I got 25 cents a week allowance. And I would save my money … I have always been very good with money. My sister would spend hers, so she had nothing, but I always had money.
It sounds a world away … no Barbie dolls.
[Laughs] Yeah, right!
‘Jessika’ by Finnish artist, Anne-Karin Furunes hangs in the foyer of Nancy’s contemporary apartment.
Two views of the dining room. The table and chairs are from Nancy Corzine. Hanging on the wall behind a 1950’s Murano glass chandelier is an untitled work by Antonio Murado.
‘Untitled’ by Uta Barth (2002) hangs above the sideboard.
What does it take to be good with money?
You know I think it’s an instinct. My mother was very good with money. I think it’s just something …you realize the value of it, you realize the power of it and you realize that without it you’re impotent in so many ways. Money isn’t so hard to come by, but it’s very hard to keep.
Do you think women still have insufficient confidence when it comes to handling money?
Well, I think that’s probably true. From my own childhood it’s not true because my mother was good with money, my father was not.
Above: Antonio Murado’s untitled oil on canvas brings a sense of nature into Nancy’s contemporary living room.
Right: Looking out at the spectacular views of the Central Park and Fifth Avenue from corner of the living room. The acrylic rounds table was inspired from a 40’s design 25
Below: An expansive view of the living room.
Nancy loves to curl up and dream in this velvet covered window seat perched high above Fifth Avenue.
A pulsating light sculpture by Leo Villareal never repeats the same pattern.
Books on design and entertaining are stacked conveniently by the living room sofa.
Right: Another view of the living room.
Below: Reflections of the living room from a wall lined with mirrors.
When you yourself want to make an investment, what are the factors that coalesce to convince you that it’s worthwhile?
You know I have run my whole life on instinct. I run my business on instinct.
As recessions have come and gone, I’ve always had an instinct of what to do. When I faced the first recession it was in the late 80s (I started this business in ’83) and we were really just getting started with the textiles and it was a fairly healthy recession. Everybody else was cutting down their inventories and something told me: build up your inventories, expand that part of the business and rather than be the twentieth person they call for fabric, you’ll move up on the charts, which we did. Our fabric business and our volume really exploded during the worst business times.
How does it change your dynamics with men, having made your own money through your own business?
Well, [laughs] that’s kind of a funny thing. You would think it would make you more appealing … I don’t think it necessarily does. Oftentimes on a first or a second date I’ve been told ‘Why don’t you sell your business? You need to sell your business.’ No woman has ever told me to sell my business.
Above: Nancy’s ‘Valmont’ lounge and ottoman with a sterling silver finish adds a bit of glitz to the master bedroom corner.
Right: Vic Muniz’s bleach-print of Grace Kelly, drawn in diamond chips is perfectly at home the glamorous master bedroom.
The master bedroom is pure glamour. A four-poster Prism bed was inspired by the Chrysler building.
More family photos.
More reflections of the master bedroom from a mirrored screen from Nancy’s furniture line.
Atop a bedside table, more family photos.
A framed invite from a dinner in honor of Nancy and Mark.
Reflections of Nancy’s dressing table.
You employ more than 300 people. Do you ever lie awake at night worrying about them all depending on you?
No, I never lie awake because I run my business …er … not on the edge. I don’t borrow money, we’re self-financed.
What is the turnover, the throughput, er … [she has started to bristle at theinterpretation of an inappropriate question about her private business affairs], … um, it’s usually public information …the volume of the business?
Oh, oh …we’re not a large business. We’re in the thirty million region. But starting from zero, you know …
Above: A print by Calder hangs above a headboard from Nancy’s furniture line in the guest bedroom.
Right: Nancy’s ‘Brentwood’ bookcase is filled with sets of antiquarian books.
A Miro print adds an element of color to the neutral tones of the guest bedroom.
Just now when you thought I was asking an inappropriate question, you seemed very scary for a few moments. Can you be scary?
[Really laughs] … Well, you know. This has been an incredible experience, doing this business. I’ve negotiated with brilliant, intelligent people, major major hotel chains, I’ve negotiated with illiterate people …it’s been an incredible education. I made a decision last year … I’ve been knocked off so much …this chair … that has been knocked off all over the world. What was happening is they were having it made in a Quonset hut in the valley in Los Angeles by Cambodians. One of their employees told me where it was. I went out there in my Range Rover with my cowboy boots and my jeans …
And you’ve got a gun …
Actually I did have my .38 with me. I went alone and they had two guard dogs and I made friends with the dogs because I’m very good with animals, jumped over the fence, went into the Quonset hut, like an adventure movie, and there they were making my furniture with my catalogs open all over the place. The woman sees me and she sees the gun tucked into my jeans here, and she’s screaming in her native tongue and her husband comes and says ‘Get out’ because I’ve got my camera and I’m taking pictures. He says ‘I’m going to call the police’, and I said ‘I think that’s a very good idea. Let’s call the police.’
Where did you learn to shoot a .38?
Oh, I was held up. And they tried to kill me, in Los Angeles, probably 12 or 15 years ago. It was in front of my factory that was on Washington Boulevard. I had a premonition. It was five o’clock. I closed my factory a little early. I had to go back to the office and I went out to get something to eat, and I’m sitting in the coffee shop and I said to the woman, ‘You know I have the funniest premonition. I saw myself being held up at gunpoint.’ And she said ‘Where?’ And I said ‘In front of my factory.’ She said, You’d better not go back there’ but I thought it was just a fantasy. So I took a cup of coffee to go and I went back to my factory and I saw somebody coming up and he pulled open his ski jacket and he had a gun stuck here. I thought shall I try to get away or shall I confront him and I walked towards him. I had no feeling of adrenalin, no feeling of fear, it was the strangest thing. He stuck the gun [into her ribcage ] very hard. He was terribly nervous. It was a Saturday Night Special and it was in poor repair, thank God. He tried to pull the trigger but the trigger was jammed. He doesn’t ask for my purse, he doesn’t ask for the car, he just wants to kill me. I said ‘That’s a very fast car. The freeway is a block from here and I want you take the keys.’ I spoke to him like he was a child. He tried once more to pull the trigger before he took the key … [after that] I did carry a gun for almost two years. I went to Beverley Hills Gun Club and I learned how to shoot it.
Nancy is surrounded by art in her home office. A large photograph of a horse by Charlotte Dumas hangs on the right wall. ‘Jacob’ chairs and a custom table are from Nancy’s furniture line.
Photographer, Jeffrey’s Reese’s ‘Skirt” (1991) pops off the back wall of Nancy’s home office.
The powder room is all curves and mirrors.
A reflection of the powder room from an antique Venetian mirror.
A front hall closet was turned into an entertaining bar by the previous owner.
A pair of antique Murano glass sconces are hung vertically to give the appearance of a waterfall.
You’ve spoken often in this interview about instinct and premonition, do you feel you have a kind of sixth sense?
Oh I know I do. And I don’t like to say that because it makes me sound crazy. All we have to do is listen.
But we don’t.
That’s the problem. And the only real problems I’ve ever had have been when I haven’t.
• bySian Ballen and Lesley Hauge • photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch