David Kleinberg compares the experience of growing up in Great Neck, Long Island, to an episode of Leave It to Beaver, complete with a tight-knit community in an idyllic suburban setting. Though Kleinberg began developing an interest in interior architecture as a young man, it wasn’t until a friend’s parents politely offered to introduce him to their decorators that he gained entrance to the world of design beyond his own small town.
As fate would have it, he met legendary designers Robert Denning and Vincent Fourcade one day in a neighbor’s living room—a chance connection that would launch the budding designer out of the suburbs and into the bustling, glamorous New York design world.
“I did find it alluring because they had fascinating clients—from the first Mrs. de la Renta to Lillian Phipps to Kenneth Jay Lane,” Kleinberg tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “So I was dealing with all these people, but it also made me want to jump into it because it was all about seeing what wasn’t there yet, and I thought that was pretty cool.”
His journey began as a part-time office assistant with Denning and Fourcade, which proved to be an expert introduction to the industry, as well as a trial by fire working under the duo’s sky-high expectations and demanding work styles. Soon, Kleinberg would move on to his second design gig for interior decorator Mara Palmer—whom he describes as stylish and charismatic, with an ability to speak at least eight languages and an affinity for champagne (she removed the bubbles with a swizzle stick stored in her pocketbook).
Still, Kleinberg had his sights set on another design pair—the highly esteemed partners Albert Hadley and Sister Parish, who outfitted the lavish homes of high-end clientele through their eponymous New York firm.
“I knew the work of the firm, and I just thought, That’s the most beautiful work, the most elevated—that’s where I want to learn from,” says Kleinberg. “If you were going to shoot for the stars, they were the stars.”
In the years to follow, Kleinberg gained hands-on education under the duo’s tutelage, picking up on each designer’s methods along the way. While Hadley planned his work thoroughly, with detailed instructions, Parish was the opposite, making design choices based mainly on sheer instinct.
“She had a great eye for color and pattern—she could sort through a stack of chintz like a banker counting bills,” he says. “I straddled the line between the two of them, which was unbelievably lucky to have real insight into both of their methods.”
Kleinberg spent 16 formative years with Parish & Hadley before deciding it was time to embark on a new venture. In 1997, he set to work building a design institution of his own, his eponymous New York–based design and architecture firm. In this episode, he shares with Scully his experiences working for some of the industry’s most lauded figures, how those positions prepared him to start his own business, and how changing client behavior has prompted him to update his systems over the years.