The New School Archives Digital Collections

Melvin Dwork



Melvin Dwork was born in Kansas City, Missouri on February 9, 1922. After graduating from Southeast High School in 1939, he attended the Kansas City Art Institute for two years before moving to New York City, where he enrolled in Interior Architecture and Decoration classes at Parsons School of Design. Dwork served in the U.S. Navy's Hospital Corps beginning in 1943, but he was labeled "undesirable" and dishonorably discharged in 1944 after it was discovered he was involved in a homosexual relationship. Dwork returned to Parsons with the assistance of the school's president, Van Day Truex, and commenced a personal campaign to have his veteran's status changed. In a landmark 2011 decision, the Board for Corrections of Naval Records formally altered his status to "honorable."

In 1946, Dwork was hired as an assistant for designer James Pendleton, his first interior design position in New York. Three years later, he obtained a job as a decorator for Edward Garratt, Inc., a position he held for six months before starting his own business, Melvin Dwork Interiors, in 1950, sharing office space with friend and Parsons alumnus Sheridan Kettering. His first commission as head of his own company was completed in 1951 -- a penthouse apartment in the Hotel Lexington belonging to a former Parsons classmate, Gorda Klein, and her husband, Harold. In 1953, the Herbert Charles Company invited Dwork to design a model apartment for a co-operative across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 1025 Fifth Avenue. His designs for the apartment garnered him national visibility, as well as several new clients.  

In 1956, Dwork closed his business and started working with Irving M. Altman. Later that same year, Altman and Dwork initiated a partnership that included an antiques store and interior design firm located on East 57th Street. This partnership lasted for three years before Dwork joined Yale R. Burge Associates (later Burge-Donghia, Inc.) in 1960. He remained there until 1970, when he re-launched his own business. Frpm 1979 until 1982, Dwork partnered with James Maguire, a Parsons graduate, to form Dwork-Maguire. In 1993, Dwork was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame. Corporate clients included Aetna Life Insurance and Shearson Lehman Hutton. Dwork designed interiors for numerous executives and artistic figures. By 2011, he was semi-retired.

While managing his design business, Dwork also served on the Advisory Committee at Parsons School of Design from 1992 to 1995. In 1997, he established the John Butler Foundation to promote the work of his former partner, a choreographer, who died in 1993.

Melvin Dwork died on June 14, 2016 in New York City.

Related collections

Melvin Dwork papers
Parsons School of Design oral history program

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