Cranbrook Archives was saddened at the passing of design icon Ruth Adler Schnee last month. As proud custodians of the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers we know that her legacy lives on in the many documents, photographs, drawings, and textile samples available to researchers. With a long and varied career in textile design and interior design, there are a plethora of materials to inform and admire, adding nuance and context to her catalog of accomplishments seen in current textile production, museum collections worldwide, and public, commercial, and residential buildings throughout the Detroit area.
Her personal and professional story is inspiring in so many ways, not the least of which were the interior design projects completed for Schnee & Schnee Consultants, a company that Ruth owned with her husband Edward Schnee from 1977-1985. She designed, and he ran the business, much like their other design consulting partnerships, the earlier Adler-Schnee Associates, and the later Schnee and Schnee Inc.
One of their major commissions, and particularly well-documented in their papers, was the Jewish Community Center’s Edward and Freda Fleischman Residence/Blumberg Plaza in West Bloomfield, a three-year project spanning 1982-1985. One does not automatically think of innovative design when considering assisted living facilities, so it is particularly a delight to view Ruth’s colorful palette at work in her project sketches and product choices, both of which evoke her affinity for vibrant textiles.
The Schnees’ thoughtful work in addressing the needs of the residents is evident in the detailed project records and numerous oversized room design presentation boards. In comments about the project Ruth stated, “every design decision became an important element in providing a warm and protective environment.” The residence quickly became a model for similar projects across the country as the modern idea of assisted living facilities, versus the institutional nursing home model, grew in popularity.
Immediately following their success with the Fleischman Residence, Schnee & Schnee consulted on a similar project just north of Cranbrook Educational Community, St. Elizabeth Briarbank. Collaborating with the architectural firm John Stevens Associates Inc. (Ruth was their Director of Interior Design from 1977-1979), Ruth designed the interiors for an addition to the Catholic assisted living community for women, drawing on her research and application at the Fleischman Residence. From the red and orange beauty parlor, featuring the same John Yellen chairs, to the softer wall murals in common rooms, to the light-hearted wallpaper in the communal kitchen, Ruth’s touch is irrefutable.
The Fleischman and Briarbank projects are just two of the eight senior residential complexes (four with architect John Stevens) that Ruth “transformed” with her sensitivity and playfulness, demonstrating yet another intriguing facet of Ruth Adler Schnee’s career.
—Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research
Editor’s Note: Find out more about Ruth’s early design pursuits and her retail business venture with husband Eddie in previous Cranbrook Kitchen Sink posts. Browse additional images from the Edward and Ruth Adler Schnee Papers here.