Richard P. FitzGerald, longtime interior designer known as ‘Mr. Fitz,’ dies at 80
A talented interior designer whose expertise was sought by many wealthy clients, Richard FitzGerald was unpretentious enough to simply go by “Mr. Fitz.”
And though he also had worked at design magazines early in his career, he let his work advertise itself in Boston. He preferred to avoid publicity.
“I don’t care for it, and most of my clients would say, ‘No. No. No,’ ” he said in a rare interview, with Louis Postel for Design Times.
“It doesn’t matter, anyway,” Mr. FitzGerald added. “I’ve never felt that I’ve gotten a customer from publicity. Customers come to me because they’ve seen work I’ve done or know of me through somebody. People waste a lot of time romancing editors to get into magazines.”
Mr. FitzGerald, who held editing positions at House Beautiful and Architectural Digest magazines before returning home to run his own interior design business in Greater Boston, died Sept. 14 in his Osterville home. He was 80 and his health had been failing.
“I have designer friends in New York who feel that if they’re not published, they perish,” he said in the Design Times interview, which is posted online. “If they don’t get into a magazine two or three times a year they feel as if they’re out of touch with the world, not in with the big swing.”
Having studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Mr. FitzGerald took a different approach that could sound deceptively simple.
“He always looked for something that was ‘good.’ He would always say, ‘That’s good. That’s good design,’ ” said Lauren P. Della Monica of Boston, an art consultant and friend.
“He was always looking for quality, good proportions, and something that would stand the test of time, no matter how old it was,” she added.
It was at the Museum School that Mr. FitzGerald first realized interior design was his field.
“In the first year you do general painting, anatomy, drawing, perspective — the gamut. I thought I wanted to be a silversmith, and I tried it, but it was too long and boring. I mean, just to sit there for hours going ‘bang, bang, bang,’ ” he told Postel. “Second year, I chose interior design.”
Mr. FitzGerald also chose to avoid limiting himself to a particular kind of design or a specific era of expertise.
“He just loved the good design, but it didn’t matter what vintage. He would mix it,” Della Monica said.
“His own home, where he’s his own editor, is jam-packed with things. They’re all amazing and they’re so much fun,” she added. “There’s so much joy in what he did that it translated into what it looked like. Things he cared about were everywhere. He was truly a collector.”
In the Design Times interview, Mr. FitzGerald said he had “always loved antiques. Since I was 8 years old I’ve been going to secondhand shops. I’ve always collected things.”
He recalled that “at one secondhand shop I used to pay, on time, 50 cents a week. I’d buy something for $3, and for six weeks I couldn’t buy anything else. My mother would say, ‘Why the hell are you bringing that thing into the house?’ I’d fix it up and paint it.”
The fourth of five brothers, Richard P. FitzGerald grew up in the Tower Hill area of Lawrence. His father, Martin M. FitzGerald Sr., had a retail meat grocery business. His mother, the former Elizabeth McAloon, was a homemaker.
“My mother was always painting, scraping, and wallpapering, making curtains,” Mr. FitzGerald told Design Times. “Our house was in constant change. My father used to come home, smell paint, and turn around and walk out, saying, ‘What the hell is she doing now?’ ”
Even as a boy, Mr. FitzGerald had an eye for design, and for which items would work well with each other.
“From a child he was the most creative person,” said his brother, Jerry of Wells, Maine. “He could put things together and make nice things. He loved beautiful things.”
On weekends, Mr. FitzGerald recalled, he would leave home in Lawrence and go into Boston to take “watercolor, drawing, and painting lessons” at places such as the Museum of Fine Arts.
“It was free then, and there were no locks on any doors, so we could go to the attic or down through the basement and see the racks and the restoring rooms,” he told Postel. “I spent my childhood roaming around there, every Saturday and Sunday.”
Mr. FitzGerald graduated from Lawrence High School and, after studying interior design at the Museum School, went to work at Trade Winds, a shop run by nationally known interior designer Benjamin Cook.
“I loved the whole feeling of the place — the furniture and the people — and I stayed there for seven or eight years,” Mr. FitzGerald told Postel.
His work staging photo shoots led to House Beautiful hiring him to be its interior decorating editor. He moved to New York and stayed several years. “I told the stories from an interior’s designer’s standpoint,” he recalled. “What was the designer really trying to say? Was he trying to make his statement in color? Make his statement in fabrics? In scale? Whatever it was, I’d try to tell the story through the architect or designer’s eyes, rather than as an editor who just works with some pictures that the photographer drops on the desk.”
Subsequently, Mr. FitzGerald worked part time at Architectural Digest while also handling interior design projects in Boston. Eventually, the work in Boston drew him back.
With his life partner, David Webster, Mr. FitzGerald divided his time among Boston, Osterville, and Palm Beach, Fla.
A memorial gathering will be announced for Mr. FitzGerald, whose only immediate survivors are his brother, Jerry, and Webster.
Jerry said his brother “was very generous and was a kind person” who “loved his possessions.”
“He could tell you if he bought something when he was 19 years old,” Jerry added. “He could say, ‘I remember I was poor when I bought that lamp, and it was $125.’ ”
Mr. FitzGerald almost always owned a Scottish terrier, and he was a friend to any dog he encountered. “Every dog that ever met him would climb all over him,” Della Monica said. “He always had a cookie in his pocket and was looking for a kiss from the dogs.”
That conviviality extended to his business, where the relationships Mr. FitzGerald built and sustained with clients often were as important as the design work itself, she added.
“He was truly down to earth and warm. Everyone loved him — that’s why they called him ‘Mr. Fitz,’ ” Della Monica said. “He really lived what he did. It wasn’t a job. He died at 80 and was still working. He wouldn’t stop taking projects because he wanted to be part of the process. How can you retire when you’re that creative?”