Franco Scalamandre and Louis Nichole - Home Furnishings License Pioneers

Franco Scalamandre, a co-founder of Scalamandre Inc., one of the nation's most prestigious manufacturers and distributors of decorative textiles, trimmings, carpeting and wall coverings, was born in Naples, Italy in 1898. He came to this country in 1924 armed with an engineering degree and with a remarkable heritage --a century-old family tradition of weaving and designing. In 1929, Franco married Flora Baranzelli, an artist and designer, with whom he founded Scalamandre Silks.

By 1930, he became involved in the research and reproduction of historical fabrics from museum collections and old documents. His factory in Astoria, Queens became the foremost producer of silk and silk- derivative cloth that employed dozens of people, mostly Italian immigrants, and soon became renown for producing exquisites drapes and fine silk that graced finer homes, museums and the White House. During World War II, the firm used its expertise to produce fine silk that was critical to parachute and camouflage manufacturing.

Over the years Scalamandre textiles have been used in more than a thousand historical restorations including the White House and William Randolph Hearst's castle in San Simeon, California. They also graced the interiors of the Metropolitan Opera House and virtually every major hotel and restaurant in New York City and around the country. From 1936 to the late 1960's, the Scalamandre Museum of Textiles, based in the company's New York showroom, presented traveling exhibits on historical documents and textiles that reached museums and schools across the country. The Scalamandres were recipients of many awards such as the Colonial Dames Award for Americanism, the Gordon Gray Award for Achievement in Preservation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Society of Interior Designers Thomas Jefferson Award.

In 1987 Adriana Scalamandre Bitter, the Scalamandres’ daughter, became president of the company. However, in 2004 the firm was sold and moved from Queens to South Carolina.

Known professionally as Louis Nichole, Luigi Nichola Giuseppe DiMuzio of Prospect, Connecticut, began his lucrative business in the most unlikely of places – a nearby cemetery that as a six-year-old boy old he visited to pay respects and sing “Torna a Sorrento” at his grandfather’s grave. During his frequent visits he realized that there were enormous possibilities in restoring and revitalizing the fresh flowers thrown away and piled high in a mound after funerals. As he described it, "I put them into bouquets, and I went to the front of Calvary Cemetery, and the first day I made $6." By the time of his graduation from grammar school in 1964, he had earned $10,000, and by the end of high school $25,000.

In 1978 Nichole drew on that background to write, "Design Accessories to Make From the Cemetery Dump." After graduating from Southern Connecticut State College and spending a month at St. Thomas Seminary, Nichole opened a decorative accessories shop in Hartford that attracted the attention of Good Housekeeping Magazine. Soon, Good Housekeeping published his work, which caught the attention of First Lady Rosalynn Carter; she hired him to decorate the White House for the holidays. White House guest Queen Elizabeth II so admired Nichole's work that she arranged to buy his furnishings for her house in Windsor, England. Encouraged by these successes, in 1981 Nichole started a company to license his name and trademark Old World lifestyle – a venture that lasted until 2002.

This humble beginning led to Louis Nichole Inc., a company that eventually yielded one billion dollars in annual sales of furniture, sheets, towels, fabrics, table settings, room scents and accessories. The business also entered into a lucrative distribution partnership with Kmart department stores. Nichole has become world-renowned for designing Old World Christmas decorations, porcelain dolls and home decorations, many of which have been exhibited in museums. Nichole is also an accomplished singer/song-writer who has won six Billboard Song Awards for his country, pop and inspirational music.

Throughout his life Louis Nichole has maintained close ties to his extended family, which includes his mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. To accommodate his large clan, Nichole purchased a former Italian American country club in Waterbury that sits on 200 acres and includes a nine-hole golf course. From 1999 to 2006, he designed and then, with the help of his 235 Italian relatives, transformed the site into “Nichole Court and Gardens,” a property that features romantic Italianate gardens. Due to his varied interests and talents, he is regarded as a Renaissance man who created an international brand and won a devoted following without extensive marketing and public relations.

(Abbott, James A. A Frenchman in Camelot: The Decoration of the Kennedy White House by Stéphane Boudin.1995; New York Times, March 4, 1988; Louis Nichole Website; New York Times, November 11, 2004; Louis Nichole)
Photo credits: www.louisnichole.com, http://www.scalamandre.com

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