Judith Elaine Niedermaier, the creative force who for decades elevated the look of windows and interiors at Tiffany & Co., Henri Bendel, Nike and Macy’s, among other high-profile retailers around the country, passed away in her sleep at home on Jan. 31, according to her son, Jeffrey. She was 71 and suffering from lung cancer.
Niedermaier created displays, props, furniture and interiors, and her reach went well beyond the retail arena. She designed a couch for the set of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and also helped produce the famous fiberglass cows for “Cows on Parade,” the 1999 Chicago street exhibit. Her product style tended to be clean and modern, though it could sometimes get classic, as she took on projects as diverse as the Gap and a royal palace in Kuwait.
“Judy was a giant in the visual industry. She was always one step ahead of the curve,” said Ralph Pucci of the Ralph Pucci International showroom.
“Judy was absolutely a change agent,” said Linda Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman’s senior vice president for the fashion office and store presentation. “She really redefined and uplifted an industry.”
Fargo credited Niedermaier as a mentor for many, and instrumental in getting those known as “display people” in the store to be regarded with greater status as visual merchandisers. “She made a visual merchandiser into a respectable and glamorous profession that helped us become an integral part of the store management,” said Fargo. “She had tremendous taste and style. I remember on Morton Street [in Manhattan] she had a big loft filled with furniture, decoratives, art, forms and things visual directors would use for their stores. We would meet with Judy and her team and develop innovative packages for windows, store interiors and architecture.”
When Niedermaier’s husband, Dale, started a display company in 1965, she initially helped with the books. But she soon grew passionate about the business and rose to president in 1974. Under her tutelage the client list grew to include AT&T, McDonald’s, Nike and Toyota, as well as stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue. In 1985, she founded Niedermaier Furniture in Chicago, which also has showrooms in New York and Los Angeles. It’s gained a following including Martha Stewart as well as Winfrey.
Niedermaier worked with many charities fighting against cancer and AIDS, and cultural initiatives. She was most proud of her affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she taught advanced interior architecture and design and served on the board of governors. In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by a daughter, Diana Hayden; a brother, John Samuels, and five grandchildren.