NEW YORK — Naomi Leff, acclaimed interior designer of retail and residential space who shot to prominence after transforming the 1898 Rhinelander mansion on Madison Avenue and 72nd Street into the flagship store for Polo Ralph Lauren, died Sunday from congenital liver disease at Mt. Sinai Hospital here. Her age was not available.
Leff also created signature retail spaces for Giorgio Armani, Holt Renfrew, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, FAO Schwarz, Wilkes-Bashford, Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci and Helena Rubinstein. For about six years, she was a senior designer at Bloomingdale’s.
Her residential interiors include houses and clubs for many notables, among them Ralph Lauren’s Double R/L Ranch, the Beach Club and Beach Club Cottage in Florida for founders Galen and Hilary Weston, DreamWorks corporate headquarters for Steven Spielberg, a yacht renovation for Barry Diller, a private jet for Jerry Bruckheimer and residences for Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Katzenberg, David Geffen and Edward Lampert.
“Naomi was a person who impressed everyone with her passion and her exceptional talent,” said Ralph Lauren. “She was a student of so many styles, but she was always tuned in to my aesthetic. She loved to immerse herself in the details, and I admired her ability to bring my visions to life.”
Stanley Abercrombie, former editor in chief of Interior Design, said, “Naomi designed for stars, but she herself was the brightest star. She was a designer of immense talent, energy and style.”
Leff was born in The Bronx, attended the High School of Music and Art in New York and earned a bachelor of science degree from Cortland State University, a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s of fine arts degree in environmental design from Pratt Institute. After working for J.C. Warnecke and Bloomingdale’s, she established her namesake firm in 1980, and received numerous awards and citations, including getting inducted into Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame, and the Mayor’s Award from John Lindsay for her design of youth centers.
“Being a designer,” Leff once wrote, “means listening to your clients, seeing their vision and then interpreting.”
She is survived by her cousins Elle Engle of Orlando, Fla., and Lewis Oransof of Houston, as well as several nieces and nephews. A memorial service is being planned for early March.