Touch Greatness University

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As an innocent ploy to get a tour of a spectacular 80 room mansion in Salisbury, Ct., called “The Chateau” (above), because its design was based on a Belgian estate, Seymour Chwast and I told the realtor we were starting, with Louise Fili and Paula Scher, a design academy called TGU (Touch Greatness University). This was over twenty years ago when the housing market in Northwest Connecticut was flat, so the selling price was a mere $800,000 and the realtor was happy to show it to any Tom, Dick or Seymour who had the slightest interest.

The Chateau was outrageously beautiful, with an entryway of imported black and white checkerboard marble and incredible woods and moldings everywhere. The bedroom level, with eight full-size suites, was equally impressive, like out of an MGM costume drama. And the top floor was filled with dozens of small cells for all the servants required to maintain the house and grounds.

Nestled into the foothills of the Berkshires in the verdant Twin Lakes section of Salisbury, the Chateau was the ideal spot for an institution of higher design learning. But we were not serious, or were we? After an hour-long tour of the house and grounds, we told the realtor, we would think about it, adding that we thought “$800K, ahem, is a bit steep.”

A week passed. We had forgotten about our fib, when the realtor called Seymour to say the price had been reduced to $700K. Hmmmm, a tempting offer to be sure. So we reconvened to discuss the real possibility of actually starting TGU, as a design and illustration Summer school. Others with less experience in the education business had been launching workshops back then, why not us? So we crunched the numbers. We even went so far as to tell others about our fantasy. My friend James Victore had TGU baseball caps made with each of our names embroidered on the backs. With those in hand (and on head) we had to do it!!!

We developed curricula. My class was called “Genius Can Be Taught,” the premise being that one needn’t be born with the gene (right Einstein?). The others focused on their respective specialties. We would schedule classes in the morning and lectures at night. We created a guest faculty list – people we’d like to spend a week with. We built in enough time for swimming in the lake and other water sports, as well as hiking, camping and survival skills. Oh yes, there was a class on “Cooking for the Faculty.”

So, we crunched more numbers . . .

Funny, how crunched and recrunched numbers can turn dreams into nightmares. We had naively thought we would only need twenty hand-picked students. Based on the real number, 250 at $5K would be necessary to cover most expenses.

So, when the persistent realtor called after another week’s silence, Seymour told him “the swimming pool is too small.” Now, that was design thinking!

Indeed for such a large house, it was much too small.

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” said the realtor, “maybe we could get the owner to knock a few thousand more off the price?”

“Nevermind,” I replied. “We don’t know how we could make this work with the pool, and we couldn’t dig a new one. It simply was not feasible. And we must have a pool.”

Resigned, the crestfallen realtor thanked us and wished us luck with our venture.

Relieved, we forgot the entire scheme until . . . A week later, he called Seymour to say . . .

“I have a 200 acre farm to show you. It can easily be zoned for academic use,” he said. “And I know you’ll be pleased with the size of the pool . . .”