Michael D. Asner, 64, head of interior design firm and collector of art, antiques

May 23, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Michael D. Asner, founder of Michael Asner Associates Inc., a nationally known interior design firm, died of heart failure Friday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Roland Park resident was 64.

Mr. Asner, who founded the North Calvert Street design firm in 1969, was chief executive officer of the company at the time of his death.

"He always had a happy, enthusiastic attitude and loved what he did," said Karen S. Aumen, the firm's president. "He was a mentor to the staff and let us blossom as designers. He gave us lots of freedom to do what we do."

McKim M. Coale, a Ruxton interior designer, started her career with Mr. Asner years ago.

"He was a true professional with exceptional creative and design talent. He was my mentor," Ms. Coale said.

The Baltimore-based company has provided design services for more than three decades. "In the firm's long history, we have always had a diversity of clients including residential, commercial, health care and educational facilities. However, Michael especially enjoyed doing residential design work for our clients," Ms. Aumen said.

Mr. Asner was born in Baltimore, the son of Norton Asner, a well-known antiques dealer and collector who was a fine-arts consultant to the White House.

He was raised in Forest Park, graduated from Forest Park High School in 1957 and earned a degree from the Maryland Institute of Art in 1961.

From 1961 to 1967, Mr. Asner was design director for Koch Office Supply and then worked for two years at H. Chambers & Co. before launching his business in the basement of his Pikesville home.

His interest in design began as a youngster when a rheumatic heart prevented him from participating in sports, said longtime friend Edward G. Pitts, founder and chairman of David Edward Co. Inc., a Baltimore furniture manufacturer.

"Mike grew up surrounded by beautiful objects of art, and he often spoke of his lifelong love of design. And because of his childhood illness, he became interested in art and collecting," Dr. Pitts said.

"He took great pride in his work. He was born to design, and that characterized Mike. He even designed some furniture for me which earns him royalties," he said.

Mr. Asner combined his eye for design with an outgoing personality.

"He could work with people, and they liked him. Wherever he went, people were better for having known him," Dr. Pitts said. "He'd walk into my factory, and he knew the names of all my 451 employees. He was incredible."

Mr. Asner placed a high value on customer satisfaction.

"His motto was: `No client is ever going to leave the firm unhappy, even if it costs us money,'" Dr. Pitts said.

Mr. Asner enjoyed roaming back roads in search of antiques shops that sold the vintage furniture and paintings he so avidly collected, family members said.

He was a member of the American Society of Interior Designers.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.

Mr. Asner is survived by his wife of 43 years, the former Adrienne Alex; two sons, Robert A. Asner of Berlin, Worcester County, and Dr. Gregory P. Asner of Half Moon Bay, Calif.; a daughter, Elizabeth A. Winter of Eliot, Maine; a sister, Martha Asner of Bethesda; and three grandchildren.

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