Michael Kreindler appeared to be leading a glamorous life in New York City, fabricating metal fixtures, doors, and pieces of avante-garde furniture for celebrities such as Calvin Klein. But he and his wife tired of the city's excesses and moved to Maine in 1996. Now he earns half of what he made in New York, working for a Topsham company that manufactures sand-spreading machines for trucks. But he is able to indulge in a new passion - helping to preserve lighthouses on the Maine coastline; the couple's new house in Arrowsic overlooks two of them at the mouth of the Kennebec River. Kreindler recently spoke with Boston Globe correspondent Kenneth Z. Chutchian; an edited version of his remarks follows:
I was established in New York City. It's a very exciting place, the center of the art world. I had been at the top of my class at Parsons School of Design and accepted a teaching place there. It wasn't until I got out in the real world, the business world, that I didn't feel comfortable with my work. I had a hard time believing in my client's priorities.
I worked on metal furniture for avante-garde office designs. I interpreted architectural concepts. One area of office design was deconstructive - nothing was at right angles. It's an attempt to reveal (in its finished form) how things are put together, sort of cracking open the seams. This is where architecture becomes art.
I don't begrudge people their wealth. But in New York, I began to question what people do with their money. I worked for a client, Calvin Klein, who wanted a one-inch thick stainless steel panel, 10 feet wide and 50 feet long mounted on a floor at an angle. It was showroom-storefront display. It involved moving an extremely large, heavy object through a store-front opening and mounting it in a way so that it appeared to be falling over, but didn't fall over. Why even undertake that engineering task? Maybe it comes down to ego.
Eventually, the job was scrapped, not because it was a ludicrous concept but because the contractors couldn't get along. They got another designer and moved on to another concept.
We had moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn as part of a wave of gentrification, in a rundown section where the buildings were affordable. This was the wild '80s, when banks would write mortgages for anyone who could stand up and sign his name. We got a second mortgage and walked out of the bank with $22,000, without making any kind of down payment. That began a three-year adventure of living in abhorrent conditions in a 120-year-old building that had been neglected for 35 years.
After three years of turning that place around we had tenants and were living comfortably. We decided we wanted a new life somewhere else, but then the recession hit. It took seven years of waiting out the recession to find a buyer willing to take over our building. We went through the crack wars in that neighborhood. Whenever the roof leaked, I'd go up and find slugs from bullets - gun shots fired into the air during a night of street fighting. We were in a war zone. We always changed our schedules so that people couldn't figure out our daily routine to rob our place. We never showed material affluence. But we still got mugged many times. We weren't physically assaulted, but we'd get confronted by a guy with a knife, so we'd give up our cash. One time my wife gave a guy everything she was carrying of any value. Another time she was confronted, she slugged the guy with a six-pack of beer she was bringing home in a bag. You can't let your guard down at any time, or they'll get in your face and prey on you.
We could have moved to any place we wanted - the West coast, the South - but Maine was a different enough place, outside of New York's sphere of influence. My wife is from Bangor, but that was not a determining factor. Neither of us had jobs when we bought this piece of land. We built the house, with some help, and then decided it would be wise to bring some money in before we spent every last cent we had. At Coastal Metal Fabrication, they said, "We could really use you a year from now." I told them I'd sweep the floor, I didn't care. They said, "It's going to snow, we'll need the yard plowed." I did that. They asked me if I could drive a fork lift. I can do that. I love making things and working with machinery. Well, two days of work turned into two weeks. Then they were backlogged for sand spreaders, so they moved me into the shop, making sander parts. A month later, they needed two computers programed. I did that...and the letters to the customers...and the advertising.
Now I'm the production manager. I was making one-third of my annual pay in New York - now I'm up to one-half. On the downside, there's not much room in my job for imaginative design. On the plus side, I'm designing a business. I'm helping to design a product that people use to solve problems, like icy roads.
But I have another passion -lighthouses on the Maine coastline. My involvement in these lighthouses, at first, was purely self-interest. You can see several of them through the trees here. I figured I had better take an active interest, lest I find some new neighbors taking them over. My primary goal is to preserve these 100-year-old navigational devices because they are a major piece of our national maritime history. I want them to be there for all those lighthouse buffs with Nebraska license plates who go off the beaten path to find them.
I've gone through quite a transformation in my thinking. You really must have a public-servant attitude with regards to these lighthouses. I can't fake it. It's a genuine effort, a responsibility of time and effort. My application has been approved by the Maine Lighthouse selection committee, which was appointed by the Governor through a program designed by the Island Institute, that's a nonprofit organization the Coast Guard authorized to manage the transfer. As caretakers, we plan to set up education programs and make the lighthouse accessible through tours. I accept the challenge as an honor. You just start down a path and you don't know where it leads.
This story appeared in the
June 1998 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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