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Monday, December 3, 2012

Erwine and Estelle Laverne

Erwine Laverne (1909-2003) and Estelle Lester (1915-1997) met in 1932 at the Art Students League in New York, where both were studying painting with Hans Hofmann. They married in 1934 and formed Laverne Originals in 1938.

A chance meeting with a Macy's executive in 1942 resulted in skyrocketing success for the Lavernes. Erwine was shopping in the store for cork placemats to use instead of linen and was bemoaning the poor selection. The salesman introduced himself as a company vice-president and challenged Laverne to come up with something better. The next day he returned to the store with sketches that were met with such enthusiasm that Macy's ran a full-page ad for them in the New York Times. Orders poured in, and the line was expanded to include fabric and wallpaper. Overnight, the Lavernes became immensely successful.

At the height of their popularity, in the 50's and early 60's, the Lavernes produced -- besides furniture -- 90 hand-printed fabrics and wallpaper patterns. They were headquartered in New York and had a network of satellite showrooms across the country. They were also well-known interior designers, having designed the East Side town house of the film director Otto Preminger, the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas and corporate offices for Ford and General Motors.

During this time, the Lavernes had moved to Long Island. They lived on the Tiffany estate on over 100 acres of waterfront property. They set up an artistic utopia there, inviting artists to live there over the summer. The estate had belonged to the son of the founder of Tiffany's, who was also an artist. By the time he died in 1933, his art studio was defunct, and he had deeded the property to his foundation as a center for artists.

But the Lavernes (formerly the Levines) were not the Tiffanys, and the people in their village of Laurel Hollow considered them outsiders and resented their individualism. In 1952 they were ordered to cease and desist the manufacture of wallpaper in a residential zone. The Lavernes argued that what they did was handcrafting, while manufacturing entailed a factory and heavy machinery. They felt their artistic pursuits had been "grandfathered in" by Tiffany, who had also invited artists to live on the property during the summer.

Thus began years of litigation that caused the Lavernes to lose focus on their business and spend all their money on legal fees. The couple died penniless in a nursing home: Estelle in 1997 at age 82, and Erwin six years later at 94.

Despite their sad end, they had a major impact on design. Their Invisible Group of curvy, see-through plastic is highly collectible today, and they are considered exceptionally beautiful and innovative.

From and

Bar stools


Lotus chair

Lounge chairs



Lily chair (part of  the Invisible Group)

Buttercup chair (part of  the Invisible Group)

Daffodil chair (part of  the Invisible Group)

Champagne chairs (part of  the Invisible Group)


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Somebody please take the mouse out of my hand when I have too many things going on at one time. This isn't the first time I've deleted someone's comment when I was trying to multi-task...and Pippa's bit the dust. I was being climbed on by two wild grandsons, talking to my daughter and SIL and trying to blog at the same time, and I clicked on the wrong thing.

      She had said she really likes the planters, which doesn't surprise me, because the pedestals look somewhat similar to the shapes of the beautiful macrame pieces she makes.

  2. You did it again, Dana, another great feature! This furniture is so cool, how radical the transparent furniture must have been at that time. The planters are amazing, and the Golliwogs!!
    Such a sad ending, though...

    1. It's so great to have you as a regular reader. I really enjoy your comments, and I'm happy to know you're enjoying my posts!

  3. I am always interested to hear about dynamic duos, even if these two had a sad end. That's so interesting that they moved into the Tiffany estate.

    1. I was fascinated by the part of the story about the Tiffany estate too. Apparently the Tiffany heir had used it as an artists' retreat too, which was the Lavernes' defense in the court case. They believed...and I think rightfully so...that such use was grandfathered. The neighbors obviously had no problem when a Tiffany used the property that way, so their motivation had to be anti-Semitic in nature.