It would be true to say, Jack Lenor Larsen, who died last December aged 93, was the soul of discretion. The American textile designer lent his understated touch to many of the 20th century’s biggest design happenings, but only those in the know would have spotted it.
His big break, in 1951/52, was a commission to create curtains for the windows of the now-iconic Lever House building, one of Manhattan’s first curtain-walled skyscrapers.
Larsen’s subtle check weave, shot through with gold threads, set the template for dressing modern glass buildings, filtering out the sun’s glare without inhibiting their dazzling translucency.
Subsequently, his fabrics adorned Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater residence and Jackie Kennedy’s 1960s redesign of the White House. Everyone who was anyone in mid- century America wanted the ‘Larsen Look’ and it still endures today, thanks to his thriving textile label Larsen Fabrics.
Born in Seattle to a family of Nordsk-Canadian origin, Larsen initially studied architecture at the University of Washington – something that comes across in the structural rigour of his designs. Fussy patterns weren’t his thing: he preferred linear and grid-like weaves and deconstructed geometrics.
He studied weaving methods from around the world and was a connoisseur of yarns, using linen, bamboo, raffia and even rope. The Larsen palette, meanwhile, dominated by golden neutrals, ivory, charcoal and black, reveals a modernist’s discipline while looking utterly timeless.
Larsen was as elegant and unassuming as his work. ‘While mid-century furniture endures, my cloths are in shreds,’ he said modestly, though the ‘Larsen Look’ is as relevant as ever.
His Japanese-inspired home, Long House Reserve in East Hampton, based on the 7th-century Ise Shinto Shrine, now has parts open as a museum and is an inspiring showcase for his work. larsenfabrics.com;longhouse.org
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration April 2021
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