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Erwine and Estelle Laverne

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 they were both studying painting, and married two years later.

After their marriage, they needed to earn a living. Both came from families of craftsmen: Estelle's father was a jewelry designer; Erwine's father was a painter and itinerant decorator who traveled the country painting murals in churches and synagogues, often commissioning his children to paint the backgrounds. Once, when a hand-printed wallpaper failed to arrive from France, the family decided to do it themselves. That's how Erwine along with his brother and a friend started a hand-printed wallpaper business.
Pooling their talents and focusing on design, they created Laverne Originals in 1938, an influential New York company driven by their modern, precise and unique artistic style that eventually became Laverne International.
A chance meeting with a Macy's executive in 1942 resulted in dizzying success for the Lavernes. Erwine was shopping in the store for cork placemats to use in place of linen and didn't like the selection. A sales clerk who identified himself as a Macy's vice president challenged him to do better. The next day he returned to the store with sketches that were received with such enthusiasm that Macy's took out a full-page ad in the New York Times. Orders poured in and, overnight, the Laverne's achieved immense success.

In 1957 they launched their "Invisible Group" of transparent plastic furniture with curves. For them the most important element of the rooms were the people, not the furniture. Hence the invisibility.
At the height of their popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Laverne's produced, in addition to 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, decorating homes and the corporate offices of Ford and General Motors.

The Lavernes' strong fine arts background distinguished them from their contemporaries of the time - Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames, Arne Jacobsen and George Nelson, all of whom were architects or industrial designers.
Unlike their competitors, they were actively involved in all phases of the work: design, manufacture, sales, promotion and advertising.

As artists, they devised a form and then found the technical way to manufacture it, rather than starting from a function or a problem to be solved.

They moved to the Tiffany estate on Long Island, creating a kind of artistic utopia, turning some of the spaces into ateliers where they hand screen-printed their fabrics while inviting artists to live and work.

In 1952 they began years of litigation with the Tiffany family that caused the Laverne's 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 Erwine six years later at 94.

Despite this sad end, they had a huge impact on the design world and their pieces are still recognized and valued.

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