Along with the many architects and furniture designers who created the look of the postwar American home, one weaver was just as influential: . The Seattle native had a revolutionary way with color, pattern, and texture, which made his fabrics a favorite with everyone from Frank Lloyd Wright to Marilyn Monroe. Now 85, Larsen—whose firm is currently owned by the esteemed British textile company —has devoted the last 27 years to the creation of his , a Japanese-inspired home and 16-acre sculpture garden in East Hampton, New York. “Whether I’m weaving or weeding,” he says, “keeping my hands busy makes my mind work better.”
• I went to architecture school in the 1940s, at the University of Washington. I didn’t draw very well. We had to learn a little weaving to understand textiles. I was better at that. I melded weaving and architecture and got something new.
• When I moved to New York, I went to see Florence Knoll about a job. She looked at my portfolio and said, “Well, he certainly has a statement, but it’s not my statement.” Knoll’s early collections were in Mondrian colors. I liked earth tones and the colors of semiprecious stones. Six years later, Knoll adopted my palette. I could have been upset but instead saw it as a triumph.
• Fabric brings color and pattern into a space and helps to personalize it. It improves sound quality and gives organic texture to a room.
• Until the 1960s, practically every department and furniture store in America offered decorating services, and many sold fabrics on the floor. They would go to your house and measure the windows. My mother’s generation used to sew dresses, so they understood about yardage and could figure out what they wanted to do. Today, you have to hire an interior designer to help you with upholstery and curtains.
• When I do pillows, I put a different fabric on each side, so you can flip them over and change the look. My duvet cover is also two sided: chocolate on one side, vanilla on the other.
• I traveled a lot to places like Thailand and Burma (and later Afghanistan) and learned about resist-dye techniques like ikat and batik. I did some of the first such fabrics in America. In the 1950s and ’60s, ethnic textiles were used partly as a revolt against the severity of modernism. Empty rooms with iconic furniture are pretty boring. That’s why these fabrics have come back.
• Sparrows build their nests to suit. Homes should be like birdhouses: Build them out as needs arise.
• Turn problems into solutions. If there is a window wall and then a window in the corner, don’t treat them the same way. Try curtains on the window wall and shutters on the smaller window. Have a dark room? Use window shades in a golden color, and every morning will be sunny. At LongHouse, they wanted $5,000 to haul away the soil from the basement. I decided to use the dirt to create garden dunes. They’re very low maintenance.
• A common problem is that someone will have a blue rug and a blue sofa, and the two shades don’t go together. What do you do about it? I would buy five more shades of blue, in pillows and other things. Pretty soon you’ll have a color symphony.
• I like a range of colors in the same value. I learned this from my garden. The leaves of red maples fuse dark red and dark green. They look Renaissance. It’s so rich.
• If you want a color contrast, do it in small quantities. Take risks, but ones that can be changed.
• I built the LongHouse gardens to share. I think seeing in three dimensions is so contagious. Sharing it gives me an excuse to be extravagant.
•It’s more important to reinforce one’s identity than to worry about taste. You won’t learn taste until you’ve made some mistakes. Be courageous. Experiment. It’s much more fun.