Pretty Penny

Alexa Griffith Winton

Dorothy Liebes became the first official spokesperson and stylist for Lurex in 1946, and she quickly became known for her rich and vibrant textiles full of Lurex yarns of varying colors, widths, and textures. One early project that incorporated a great deal of Lurex was a set of draperies woven for the boardroom of the City National Bank in Houston in 1947. Called Pretty Penny, the design reinterprets for a corporate interior the magnificent cloth of gold, the most spectacular and expensive cloth of Renaissance Europe’s monarchs, originally made with real gold.  

Liebes’s Pretty Penny is woven entirely in shades of softly gleaming copper-colored silk and rayon tow yarn and is laden with an array of metallic yarns, including braided gold Lurex and copper-wrapped yarn, or filé. The panel is highly reflective, shimmering in a splendid “play of brilliants.” [1] The bands of densely concentrated metallic yarns—each with varying degrees of reflectivity—are distributed more heavily at the top of the panel, thin out in the central area, and become thick again toward the bottom third of the panel. The eye is thus drawn from the top downward, toward the boardroom table, where the viewer sees a glittering background at chair level around the room.  

Liebes also provided drapes of silver, copper, and gold to fit the three-story window in the ground-floor entrance to the bank—the drapes are titled Pennies from Heaven. Contemporary news accounts suggest that the “penny” theme and metallic palette were inspired by the shiny surface of a newly minted copper coin, and it took the Liebes studio over six months to complete the commission. [2] 

The textiles Liebes created for City National Bank reflect her interest in blending her work into the larger architectural context of an interior: they are responsive to the spatial envelope in which they sit, they symbolize the wealth and power of the bank itself through the choices of color and materials, and they work to focus attention on the room’s occupants through their design. 


[1] A “play of brilliants” is one of midcentury lighting designer Richard Kelly’s three taxonomies of architectural lighting; the other two are “focal glow” and “ambient luminescence.” According to Kelly, “play of brilliants” is the most dynamic of the three and serves to delight the eye with its playful engagement with reflective surfaces.

[2] See Richard Kelly, “Lighting as an Integral Part of Architecture,” College Art Journal 12, no. 1 (Autumn 1952): 24–30,

A handwoven textile of light copper-colored yarns woven with different types of gold and copper metallic yarns.

Fig. 1 Pretty Penny (detail), drapery panel for City National Bank, Houston, Texas, 1947; Designed by Dorothy Liebes; Cotton, silk, rayon, Lurex (aluminum, plastic-coated); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Dorothy Liebes Designs Inc., 1973.129.6; Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image source: Art Resource, NY

A view of a wood-paneled room with a long narrow rectangular table in its center; there are fourteen chairs spread around the table. On the right of the table hang three panels of handwoven textile; these panels are woven with reflective metallic yarns, which are thickest around the level of the boardroom table and chairs.

Fig. 2 Boardroom of City National Bank, Houston, Texas, 1947; Interior design by Brochsteins Inc. and Helene Sprong; Drapery panels (seen against the walls) designed by Dorothy Liebes; Photograph by Elwood M. Payne; Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas; Elwood M. Payne, New York & Houston

Alexa Griffith Winton

Alexa Griffith Winton is a design historian and educator. She is currently Manager, Content + Curriculum at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She has researched and published on the work of Dorothy Liebes for over ten years. Griffith’s work has been published in scholarly and popular publications, including the Journal of Design History, Dwell, Journal of the Archives of American Art, and the Journal of Modern Craft.  She co-edited A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes (Cooper Hewitt and Yale University Press, 2023) with Susan Brown. She has received research grants from the Graham Foundation, the New York State Council for the Arts, Center for Craft, Creativity and Research, Nordic Culture Point, and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.