Samuel A. Marx

Alexa Griffith Winton

Dorothy Liebes came to the attention of designers and architects across the United States with the textiles and interior color scheme she created for architect Timothy Pflueger’s new building for the San Francisco Stock Exchange in 1928. [1] One of the architects she met via this project was Samuel A. Marx, who was based in Chicago and known for his luxurious interpretations of modernism that married Old World artisanal craft and materials with a modern aesthetic. He collaborated frequently with Liebes throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Additionally, Marx and his wife Florene became close friends of Liebes and eventually of her second husband, Pat Morin, whom she married in 1948. In her unpublished memoirs, Liebes describes Marx as an intelligent and cultured bon vivant, a man who was as much an artist as an architect. [2] Her deep knowledge of art history, understanding of architectural space and light, and innate color sense made her a valuable partner to Marx in his quest to create subtle yet powerful interiors.  

One of the first projects Liebes worked on with Marx was his Chicago apartment at 1325 North Astor Street in 1939, where he lived with Florene. For this elegant and luxurious home, Liebes provided drapes and upholstery fabrics for several rooms. Together with Florene, Marx had assembled a museum-quality collection of modern art, including paintings by Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, which the couple displayed throughout the home. Liebes used her design talents and color sense to create textiles that amplified the power of the art rather than distracting from it.  

Like many modernist architects, Marx designed most of the contents of his interiors, including furniture (often covered in undyed kidskin parchment), lighting, door handles, and drawer pulls, as well as overall color schemes. For his dining room, Marx keyed the colors of the space to a large 1915 Matisse painting called Still Life after Jan Davidsz. De Heem’s “La Desserte.” Liebes created pale, pleated drapes with a pattern of subtle, irregular striping, shot through with small amounts of metallic yarn. The drapes pool gently on the floor, thereby blurring the shift from wall to floor plane (this was Liebes’s preferred way to hang drapes). She also wove subtly textured cream silk upholstery for the aluminum chairs by Donald Deskey that Marx used as dining chairs (Figs. 1, 2). [3] 

For the Marx living room, the organizing principle for the room’s design was once again a painting, in this case a cubist still life of lemons by Georges Braque. This painting was placed over a finely carved fireplace surround made of tawny Colorado travertine. On either side of this painting hung Lucite bull head sconces made by Hollywood designer William Haines, whose work Liebes had showcased at the Decorative Arts Display at the Golden Gate Exposition in 1939. To this luxurious and pared-back interior, Liebes contributed a pale, loop-pile upholstery for the armchairs and a low woven screen that could be placed in front of the fireplace when it was not in use, to minimize drafts during the cold Chicago winters. As in the dining room, the colors Liebes used in the living room tie the colors and texture of the room together while directing attention to the remarkable artwork on display. Liebes appreciated Marx’s approach and wrote, “When he did a room, he always built it around the paintings, relating my fabrics to them in a lower key” (Fig. 3). [4] 

Liebes and Marx collaborated on several California projects, including the Beverly Hills home of Edward G. Robinson, who, like Marx, collected modern European art. Frances A. Elkins, a society decorator and close friend of Liebes, was the interior designer for this project. Liebes provided upholstery in a bright cyclamen pink for the house’s loggia.  

Until Marx died in 1964, he and Liebes and Florene remained friends and traveled to Mexico together on several occasions. Liebes—who had originally intended to pursue a career as a painter—had immense respect for Marx’s luxurious and rigorously detailed interpretation of modernism, as well as for the passion with which he and Florene pursued their art collection.   



[1] See chronology in A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes, eds. Susan Brown and Alexa Griffith Winton (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2023), 227–35.

[2] Liebes, autobiography (unpublished ms.), 321–22. Series 4, Box 4, Folder 10, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 

[3] For more on Liebes’s collaborations with Marx and other prominent architects early in her career, see John Stuart Gordon, “Curtain Walls: Dorothy Liebes and the Modern American Interior,” in A Dark, A Light, A Bright, 12–33.

[4] Liebes, autobiography (unpublished ms.), 324. Dorothy Liebes Papers.


Fig. 1 A black-and-white image of a dining room. There is a large painting on the right side of the room; a dining table is surrounded by chairs covered in a highly textured upholstery; and pale pleated drapes cover the walls behind the table.

Fig. 1 Samuel and Florene Marx Dining Room, Chicago, Illinois, 1941; Architect: Samuel A. Marx (American, 1885–1964); Drapes and upholstery designed by Dorothy Liebes; Photograph by Hedrich-Blessing Photographers; Condé Nast Archive

Fig. 2 A modern chair made of aluminum and covered with a cream-colored, textured upholstery.

Fig. 2 Armchair (one of a pair), Chicago, Illinois, 1938; Designed by Donald Deskey (American, 1894–1989); Manufactured by Royal Metal Manufacturing Company; Upholstery designed by Dorothy Liebes; Chrome-plated metal and upholstered fabric; Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Mrs. Florene M. Schoenborn, 1970.1217.1-2

Fig. 3 A room with a low fireplace surrounded by a tawny colored stone. A still life painting of lemons hangs above the fireplace. An armchair covered in a pale looped-pile upholstery sits on either side of the hearth. A low, handwoven screen is rolled up to the left of the chair on the left side of the room.

Fig. 3 Samuel and Florene Marx Living Room, Chicago, Illinois, 1941; Architect: Samuel A. Marx (American, 1885–1964); Drapes and upholstery designed by Dorothy Liebes; Photograph by Hedrich-Blessing Photographers; Condé Nast Archive

Alexa Griffith Winton

Alexa Griffith Winton is a design historian and educator. She is currently Manager, Content + Interpretation 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, Nordic Culture Point, and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.