The SS United States was the largest and fastest passenger liner ever built in the United States, and in many ways it was a symbol of American postwar industrial prowess. “Everyone concerned with design, construction, and furnishing, as well as the United States Lines who operate the ship, was interested in construction of an all-American queen of the sea representing American ideas of suitable decorative style.”  That decorative style may have been necessitated by a peculiar design challenge: the ship was intended for rapid conversion to wartime use, should the need arise.
Designed by American naval architect William Francis Gibbs (1886–1967), the ship had to meet certain defense specifications for speed, lightness, and fireproofing. It also had to provide passengers with luxurious furnishings and other appointments that could be rapidly dismantled and converted for the transport of fourteen thousand troops in a matter of weeks. The interior architect, Eggers & Higgins, and interior designers Smyth, Urquhart & Marckwald, aimed for a streamlined, unfussy atmosphere with decorative motifs drawn from the sea itself and from American history and geography. Nonflammable materials, including aluminum, glass, and enamel, were used throughout, and new fireproofing processes were developed for the many textiles on board.
Dorothy Liebes’s widely publicized contribution was her handwoven draperies for the First Class Observation Lounge (Fig. 1). The lounge spanned the width of the ship, with no outside deck to interrupt the view of the ocean. When designing draperies for the thirty-two floor-to-ceiling windows, Liebes chose a palette inspired by the surrounding nature (Figs. 2A and 2B). “The blue-greens of the ocean seemed the most logical choice, although we always had been told that that color combination was a depressing one for interiors. It seemed to me it couldn’t be for this room, reaching as it appeared to the edge of the ocean.”  The blue-green color scheme, a signature Liebes combination, met with some resistance from the interior designers, but once completed, it was called out in the promotional brochure: “One of the outstanding decorating features of this room is the combinations of greens and blues to correspond with the matching colors of the sea.”  In addition to silver and gold, the draperies also used two jewel-toned Lurex yarns—emerald green and sapphire blue—styled by Liebes in her role as color consultant to the Dobeckmun company. Liebes’s power-loomed fabrics were used for the upholsteries throughout the room, in light and dark blue with glints of metallic. The room also featured two large murals by Raymond Wendell, who had served with the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. For his murals, Wendell drew on his knowledge of oceanography; the artworks combined topography of the ocean floor in a palette of blues and gold leaf, with applied bronze elements depicting the prevailing winds and currents in the north Atlantic Ocean (Fig. 1).  Queen Frederika of Greece was so taken with the Observation Lounge draperies when she sailed on the ship that they were replicated (with the permission of the United States Lines) for the palace theater in Athens. 
Liebes also designed the stage curtain for the first-class theater, in a “mysterious dark blue with black” adorned with enormous colorful pompoms, and provided handwoven screens and blinds for some passenger cabins (Fig. 3).
 “Handwoven Fabrics in the SS United States,” Handweaver & Craftsman (Winter 1952–53): 63.
 Ibid., 19.
 “The Murals and Decorations of the SS United States,” typescript.
 “Handwoven Fabrics in the SS United States,” Handweaver & Craftsman (Winter 1952–53): 19.
 SS United States promotional brochure, United States Lines, 1952. Henry Dreyfuss Archive, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of Henry Dreyfuss, 1972-88-1.