United Wallpaper

Alexa Griffith Winton

Dorothy Liebes was partnering with industry to create more affordable, mass-produced versions of her handloomed textiles by 1939, including her highly successful designs for Goodall Fabrics. It was not until the end of World War II, however, that she was able to expand this work beyond textile production by creating, for United Wallpaper, a line of Liebes-branded textured wallpaper that was commercially available by 1947. 

Liebes was acutely aware that mass production could improve the standard of design for more Americans; she told art critic Elizabeth McCausland in the Magazine of Art, “We hope, now that the war period is more or less over, better design will be on the march again. But the answer to inexpensive material in any field is mass production. It is the miracle of our country and can be a great aesthetic as well as economic factor in the life of our people.” [1]  

Liebes’s contract with United Wallpaper specified that she would design wallpaper exclusively for them. [2] The new line was called Liebes Weaves, and promotional materials included an image of Liebes seated at her loom, her signature, or both (Figs. 1, 2). She did extensive public relations for the line, too, including posing for press photos holding various rolls of her designs (Fig. 3). The papers were all designed after Liebes’s signature textured, metallic textiles. Some patterns featured loop fringe–like patterns, while others replicated her subtle twills, with spot applications of metallic ink for additional visual interest (Figs. 4, 5). 

The line was highly successful from the outset. With the end of the war came a domestic housing crunch—and a resulting explosion of interest in the modern home across price points and budgets. Liebes Weaves originally retailed for about $1.50 per roll, making it accessible to consumers for whom Liebes’s Goodall fabrics were out of reach. Additionally, between the hardship of the Great Depression and the materials rations during the war, consumers were ready to embrace new and modern wallpaper patterns, making Liebes Weaves especially popular.  

Now that Liebes was a nationally recognized authority on design, her industry partnerships garnered extensive press. In 1946, New York Times reporter Mary Roche covered the press preview of Liebes Weaves, describing the line as “honest reproductions of Liebes textiles, executed in a three-dimensional effect that creates the illusion of texture.” [3]  

One of Liebes’s greatest strengths as a designer was her ability to cross-promote her work across different market sectors. A New York Times article on Liebes featured the handwoven blinds she created for Raymond Loewy’s Manhattan apartment alongside her new, affordable Liebes Weaves wallpapers. Mary Roche highlighted Liebes Weaves in an article about new wallpaper designs for the New York Times, stating, “From a design point of view the ‘weave’ patterns based on Dorothy Liebes fabrics were the stars of the show. In them the manufacturers have achieved with the machine a fresh three-dimensional effect attempted only recently by producers of expensive handprinted papers. Some of them even have a subtle suggestion of the metallic threads which Mrs. Liebes is fond of using in her most luxurious hand weaves.” [4] Roche’s description emphasizes Liebes’s status as a tastemaker and her unmatched ability to generate sales in a mass market by leveraging the critical reputation of her handwoven fabrics and blinds to sell her more affordable, mass-produced products.  

Liebes continued to design for United Wallpaper until the company was purchased by Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1955. By this time, she was at work on further industrial products inspired by her famous handwoven textiles, including the line of tiles produced by Pomona.  


For general documentation on Liebes’s work for United Wallpaper, see Series 5: Subject Files, Box 23, Folder 17, Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; for a complete sample book of Liebes Weaves, see Series 5: Subject Files, Box 23, Folder 18, Dorothy Liebes Papers. 

[1] Elizabeth McCausland, “Dorothy Liebes: Designer for Mass Production,” Magazine of Art 40 (April 1947): 133. 

[2] Alexa Griffith Winton, “None of Us is Sentimental about the Hand,” Journal of Modern Craft 4, no. 3 (2011): 264. 

[3] Mary Roche, “New Beauty and Utility,” The New York Times, June 16, 1946. 

 [4] Mary Roche, “Scrubbable Wallpaper Shown,” The New York Times, May 26, 1948.

1. The cover of a book of wallpapers samples called Liebes Weaves. At the top left is an illustration of a woman at a loom, and a long, swooping textile descends down the surface of the cover in an S pattern.

Fig. 1 Liebes Weaves sample book; Dorothy Liebes Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

2. A double-page spread advertisement for Liebes Weaves wallpaper. The text reads, “The most significant decorator trend in years.” There is an illustration of a modern room covered in a textured wallpaper pattern inspired by Liebes textiles.

Fig. 2 Advertisement for Liebes Weaves for United Wallpaper; Private collection

3. Dorothy Liebes, a woman with light skin and light hair, seated on a table, holding large rolls of wallpaper. Textured wallpaper inspired by Liebes textiles is on the walls surrounding her.

Fig. 3 Press photo of Dorothy Liebes with rolls of Liebes Weave for United Wallpaper; Dorothy Liebes Papers

4. A wallpaper pattern on a tan background. The pattern imitates the texture of textiles.

Fig. 4 Sample of California Plaid from Liebes Weaves sample book; Dorothy Liebes Papers

5. A wallpaper pattern in pink with a white pattern imitating a loop fringe pattern in vertical strips.

Fig. 5 Sample of Fringe Cloth from Liebes Weaves sample book; Dorothy Liebes Papers

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.