William Pahlmann

Alexa Griffith Winton

Although it is unclear exactly when Dorothy Liebes met interior designer William Pahlmann, by the mid-1930s they were frequent collaborators on a range of design projects, including model rooms for department stores, private interiors, and corporate offices and showrooms. Their work together popularized an eclectic modern style that accommodated a mix of antique and contemporary furniture and objects, and often leveraged unusual color combinations to dramatic effect. The two also collaborated on many design initiatives that contributed greatly to the professionalization of interior design.  

Pahlmann shared with Liebes a strong interest in shaping public taste and fostering appreciation of design. As the head of the decorating department at Lord & Taylor in New York City beginning in 1937, Pahlmann was one of the first designers to create complete room settings for a department store. He incorporated Liebes textiles and blinds as early as 1938, and he continued to use them in both room displays and general store designs throughout the 1940s. He also designed store interiors for Bonwit Teller and included Liebes textiles and blinds in many of the influential department store’s branches departments. [1]

Like Liebes, Pahlmann understood the importance of providing quality designs at a range of price points, and he was an early adopter of her powerloomed fabrics. In 1941, he used Liebes’s Goodall fabrics alongside one of her handwoven window blinds in a model room published in House Beautiful and in the London design magazine The Studio. The New York Times design critic Walter Rendell Storey’s instructional book Furnishing with Color (1947) called out Pahlmann’s ability to balance traditional and contemporary elements—in particular what Storey called the “modern texture” of Liebes’s pale split-bamboo blinds. [2]  Pahlmann selected a cut pile–fringed textile from Liebes’s line of powerloomed fabrics for Goodall, and its texture adds visual interest to the room without distracting from the room’s core elements: the fireplace and the portrait hanging above it (Figs. 1, 2). 

Pahlmann was the first interior designer to use Liebes’s woven blinds extensively in his work. For his own Upper East Side apartment, finished in 1947, he worked with Liebes to develop new ways of using her blinds to skillfully manipulate both natural and artificial light in interiors. He wrote to Jean Beauchamp, director of the Liebes studio, with careful instructions about the colors to be used, and noted that the light for the blinds would be coming from the exterior, rather than from an interior source. He explained, “I want the half-rounds to be the pickled pine effect, with the color done in the yarn, and I want a good covering and a great amount of gold, believe it or not, as we are highlighting the gold from the back, not the front. Therefore, these should not be woven too closely together.” By weaving the blinds somewhat openly, Liebes ensured that light from the outside would penetrate the blinds, activating the gold threads, per Pahlmann’s request. [3]  

In addition to gracing Pahlmann’s New York City apartment, Liebes’s blinds were a primary feature in the Matthew Fox apartment on New York City’s Upper East Side, the only residential apartment in the Universal Pictures Building, designed by the firm Kahn & Jacobs in 1946–47. This living room for the prominent movie producer, completed around 1948, featured distinctive blinds of painted wooden dowels with vertical warp striping of greens, neutral beige tones, and copper and brown yarns—a palette that coordinated with the room’s drapes, furniture, and custom-woven upholstery, also made in the Liebes studio. These blinds signify a window aperture—what Liebes referred to as a “structural adjunct”—and could be used to give the appearance of symmetry to a room that had none. [4] For the Fox dining room, Pahlmann used the blinds as a wall covering, creating a richly colored and textured space for dining and entertaining. Although the blinds covered the windows in this room, they were woven so that light still permeated, as seen in the far right of this room (Figs. 3, 4).  

Liebes and Pahlmann were both active in architecture and interior design organizations, and they often appeared together at conferences and trade shows to offer their expertise and guidance regarding designing modern interiors. In 1956, they appeared together in a whimsical performance called, “Clairvoyants of Decoration,” for the annual Fashion Group Luncheon, folding practical guidance on the use of colors in interior design into a design-focused mock séance. [5] They also appeared together on television shows throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, including The Today Show and The Arlene Francis Show, speaking to trends in colors, textiles, and materials in interior design. Through these appearances, they reached vast numbers of American consumers who were hungry for advice about how to bring modern design into their own homes. 

In 1968, Liebes’s health was in decline, and Pahlmann brought together textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen, executives from DuPont, and other friends of Liebes to lobby The Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate Liebes’s influential career with a monographic exhibition during her lifetime. Although The Metropolitan Museum show did not come to pass, Pahlmann’s efforts resulted in the 1970 retrospective of Liebes’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Craft (now the Museum of Arts and Design) in New York City. Curated by Paul Smith and textile artist and author Nell Znamierowski and funded by Du Pont, this was the last major exhibition of her work before her death in 1972. [6] 


[1] For more on Pahlmann’s collaborations with Liebes, including design projects, lectures, and television appearances, see the chronology in A Dark, A Light, A Bright: The Designs of Dorothy Liebes, Susan Brown and Alexa Griffith Winton, eds., (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2023), 227–35.

[2] John Stuart Gordon, “Curtain Walls: Dorothy Liebes and the Modern American Interior,” in A Dark, A Light, A Bright, 12–33. 

[3] For Liebes’s take on designing for modern architecture, see Dorothy Liebes, “Enhancing the View,” New York Times, October 28, 1948. 

[4] William Pahlmann, letter to Jean Beauchamp, August 11, 1947. William Pahlmann Papers, 2388-I, Box I-51, Hagley Library and Collections, Wilmington, DE. 

[5] William Pahlmann Papers, 2388-II, Box II-16, Hagley Library and Collections, Wilmington, DE. 

[6] Ibid.


1. A color photo of a living room with upholstered furniture, a fireplace, and a portrait of a woman above the fireplace in a modern representational style. There are textured drapes and woven blinds in pale, neutral colors by Dorothy Liebes.

Fig. 1 Exhibition Room at Lord & Taylor, New York, 1941; Styled by William Pahlmann (American, 1900–1987); Drapes designed by Dorothy Liebes for Goodall Fabrics; Blinds designed by Dorothy Liebes; From Decorative Art 1942: The Studio Year Book, edited by C. G. Holme (London: Studio Ltd., 1942)

2. A cream-colored panel of powerloomed fabric with a pattern of cut pile fringe in geometric patterns across the surface of the textiles. Small amounts of metallic yarn are woven throughout the fabric.

Fig. 2 Untitled, 1946; Designed by Dorothy Liebes for Goodall Fabrics; Woven wool, cotton, metallic yarn with supplementary weft pile; Museum of Arts and Design, New York, Gift of Dorothy Liebes Design and Ralph Higbee, through the American Craft Council, 1973.2.9

3 A large living room with green walls and handwoven window blinds in a palette of greens, grays, and rusts.

Fig. 3 Matthew Fox’s Living Room, New York City, 1948; Interior design by William Pahlmann (American, 1900 1987); Blinds and draperies designed by Dorothy Liebes; William Pahlmann Papers, Texas A&M University

3 A large dinning room with handwoven window blinds in a palette of greens, grays, and rusts.

Fig. 4 Matthew Fox’s Dining Room, New York City, 1948; interior design by William Pahlmann (American, 1900-1987); Blinds designed by Dorothy Liebes; William Pahlmann Papers, Texas A&M

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.