Jack Lenor Larsen, internationally known textile designer, author, collector, scholar, world traveler, and authority on traditional and contemporary crafts, was a living legend and one of the great design icons of our time. His private residence, LongHouse Reserve, was inspired by the famous Japanese shrine at Ise, and contains 13,000 square feet, 18 spaces on four levels and spans 16 acres in East Hampton, New York. Originally built as a case study exemplifying a creative approach to contemporary life, it is a must see for anyone who appreciates experiencing art and design in living spaces. It is here that he has infused his lifelong vision, creative talents and many beautiful objets d’art into one unique place. His LongHouse gardens and designed landscape serve as a nonprofit outdoor art museum, and also as an art form with a diversity of sites for its sculptural installations.
His accomplishments are far too numerous to encapsulate into a singular post, though Jack Lenor Larsen’s significant contributions to the world of design may be seen far and wide, where his authentic and original “Larsen Look,” which began with his own award-winning and hand-woven fabrics of natural yarns in random repeats, evolved to become synonymous with 20th century design and continues to inspire the design industry and those who love unique and artisanal design today. Early collaborations with the likes of Marcel Breuer, and clients including Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Larabee Barnes, Gordon Bunshaft and Louis Kahn, led this beloved and artistic luminary renown for his extraordinary textile designs to at one time design durable fabrics for Braniff and Pan Am jets during the era of elegant and luxurious air travel.
The recipient of numerous awards, Jack Lenor Larsen remains one of only five Americans to have exhibited at the Louvre in Paris, and his designs are in museum collections around the world. In 2015, and as part of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards program, he received their prestigious Director’s Award. Driven by his creative passions and tremendous love of travel, Jack Lenor Larsen possessed many gifts not the least of which was his original way with words and storytelling. We were honored to have him graciously share his time and thoughts with us here. Q+A with Jack Lenor Larsen and Catherine Frinier.
Note: It is with great appreciation and heavy hearts that we must share that Jack Lenor Larsen passed away in December of 2020. May his vision and dreams live on at LongHouse forever in his memory.
CF: You have greatly influenced the worlds of textiles and the arts and also the areas in which they cross over, including product, interior and exterior design. Over the years, you have created and curated the art, collectibles and sculptures that may be seen by the many visitors who enjoy making the trip to your LongHouse Reserve. When did you first become inspired to bring art and sculptural forms into the gardenscape and why does art in the garden work so well?
JLL: From the age of four, I gardened to create a sense of place with dependable friends. Dimensional arts gain from their contrast to movement, to shadow and highlight, seasonal changes including rain and frost, and to show. But mostly because of their form contrasting to the softness of outdoors.
CF: Please share with us your favorite things about LongHouse Reserve.
JLL: Increasingly, a sense of completeness. The trees are now noble. The personal connections are vast. This last house is generous.
CF: Is there a particular place on the grounds where you like to be and why?
JLL: Many. I enjoy where I am. I like feeling at home, and coming home is always the best part of the trip.
CF: You have traveled extensively and many times to Japan. Can you tell us about your connection to this place and why you have returned so many times?
JLL: I have been to Japan 39 times . . . for its understatement, nuance and craftsmanship.
CF: That is very interesting, because people who have visited LongHouse Reserve say there is a sense of magic and mystique there and that it, too, is understated yet filled with nuances and craftsmanship. Did you imagine early on that you would be creating a place where so many people would make such an emotional connection with you and the grounds?
JLL: No, but I built LongHouse to share and teach. We still learn the best in 3D, and inspire of more and better photographs.
CF: In 2014, LongHouse Reserve curated and produced an exhibition you called “exteriors,” a wonderful undertaking where you identified and brought together very specific outdoor furnishings, textiles and art, and you then displayed them in and around the reserve’s exterior spaces. When and how did this idea of an exterior exhibit come to you and what are your thoughts connected to this unique event?
JLL: I became aware that furnishings for outdoors have become the most dynamic partly because of how they now tolerate all weathers. Exteriors invite informality and hosting, and are more personal, less conventional. It is more desirable to sit in a garden than to stand, so wherever exterior furnishings are acquired and usefully, authentically used, there are places for garden benches and café chairs — more relaxed, comfortable seating is congenial.
CF: You are a visionary and an icon. What words of wisdom might you share with us?
JLL: Follow your heart! The mind plays tricks on us. We can rationalize ‘should’ in too many ways. Convention is so much a prison of deprivation. The poet Carl Sandburg advised me to “… be different from other people if being different comes easily and naturally.” I AM and so is LongHouse.
Visit longhouse.org to learn more about Jack Lenor Larsen, when-where-and-how to visit LongHouse Reserve in the future or to enjoy supporting LongHouse Reserve by shopping their online store of unique art objects, jewelry, accessories, collectibles, and beautiful books authored by Jack Lenor Larsen.