Erwine (1909-2003) and Estelle (1915-1997) Laverne both trained as painters at the Art Student's League under Hans Hofmann. In the 1930s they pooled their collective talent and focus into design, establishing Laverne Originals in 1938, an influential New York company driven by their precise and unique modern artistic style. From studios originally located on the old estate of Louis Comfort Tiffany in Nassau County, New York their primary products were fabrics and wall coverings. They eventually relocated to a headquarters on 57th Street in New York City where they experimented with an innovatively sparse showroom and created several series of remarkably sculptural organic furniture. The company later grew to Laverne International.
Throughout the 1940s a design team hired by the Lavernes created the bulk of the furniture that Laverne Originals sold. Erwine's "Marbalia" wall murals were a staple of the company, but Ray Komai contributed many of their printed textiles. From 1949-55 most of the furniture, fabrics and dinnerware were the result of collaboration between William Katavolos, Ross Littell and Douglas Kelley. The "T" chair of 1952 is one example of their most successful pieces. The showroom design was the work of the Lavernes, however, outfitted with so few pieces that magazines from the period likened it to a subdued gallery environment rather than that of the retail energy channeled by most other showrooms. In an issue of "Interiors" magazine from 1952, it was called "extravagantly unfilled...the museum-like quality is a direct expression of what the Lavernes are selling: not just designs (although nearly everything is Oriental, and for sale) but a concrete effort to relate fine and applied arts, business be darned." The Lavernes were never forced to make this tradeoff, however, and business remained quite good for many years. Their retail approach was to use the furniture within the space, for staff and clients, and pull it out upon request rather than have a customer be overwhelmed by a "full house" of unused, stationary pieces. They also created the showroom as a space where they could host exhibits of the work of their favorite artists and sculptors.
By the late 1950s the Lavernes began designing more of their own furniture. In 1957 they came out with their "Invisible Group" of curvy see-through plastic furniture designed to exist in a space as, Erwine believed, "an element of contrast to eliminate sameness." The molded perspex seats and lean, fluted bases were reminiscent of Saarinen's "Tulip" chair, and the names of some of these Laverne pieces, like "Daffodil," "Lily" and "Jonquil," resonated obviously with their inspiration. The group, which also included the "Champagne" chair, had a small upholstered cushion nestled into the seat as its only visually tangible part. These were followed, in 1958, by the "Lotus" chair, an abstract sculptural adaptation of the pieces a year earlier. It had a very dark molded fiberglass seat and cutout back with a combination of sharp angles and soft curves. In 1960 they responded again to the decade-long popularity of the tulip icon in art and fashion with their own "Tulip" chair. This piece was a delicate rendering of the flower's petals, set atop an aluminum base and was one of the most expressively organic of the Laverne's forays into furniture design. The pair also designed a number of popular domestic accessories like the playful "Golliwog" planters.