Book Review: Learning From LongHouse

Oct 10, 2016

An East Hampton art and landscape treasure is about to celebrate a silver anniversary, and in anticipation, its founding father, the internationally known textile designer and weaver Jack Lenor Larson, has just come out with a handsome picture book called “Learning from LongHouse.”

LongHouse is Larsen’s 16-acre, ever-evolving home, ponds, sculpture garden and lawn that he built in the Hamptons, far from the madding crowd. With stitched binding, the almost square earth-toned hardboard cover with white lettering is itself a good example of Larsen’s principles: simplicity, understatement, tactility. As for his hand-woven furnishings and fabrics with random repeat design patterns, also photographed for the book, they’ve become iconic. Marilyn Monroe loved them, so did Pan Am for whom Larsen designed airplane upholstery.

Surprisingly, much about LongHouse, elegant house and grounds, is recycled and made with low-cost materials. Not everything, of course, but enough to illustrate Larsen’s plebeian touch. He also cares about low maintenance and practicality. He’ll replace a lawn path with gravel, if that’s necessary and stay with hardy species. The 89-year-old Larsen, who refers to himself as a child of the Depression, says he’s always liked to “make do,” and he’s been at it, at LongHouse, for 25 years, turning the place into what the book’s back cover proclaims as “a case study in non-conformity – a personal house and garden – encouraging visitors to consider wider options.”

As “Learning from LongHouse” shows, Larsen continues to be inspired and informed by Asian culture. Interior spaces showcase crafts of all kinds that Larsen’s picked up during a lifetime of travelling, mainly to the Far East, while the grounds, cleverly laid out to seem more extensive than they are, are dotted with sculpture that serves as a focal point, and that makes the setting look different in all seasons. By the way, did you know that the traditional Japanese home has no separate dining room or bedrooms? Neither does LongHouse.  

In a region that seems to many to be dominated by the legacy of Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism, Larsen shows he has no problem with figurative art. Though words such as “spare” and “minimalist” may come to mind in regard to his work, Larson dislikes “post-war modernism.” He’s seen too many American homes that seem to him “stereotypical” and “predictable,” boring in design and overlit by sunlight on glass. He likes “concepts out of the box.” One’s home and garden should generate a sense of comfort, security, peace, he says. Beautifully photographed, “Learning from LongHouse,” Larsen’s 12th book, continues to exemplify that creed and suggests that a visit during the warmer months when the reserve is open to the public would prove enjoyable and instructive.