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Backstory: Louis Comfort Tiffany

The Home as a Work of Art

Louis Comfort Tiffany started out as a painter, but soon turned to the decorative arts at the suggestion of a silver designer at Tiffany & Co., the famous purveyor of stationary, jewelry, and other “fancy goods” founded in New York in 1837 by the artist’s father, Charles Tiffany. In 1879, he established the interior design firm Associated Artists with three colleagues whose specialties complemented his own: carved wood and furniture; fabrics, wall and ceiling papers; and textile design. This range of expertise allowed the firm to achieve its objective of designing every aspect of the well-to-do home—from fixtures and floors to woodwork and wallpaper. The firm was dissolved in 1883, but Tiffany maintained his interest in designing “total environments.” One of his most ambitious projects was the interior of the New York City residence of the sugar magnate H.O. Havemeyer (1847-1907). The project, begun in 1888, took four years to complete. 

Henry O. Havemeyer and his wife, Louisine, were avid collectors of both fine and decorative art, particularly nineteenth-century French paintings and Tiffany glass. When the Havemeyer family and their collections outgrew their original home in Manhattan, they decided to build anew on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 66th Street. They turned to Tiffany and Samuel Colman (1832-1920), one of his partners from Associated Artists, to design the interior, giving them a virtually unlimited budget and complete artistic freedom. The Havemeyers’ only requests were that their home be “original” and that it provide a sympathetic environment for the display of their immense collections. They were rewarded with a floor to ceiling design program that combined into a harmonious and sumptuous whole a profusion of different styles (Japanese, Chinese, Islamic, Byzantine, Celtic, Viking), textures, and exotic materials. Most of the elements were fabricated at Tiffany’s own Tiffany Glass and Decorating Co., where skilled artisans created lighting fixtures, fabrics, hand-blocked wallpapers, rugs, glass mosaics, and cast bronze objects. The finished product both housed an art collection and was a work of art in its own right.


Developed with support from the Institute of Museum and LibraryServices, the Getty Foundation, and other generous donors.

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Backstory: Louis Comfort Tiffany
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& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved (All photographs of the interior of the Havemeyer house from A. Freyinghuysen, et al., Splendid Legacy. The Havemeyer Collection (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993).)

Last Updated

March 6, 2017 1:19 a.m.

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