Donald Albrecht

Designing Duo:
Tom Lee and Sarah Tomerlin Lee

New York School of Interior Design

Co-curated with Thomas Mellins, with research assistance by Anne Regan

This exhibition celebrated Tom Lee (1910-1971) and Sarah Tomerlin Lee (1910-2001), husband and wife for more than three decades, who left a distinctive mark on 20th- century American design. He worked as a theater designer, a department store display director, and chiefly an interior designer, and she was a magazine editor, a department store executive, an advertising copywriter, and ultimately a renowned interior designer. But they were more than simply successful individuals; a designing duo, they sometimes shared clients and, more significantly, shared expertise and experience, culminating in an influential synergy.

As tastemakers, the Lees promoted a sophisticated blend of traditional and contemporary aesthetics—by turns decorative and minimalist—which Sarah called “romantic modernism.” Their work powerfully reflected larger social and cultural forces, from the advance of middle-class consumer culture to the rise of women in the workplace. They used design as an agent of American diplomacy during the Cold War, positioned American fashion on the international stage, and helped make historic preservation an indispensable economic engine of urban redevelopment.

Mr. Albrecht worked with co-curator Thomas Mellins to develop the show’s themes, select artifacts, write exhibition text, and work with the design team.

Coverage in Women’s Wear Daily.

Exhibition and graphic designer: Darling Green
Photographer: Rob Stephenson

Donald Albrecht