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Started interior design company

December 16, 2008|Claire Noland | Noland is a Times staff writer.

Dorothy Kneedler Lawenda, an entrepreneur who began importing natural, hand-woven wallcoverings from Asia in 1948 and co-founded an interior design company that became an influential resource for the Los Angeles industry, died Thursday at her home in Los Angeles of age-related causes, her daughter Wendy Kneedler-Senior said. She was 94.

Kneedler Lawenda and her friend Lucienne Fauchere launched Kneedler-Fauchere Imports in postwar San Francisco, bringing to their small shop textiles from the Philippines and Japan. The firm soon expanded, introducing the work of multiple designers in one central showroom and then opening a Los Angeles showroom in the 1960s. When the Pacific Design Center opened in West Hollywood in 1975, Kneedler-Fauchere became one of the first tenants. Today its 20,000-square-foot showroom there is filled with high-end home furnishings, including furniture, lighting and accessories, all for the wholesale market.

A San Francisco native, Kneedler Lawenda was born April 2, 1914, and raised by her adoptive parents, Napoleon Bonaparte Douglass, a businessman, and his wife, Etta. Dorothy led a privileged life and traveled widely with her parents, taking ocean liners to Asia and Europe.

In 1938 she married Edgar Kneedler and they moved to the Philippines, where his family owned property. He managed a luxury hotel in Manila. After the Japanese invaded in 1941, the Kneedlers and their two small children were sent to an internment camp. When the war ended in 1945, the Kneedlers, now with three children, returned to the San Francisco Bay area and divorced.

Dorothy decided to start her own business and contacted Fauchere, a French woman she knew in Manila, to join her in importing silk, hemp and grass cloth from the Philippines and Japan for wallcoverings. In 1949 a young designer named Harry Lawenda joined the firm, and a year later he and Kneedler married.

She oversaw the business side and he was the creative force as the company grew. They began representing other designers and other lines of furniture, fabrics and lighting, a relatively new concept at the time.

Among the up-and-coming designers Kneedler-Fauchere represented over the years were textile designers Jack Lenor Larsen and Angelo Donghia as well as woodworker and furniture designer Sam Maloof.

In the 1960s Kneedler-Fauchere opened a Los Angeles showroom and helped establish Robertson Boulevard as the center of the city's interior design world. In addition to its showroom in the Pacific Design Center, the company maintains showrooms in San Francisco and Denver. Kneedler Lawenda was active in the business until a few years ago.

She is survived by her husband of 58 years, Harry; three children from her first marriage, daughters Ann Kneedler and Wendy Kneedler-Senior of Los Angeles and son Douglass Kneedler of Sweden; two children from her second marriage, sons Kent Lawenda of Marysville, Wash., and Kevin Lawenda of Pasadena; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services are pending.


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