Diamond Jubilee


Industry pioneers Kneedler Fauchère celebrate a historic 75th anniversary by reflecting on their her-storic foundation

The original showroom located in Jackson Square. Photo courtesy of Kneedler Fauchère.

Running a successful business for 75 years in any industry is something to be proud of, but for Kneedler Fauchère it’s historic. Not simply because they have survived economic ebbs and flows, a global pandemic and the evolution of the design industry but also because their origin story is truly revolutionary. What many in the design community may not know is that Kneedler Fauchère was founded in the late 1940s by two amazing women whose friendship was formed from a shared hope during the trials and tribulations of World War II. “Dorothy and Lucienne showed incredible nerve when they launched Kneedler Fauchère in 1948,” says Gina DeWitt, the current COO and president of showrooms. “At that time, banks didn’t even loan money to women, but Dorothy was gifted a large building in San Francisco from her aunt and uncle that she mortgaged to acquire a loan. This was a huge risk and demonstrates her steely tenacity.”

Showroom founders Lucienne Fauchère, Harry Lawenda and Dorothy Kneedler. Photo courtesy of Kneedler Fauchère.

Born in 1914, San Francisco native Dorothy Douglass led a cosmopolitan life, traveling the world with her adoptive parents, who exposed her to cultures near and far. After marrying Edgar Kneedler in 1938 at the Swedenborgian Church in Pacific Heights, they embarked on a journey to the Philippines so that her husband could run the Bayview Park Hotel, his family’s hotel in Manila. It’s there where Dorothy first found her passion for design. While decorating the hotel she discovered the exquisite craftsmanship of local artisans. Sadly, this period ended abruptly after World War II broke out, forcing the couple and their young daughter to live in the infamous Santo Tomas internment camp under severe conditions. Luckily Dorothy—who was pregnant at the time—was relocated to a French compound outside Manila where she met Lucienne Fauchère, who had recently lost her Belgian fiancé in a bombing. During that time, Americans had to remain captive but the French could roam free, so Lucienne risked her life to help save the Kneedler family, forming their forever bond.

A 1951 L.A. Times Home Magazine cover, featuring a pair of Harry Lawenda Orb lamps for Kneedler Fauchère.
The photo is by Julius Shulman.

Once the war ended, the fast friends landed back in San Francisco. That move was soon followed by a tumultuous end to Dorothy and Edgar’s marriage. However, her strong will, coupled with Lucienne standing by her side, and their shared passion for finding and nurturing local talent, led the pair to open Kneedler-Fauchère inside the Marines Memorial Building in 1948. They began by selling textiles and wallcoverings from Asia—raffia weaves from the Philippines, colored hemp cloths and paperweaves from Japan and paper-backed grasscloths from Korea—and with the addition of Dorothy’s future husband, Harry Lawenda, they quickly grew the company into a renowned destination for interior designers to discover a full selection of rare finds from around the world. “Kneedler Fauchère has always been about both the local and the global design community,” notes George Massar, who since joining as president in 1994 has revolutionized the structure of the company and who introduced a then emerging brand, Holly Hunt. “To this day we look locally and abroad to bring the best of the best to our design community.”

Their flagship showroom became the anchor of San Francisco’s burgeoning design district, which was located in Jackson Square; it is historically recognized as the country’s first true design center. “Dorothy and Harry made Kneedler Fauchère relevant by having a clear focus on what interior designers needed and great products from a trusted and reliable partner to support their design practices,” proclaims current CEO and President Doug Kinzley. “They knew—and we still know—that alongside exciting products, great relationships are the key to making designers more and more successful.” They crafted a business that was and still is the model for many of today’s multiline showrooms, enabling tremendous growth that led to strategic opportunities including the purchasing of the esteemed furniture and lighting brand Gregorius Pineo in 2004.

Inside the San Francisco showroom. Photo by Christopher Stark.

Now with three locations in major U.S. cities, Kneedler Fauchère is widely recognized as an industry icon for their diverse offerings but more importantly for their endearing customer service. “There is value in being around 75 years,” DeWitt notes. “Although the industry has certainly evolved, many lessons are still relevant. The one constant that will always be our calling card is the value we place on relationships. The quality of our relationships with clients, supplier partners and amongst our teams internally remains our priority.”

CEO and President Doug Kinzley. Photo courtesy of Kneedler Fauchère.
Chairman and Creative Director George Massar. Photo courtesy of Kneedler Fauchère.

The team continues to honor the original vision by searching the globe for unknown artists and then providing a platform to make their dreams come true. “Our partnership with Kneedler Fauchère is a long history of growing business, family and great times,” says cofounder of Dedar Caterina Fabrizio, a longtime partner of the showroom. “The Big Bang was back in 1999. I remember those early years, during product introductions, when the team would enliven our Paris showroom, becoming a protagonist in our storytelling. Since then, that feeling of family crosses countries and continents.” And while the heritage was built upon introducing American designers to foreign finds, Kneedler Fauchère has maintained an outward reflection of the brand’s California roots. “It used to be that Americans looked to Europe for how we should live,” says Kinzley. “The creative head of a storied European textile house recently told me that now the world looks to California for how to live. To me, California represents beauty with comfort, style with ease and a mix of materials and textures that capture light and intrigue our souls. I think the work of our creative director, George Massar, captures this in our own Gregorius Pineo furniture, lighting and wallcoverings, which are used around the world.”

Chief Operating Officer Gina DeWitt. Photo courtesy of Kneedler Fauchère.
Chief Financial Officer Quinn Tran. Photo courtesy of Kneedler Fauchère.

It’s this spirit and commitment to international design that put their brand on the map in none other than the City of Light. What started as a small house party around the same time as the famed French design festival Deco-Off has now blossomed into the widely popular annual American in Paris party. It’s the brainchild of the late Rocky LaFleur—a beloved employee and design icon—who slowly built the once intimate party into one of the most sought-after soirees of the year. His ability to connect with others and further their own relationship to art, architecture and design influenced so many, including a generation of students at UCLA, where he regularly spoke. In an effort to honor his legacy since his passing in 2021, Kneedler Fauchère created the Rocky LaFleur Scholarship Fund, which awards design students funds toward their tuition and contributes to their big-picture mission of cultivating the community with immense care and consideration. In closing, DeWitt notes, “I can promise our emphasis on relationships will always guide our decisions. If we are remembered for one thing 75 years from now, I hope it’s the quality and longevity of our relationships.”

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