the design library in new york – a database of historical designs and patterns


Just over an hour from Manhattan you’ll find The Design Library, 11,000 square feet of warehouse space that holds a catalogued inventory of 260+ years of international fabric designs, wallpapers, embroidery, and yarn dyes. It’s the kind of place that makes you wonder why you didn’t know about it all along, so welcome to the best kept secret in design.



This treasure trove of design has a catalogue with over seven million pieces – that’s right, 7,000,000 pieces!!!  It’s the world’s largest and best organized collection of “soft goods” and is the go to place for fashion designers and top interior decorators looking for fresh inspiration based on the past.  And when I say past, think timeless classics.  The type of design that never ages and will still look good in 10, 20 or 30 years.  The collection covers an enormous span, starting with designs from the 1750s and moving right up to the present.  900 categories make cross-reference a breeze, so don’t think you’re going to be waist deep in pattern books and swatches of fabric.  This place is a well-oiled machine!



When you think of fabric and wallpaper design, particularly in the pre-computer age when “branding” didn’t exist, you realize that you’re often not thinking of great “names”.  Often it was an anonymous designer who left us with marvelous patterns, and so The Design Library is a fitting temple to their work.  And the works are truly global.  I was able to find books of French fabrics from the 1930s – rich textures and colors with a decidedly deco feel that are perfect for modern day upholstery, and just a shelf away many more designs from Africa, Asia and South America were tempting me to stay and keep browsing forever.  I came away with a wealth of ideas and expect you would too.



Noted names like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and H&M are all regular visitors to The Design Library.  Patterns are selected and then leased for one to three years for exclusive use.  Often the leasing parties change colors or enlarge the patterns to remake them for modern tastes.  The idea is to take inspiration and adapt it to your own needs.  A section on their website also allows clients to view selections from the comfort of home.  I can’t tell you how helpful this design database resource has been in just giving ideas and leading clients towards finding patterns that translate into their visions.  It’s just all about knowing where to look!



richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

image credits from top to bottom: The Design Library; de le Cuona; Aerin for Lee Joffa; Rubelli; Pierre Frey.  The images are ONLY for visual reference.  The fabric houses associated with these visuals may or may not work with The Design Library.