The son of a Danish missionary, Tambi Larsen was born in Bangalore, India, where he attended an American boarding school before completing high school in Denmark. Following high school, Larsen attended the Royal College of Engineering before pursuing more creative endeavors at Yale Drama School and becoming a U.S. citizen. Prior to breaking into the movie industry, Larsen worked frequently as an art director on Broadway before serving as a broadcaster over the Voice of America, for the Office of War Information in London during World War II. In the year following the war, Larsen began his career as an art director for Paramount, later receiving his first official job on 1953's The Secret of the Incas. Winning an Oscar two years after his debut, for The Rose Tattoo, Larsen would later be nominated by the Academy for Best Art Direction for Hud (1963), The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965), The Molly Maguires (1970), and Heaven's Gate (1980), and would win a British Academy of Film and Television award for Spy.
Bringing his career to a close with work on a trio of Westerns, Larsen died in March 2000, at his North Hollywood, CA, home after battling a lengthy illness.