The Other Moderns: Sydney’s Forgotten European Design Legacy

I recently got a copy of the brilliant new book ‘The Other Moderns: Sydney’s forgotten European Design Legacy’. Edited by curator Rebecca Hawcroft, the book features a collection of expertly researched, and beautifully written essays that highlight the contributions of European designers and artists who came to Australia before or after World War ll. 

The book is the companion to ‘The Moderns’ exhibition which is currently showing at the Museum of Sydney until 26th November, 2017.  If you are yet to see the exhibition, I suggest you make it a priority. It is a timely and much needed contribution to our design heritage.

The exhibition features a range of vignettes by important designers of the period. This is a rare opportunity to see rooms of original furniture by George Korody, Steven Kalmar, Michael Gerstl and Paul Kafka. The curator Rebecca Hawcroft, has done an incredible job of bringing together archival photographs, artefacts and design objects to create a spellbinding exhibition that leaves you wanting to know more about the lives of these incredible people.

The book expertly builds on the material covered in the exhibition, and is crammed full of archival images and contemporary photographs of stunning vintage pieces from the Hotel Hotel collection. 

The stories are inspiring, and it’s good to see women being acknowledged for their important contribution to architecture and design.  In a time when refugees are too often vilified, this book provides a rare insight into the ways that Europeans, many fleeing war, have significantly influenced architecture and design in Australia. 

It’s a credit to all of the authors, and evidence of their craft, that they were able to write such detailed and evocative accounts that conjur such a vivid sense of the challenges and cultures that shaped the experiences of these remarkable people.

The book is limited, so get yourself a copy before it sells out. And don’t forget to check out the exhibition for a rare chance to see the beautiful furniture designed by these creative and talented Europeans who brought so much knowledge and culture to Australia. 

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Update: Keep up the good work. Save Lind House from demolition

Hi All,

Mid-Century enthusiasts from across the country are getting behind the national campaign to save Anatol Kagan’s masterpiece ‘Lind House’ from demolition.

Thousands of everyday people like you and I are frustrated and disappointed with the lack of protection afforded Lind House, and many of us think it’s time that councils, like the Glen Eira Council, went the extra mile and sent a message to developers that they can’t destroy our most treasured cultural icons. 

At this stage you need to keep up the  pressure, and for those who are yet to contact the Glen Eira Council, please submit your objection asap using the link in my previous post. 

I was told today, at a council meeting last night, Mayor Mary Delahunty said the council would write to the Planning Minister asking for interim protection control measures to save the house.

Well, we can also write to the planning minister.  Please email Richard Wynne MP or give his office a call at the link below:

http://m.vic.gov.au/contactsandservices/directory/?ea0_lfz99_120.&roleWithSubordinates&1deea11c-53f3-429b-9dda-80a3d0318f5e

Please leave a message on his Facebook page asking him to take action now to save Anatol Kagan’s architectural gem. https://m.facebook.com/richardwynnemp/

Keep up the good work everyone, and thank you to all the modernisters out there working hard to save our cultural heritage for future generations.

You can read about the latest developments in this excellent article by Bianca Cardona

As always, we are ever grateful for the tireless work of Modernist Australia, who are committed to saving our mid-century architecture. 

Please share this post widely and ask your friends to join the campaign to save an outstanding example of Melbourne Modernist architecture. 

Iconic Anatol Kagan home faces demolition. Can you help save it?


The ‘Lind House’, 450 Dandenong Rd, North Caulfield, designed by Anatol Kagan.

It seems strange that Robin Boyd’s book The Australian Ugliness should have such relevance more than 50 years after its publication, but here we are again dealing with the same issues. In an era where ugly has arguably become an industry fuelled by profit, too often we see architect designed mid-century homes destroyed and replaced with poorly designed boxes with little architectural merit.

These generic boxes are like tombstones that represent the destruction of another home, and too often the loss of yet another iconic architectural landmark. With increased frequency we read or hear stories of people mourning the loss of significant buildings that have been touchstones in our design history.  Mid-century homes designed by Boyd, Chancellor and Patrick, Fooks, Holgar and Holgar, and many more, here one day and gone the next, and ironically in its place another high density ‘modernist inspired’ box.

The buildings that replace these architectural gems often purport to be modern, but are instead simply examples of what Boyd terms featurism. You’ve all seen the photos, open plan spaces with replica American mid-century furniture, an island bench in the kitchen and a faux Danish pendant light. A pastiche that is neither modern or inspiring.

Recently, we saw Boyd’s Blott House (see above) on the chopping block, but thankfully it was saved by mid-century enthusiasts who valued and understood the importance and qualities of this iconic home.

Well, here we are again. This time it’s the ‘Lind House’, an architectural treasure designed by Anatol Kagan, one of the best architects from the Melbourne mid-century movement. You can read all about the home in this wonderful article by our ever vigilant friends at modernistaustralia.com.

I have walked past the ‘Lind House’ many times, admiring its form and it’s gentle modernism. I have dreamt of winning lotto and moving in to this ‘dream home’. But alas, the developers are poised, and the house looks certain to be another casualty in a housing market that values profit over substance. It is astounding that such an important home should not be protected, but perhaps councils too often talk of  revenue rather than rescue.

Whereas Boyd and other Australian mid-century architects had sought to create buildings that inspired new ways of living, it looks like the spectre of the ‘Australian Ugliness’ is now threatening to erase the very buildings that demonstrated that thoughtful and creative architecture is the key to a better future.

What can you do about this?

rosie-riveter
A developer is planning to replace Lind House with 8 dwellings. You can see the planning permit application details on the Glen Eira Council site.  Lodge an objection today, you can do it here. I suggest you let the Glen Eira Council know that they have a role to play in protecting our design heritage. We also have a duty to protect the things we value, so please click on the link above and make an objection. Do your bit to save this important example of mid-century architecture.

If you care, please share this post to help raise awareness. Together we are many, and submitting an objection sends a clear message to the council. Let’s all try to save this truly magnificent mid-century home.

 

Simply the Best: The Colourful Life of Marion Hall Best

The Museum of Sydney have recently confirmed the dates for an upcoming exhibition (Aug 5- Nov 12) about Sydneysider and style guru Marion Hall Best. 

Marion Hall Best (1905-1988) was a champion of Australian and International mid-century design. Best’s two Sydney store’s Queen St, Woollahra ( 1939-1974) and Rowe St, Sydney (1949-1961) were destinations for those who sought out the latest in modern design. 

Interior of Queen St, Woollahra shop, c.1960s.

Best was highly influential in establishing a demand for the modern style in Australia, and in 1951 helped found The Society of Interior Designers of Australia. Best had a strong sense of personal style which came through in the many commissions she received to transform the interiors of public and private spaces. 

Known for her bold use of colour and dramatic patterns, Best was not a member of the beige brigade, her vibrant wall and ceiling glazes were a glossy celebration of colour. Best was a trailblazer, importing the latest in international contemporary design to be sold in her shops, including furniture from the U.S and Italy, and fabrics by Marimekko of Finland. She was also a big supporter of Australian designers Clem Meadmore, Grant Featherston, Carl Nielsen and Gordon Andrews, stocking their furniture alongside cutting edge designs from around the world. 

The Marion Hall Best Collection located at the Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection  provides a fascinating insight into the world of one of Australia’s first interior designers. Best was a trendsetter whose vision for domestic living was sometimes challenging and other times transformative. Best clearly had a vision that centred around the role of design in the home, she even designed the occasional piece of furniture. 

Lounge chair designed by Marion Hall Best, c.1960s. 

With so many contemporary homes slavishly adopting safe neutral tones, more than 60 years later Best’s riot of colour is still a breath of fresh air.

To find out more about Marion Hall Best get yourself a copy of Michaela Richard’s ‘The Best Style : Marion Hall Best and Australian Interior Design 1935-1975’.  The book is now out of print, but can often be found in public libraries. If it’s a personal copy you’re looking for, you will need to check eBay or secondhand bookstores. 

Don’t miss the upcoming exhibition MARION HALL BEST: INTERIORS at the Museum of Sydney from Sat 5 Aug – Sun 12 Nov, 2017.  

The Story of Curl: A Clement Meadmore Sculpture

Clement Meadmore is perhaps the most famous sculptor to originate from Australia, his twisting metal forms can be found in galleries and parks around the world. Starting out as an industrial designer in Melbourne during the early 1950s, Meadmore produced a small range of furniture and lighting that was clearly inspired by his passion for jazz and abstract art.

After a trip to Europe in 1953, Meadmore’s interest in sculpture grew and by the mid 1950s Meadmore was exhibiting metal forms that arguably drew inspiration from international artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Piet Mondrian. In 1959, Clem, with the assistance of friend Max Hutchinson, set up Gallery A in Flinders lane, Melbourne. The gallery, a little Bauhaus in Melbourne, not only provided a space for progressive artists and designers, it also created a community for people looking to breakaway from the oppressive and conservative nature of the 1950s Australian art scene.

After 3 years living in Sydney, in 1963 Meadmore packed his bags and left Australia for the hussle and bustle of New York, a big city with a thriving art scene. In the beginning Meadmore faced many challenges, but by the end of the 1960’s he had found his niche, creating new works that arguably married his background in engineering and his interest in abstract forms.

Curl (1968), as noted by Robert Ferrari, was Meadmore’s first commission for a large scale public monument. The short video below is a fascinating account of the story behind this important work.

 

 

Australian Mid-Century Modern: Buying, Collecting and Restoration

A few years ago I wrote a post ‘Australian Modern on a Budget’ about buying Australian Mid-Century Modern Furniture. A reader recently asked me to update the post, so I decided to write an update that includes a few tips on getting a bargain and taking care of your treasured mid-century pieces.

When it comes to buying Australian mid-century design there are a few things you need to know about yourself. Are you a serious collector, a fan of good design, or simply want a vintage piece to compliment a room in your home. Is the piece going to be used everyday or do you have space for a rare piece that will only be used on special occasions? Understanding what you want and how it fits into the way you live will help you to find the right vintage pieces.

Buying Mid-Century


Sideboard manufactured by Summertone, Sydney, c.1950s. 

Knowledge is the key to getting a bargain, so it’s essential that you to do some research before you buy anything.  Do a google search, check eBay or auction websites to get an idea of what prices you can expect to pay. Trove is an online database set up by the National Gallery of Australia and is a great place to search through newspapers and magazines of the post-war period. Searching through old articles and advertisements is a great way to build knowledge and learn more about the post-war period.

Price all depends on the condition, popularity of the designer and the provenance. Knowing the market will help you to find the right piece at the right price. If you are really passionate about mid-century design I suggest you never waste money on cheap replica pieces. Always buy what you love, but if you can’t afford that expensive Featherston chair, don’t be fooled into thinking an ugly overstuffed replica will give you the same look or feel as the original. At the end of the day, you could have spent that money on one of the many high quality and affordable vintage pieces produced by lesser known designers and furniture manufacturers.


Modernist coffee table with marble top by Framac, Sydney, c.1960s.

There were many furniture and lighting companies operating in the post-war period in Australia. Companies such as Moderntone, Summertone, Decro, Doube and Framac may not be household names but they made some great furniture which you can pick-up at a bargain price. And if it’s a low cost Grant Featherston chair you yearn for, then it’s hard to go past one of his many chairs and tables manufactured by Aristoc industries, Melbourne.


Mitzi Chair designed by Grant Featherston for Aristoc Industries, c. 1957.

Emigre designers and/or crafts people such as Zoureff, Rosando Bros, and Rudowski present excellent value for those looking for quality pieces that reflect a European mid-century style.


Lounge chairs designed by Dario Zoureff, c.1950s.

When buying a mid-century piece it’s a good idea to ask the seller what he/she knows about the item’s history. Where did the item come from, who owned it, etc. The provenance can not only help you to identify a piece, it can also add considerable value. The stories behind your favourite chair, table or lamp are a wonderful way to engage with the history of your pieces.

If you are paying big bucks for a mid-century piece you need to know what your getting for your money and if it’s the genuine article. Some sellers, including auction houses, may make incorrect claims and it’s up to you to insist on proof of those claims. I have been caught out a few times by unscrupulous sellers who have told me stories about an items provenance that later turned out to be false. On one occasion, when I contacted the seller to explain my concerns, I got a completely different story and was refused a full refund. I learnt a lot from that encounter and now I always ask for evidence that an item is authentic.

Always insist on proof, you need to see documentation in the form of period advertising, an old receipt with the designer’s name/company, or a description of the item in a respected publication or public gallery collection. A good mid-century dealer will work through any of your concerns and support their attribution with evidence.

Let there be lights

Mandarin lamp designed by Joyce and Selwyn Coffey for Kempthorne Lighting,
c. 1959.

If it’s Australian Mid-Century lighting that you desire, then check out maufacturers like Rite-Lite, Kempthorne, Daydream, Arrow, Newton and Gray, Beecher and Beco. Australian mid-century lighting is a fraction of the cost of European designs, and even though prices are on the rise, there are still plenty of bargains out there.

It’s important to consider the condition of the piece and factor in any additional restoration costs. Most lighting can be repaired, and though hiring a professional to do the job can be expensive, the results are well worth the expenditure. Never try DIY with electricals, always get  rewiring done by a qualified electrician. If you’re unsure how to find a  restorer, ask a mid-century store if they can put you in touch with a  restoration expert.

Caring for your mid-century furniture

Collecting vintage pieces comes with responsibility, and that means taking good care of your treasured pieces. Whether it’s timber furniture  or lighting, always research the best method of preserving the original finish. If restoration is required, do your homework first and don’t attempt any repairs unless you know exactly what to do.

There are many online video tutorials on basic restoration, polishing and re-upholstery of vintage furniture. If the piece you’re restoring is mass produced, then perhaps a DIY challenge may be suitable for such an item. Never use cheap spray polishes, always seek professional restoration products. The name of the game is gentle restoration, not making the piece look brand new, so always try to maintain the original character of your treasured vintage pieces.

If you have a rare and valuable piece requiring restoration always seek a specialist. A good place to start is speaking to the conservation team at The Grinwade Centre for Cultural Materials at Melbourne University. Professional restoration is expensive, but amateur repairs can result in costly mistakes that may require extensive restoration.

Mid-Century Trends


Unit Range Lounge chair, designed by Fred Ward for Myer Emporium Ltd, c.1932. 

Design trends come and go, but there is one mid-century Australian designer who’s name is on everybody’s lips at auction houses in Melbourne and Sydney.  Don’t be surprised to see prices for early pieces designed by Fred Ward go through the roof as collectors scurry to get their hands on beautifully crafted pieces designed by Ward in the 1930’s. Pieces such as Ward’s ‘Unit Range’ armchair (1932) are amongst the earliest modern furniture designed and manufactured in Australia, so it’s no surprise that public galleries across Australia are building collections of furniture designed by Fred Ward.



Fred Ward was highly innovative and his designs for ‘Timber Pack Furniture’, a company he set up to manufacture pre-fabricated timber furniture in the post-war period, are steadily increasing in demand and price. To learn more about Fred Ward get yourself a copy of Derek Wrigley’s limited release book ‘Fred Ward – Australian Pioneer Designer 1900 – 1990’. You can also check out my earlier post about the Fred Ward: A Life in Design exhibition, held 4 years ago at the Gallery of Australian Design in Canberra.

The Australian post-war period was a time of innovation and social change. Modernism transformed our culture and created new creative industries. Collecting Australian mid-century design is a great way to fill your home with beautiful recycled pieces and connect with our design history.

Happy bargain hunting.

The Boyd Collection


The architect Robin Boyd (1919-1971) is well known for his iconic modernist buildings. The Walsh Street house in South Yarra, Melbourne, now the home of the Boyd Foundation, was built by Boyd for his family in 1957 and illustrates  Boyd’s ability to create light filled and harmonious domestic spaces.

Boyd was a man of many talents, he worked with the glazing company Stegbar in the 1950’s to develop his Window Wall design which consisted of pre-fabricated timber and glass components. Now considered an iconic architectural feature of Boyd’s buildings, the Window Wall proved successful and is an enduring motif of post-war modernist design in Australia.


The Boyd Family Home, Walsh St, Melbourne.

Boyd was also an author of many books on the subject of architecture, his book The Australian Ugliness (1960) is still in print and as relevant as the day it was published. Boyd was a big supporter of Australian industrial designers, and furniture by Grant Featherston and Clement Meadmore was often recommended to clients.


The Domain Park Apartments, Melbourne.

But alongside Boyd’s long list of achievements is something not known by many people. Boyd designed a small range of furniture to compliment his Walsh Street house and the Domain Park Apartments (pictured above). Simple in design and honest in materials, these pieces were designed to compliment Boyd’s unique architectural vision.

To celebrate Boyd’s furniture designs, the Boyd Foundation have just announced The Boyd Collection. Now you too can enjoy a little touch of Boyd design in your own home.