A Pattern for Design: DIY Culture and Pre-Fab furniture in postwar Australia

Recently I bought a little 3 legged timber stool with a detachable leather seat. The whole thing folds down so it can fit into a tube for easy postage and/or storage. The Pak-Saddle Seat, made by the David Engineering Co in Melbourne, is a reminder of the design ingenuity that was taking place in postwar Australia.

Australian Home Beautiful, October 1957.

During the the postwar years there was an increased demand for low cost housing and furniture. To address this problem, in the late 1940’s designer Fred Ward set up Pattercraft furniture and produced a series of furniture patterns that could be ordered through the Australian Hone Beautiful magazine. The patterns, which required a basic level of woodworking skills, could be used by individuals as a template for constructing simple timber furniture. Ward’s business iniative proved successful and Pattercraft furniture went on to include many designs which were later made available as part of Ward’s Timber-Packs range of furniture.

Timber-Packs (see above) consisted of pre-cut, shaped and sanded kiln dried Australian timber pieces that were ready to assemble. Like the Pattercraft range, Timber-Packs were also advertised in the Australian Home Beautiful. For buyers in country towns, the opportunity to have these contemporary designs delivered to their homes arguably enabled people living outside of major cities to engage in modernist design trends.

94/203/3 Stool, wood, Karen Ingeborg & Associates, Swedish-Craft packaged Furniture, Australia, 1953-1960

As the demand for modern furniture increased, other companies got in on the act. In the early 1950’s, Sydney based company Karen Ingeborg and Associates launched Swedish-Craft Packaged Furniture (see above). The designs, in the popular ‘Swedish look’, were made from Australian timber, ready to assemble, and packaged in cardboard boxes ready for delivery to customers across Australia. According to Nanette Carter in her article ‘ BLUEPRINT TO PATTERNCRAFT: DIY FURNITURE PATTERNS AND PACKS IN POST- WAR AUSTRALIA’, after moving to Canberra in 1950 Fred Ward replaced Patterncraft with a new series of updated patterns he called Blueprint furniture. As noted by Carter (2011, p.8): “Australian Home Beautiful replaced Blueprint in 1954 with Plycraft patterns. These were designed for use with more affordable plywood, by architect Walter Gherardin, and Ron Rosenberg who had trained with Ward in the Myer workshop. But this venture appears to have been unsuccessful, lasting only a few months”.

Advertisement for Plycraft furniture, Sdyney Morning Herald, 1954.

As time moved on and materials became more available and affordable, it would appear that there was a shift away from furniture patterns and pre-fab furniture towards readymade mass-produced furniture by manufacturers such as Fler, Summertone and Parker. But DIY and pre-fab furniture by Australian designers are now being recognised as important mid-century design artefacts and are slowly becoming more collectable. Whereas selected handcrafted designs by Fred Ward might sell for thousands of dollars in auctions, Patterncraft, Blueprint and Timber-Pack furniture presents many collectors of Australian postwar furniture with an opportunity to obtain interesting and inexpensive pieces by celebrated designer Fred Ward.

Timber-Pack Furniture design No:27, ottoman designed by Fred Ward c.1952.

If your willing to search online auctions you can often find Fred Ward designs for less than $100, such as this lovely Timber-Pack ottoman made from Australian hardwood. Top it off with a cushion or put a piece of glass on top and transform it into an occasional table, either way it’s excellent value for a spectacular piece of Australian Mid-Century Modern design. Unlike other pre-fab furniture, you won’t need instructions or tools, all you need to do is sit back and dream of the past.

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2 thoughts on “A Pattern for Design: DIY Culture and Pre-Fab furniture in postwar Australia

  1. I really like the ottoman pictured here. I’ve been meaning to get an ottoman for my living room. I need a place to put my feet when reading. I think that stretching my legs helps me understand what I’m reading more. What’s your favorite kind of ottoman?

    • Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to comment. My favourite footstool is the Fred Ward one pictured. I really like the simple design and you can add a cushion of choice. The height is also perfect. You also have the added benefit that it was designed by arguably Australia’s greatest designer of modernist furniture. That all adds up to something really special.

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