Clement Meadmore: Man of Steel

If you’re a regular reader of the Australian Modern blog then it will come as no surprise that we are big fans of Clement Meadmore. Arguably the greatest of the Australian Mid-Century industrial designers, Meadmore’s furniture and lighting is in a class of its own. 

In the early 1950s Meadmore set up an independent design practice in Hawthorn that became the talk of the town. He was a creative force, designing shop interiors, record covers, and a small range of innovative furniture and lighting designs popular with young homemakers and modernist architects of the period.


Clement Meadmore: Man of Steel is a comprehensive survey of Meadmore’s design practice in Australia and features rare examples of Meadmore’s furniture and lighting, including newly discovered designs exhibited for the first time.

The exhibition will run from Sat, 2 Sep 2017 – Sun, 22 Oct 2017 at the Hawthorn Town Hall Gallery, Melbourne.

Modernist Streets of your Town


After much anticipation the moment has finally arrived when we can all sit down and enjoy the new 2 part series Streets Of Your Town featuring Australian comedian and lover of all things modernist Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross.
It’s not often that you get to visit so many iconic Aussie modernist homes, let alone have a chat with important architects such as Peter McIntyre who designed the small but incredible River House nestled in bushland and floating above the Yarra river in the leafy suburb of Kew, Melbourne.

The River House , Kew (1955), designed by Peter McIntyre.

The Australian love affair with modernism can be seen in the design of homes, public buildings and of course, our furniture. The great thing about this series is that it provides an Australian perspective on modernist design. Tim not only travels from state to state, including modernist treasure trove Canberra, he also looks at the ways our relationship with design has changed since the post-war era up until the present day. From iconic homes designed by Robin Boyd through to more obscure delights such as homes by Pettit + Sevitt or Merchant Builders.

The McMansions that are populating new and existing suburbs are a far cry from the 12 square homes of the post-war era when building restrictions required that Australian homemakers did more with less.

The Marriott House, Flinders (1954), designed by Robin Boyd

What also emerges in this series is a real sense of how Australian designers re-imagined international design trends to create unique designs that respond to our environment. Established and run by Melbourne architect Robin Boyd in 1947, then later directed by architect Neil Clerehan in the 1950’s, The Age Small Homes Service offered house plans by top architects for the reasonable sum of 5 quid. The idea behind this clever scheme was to make good design available to the masses. For those on a budget but adventure in their hearts, such as my parents, these plans provided a real opportunity to build a modern home and live the Australian dream.


In the case of my Mum and Dad, they built their small home (see above) in 2 stages over 3 years. The house was designed to accomodate their growing family, with a separate dining room that would later be converted into another bedroom. Dad built his own window wall that wrapped around the lounge room, flooding the home in glorious light and blurring the distinction between indoors and outdoors.

Flash forward to 2016 and you’ll see that what  Robin Boyd called the ‘Australian Ugliness’ is still very much part of the Australian landscape. Whereas once builders may have worked towards meeting the needs of their clients, it now seems that many home buyers choices are driven by the needs of large building firms who arguably put profit margins ahead of the needs of the client or our environment. Or is it simply that the Australian obsession with enormous homes outweighs the need for good design?

At a time when Australia is in the grip of a housing affordability crisis and untamed urban sprawl, Streets Of Your Town raises important issues about the ways that good design can enhance everyday life. I think that’s a very worthwhile premise for a documentary and an important discussion we need to have now. Perhaps we can learn much from the lessons of the past. Good design can change your relationship with space, it can also enhance your life.

You can watch episode 1 of Streets Of Your Town on ABC iView or check out episode 2 next Tuesday at 8:30pm on our ABC or pre-order the DVD and watch it whenever you feel like it.

String Theory: A Mid-Century Modern Chair Mystery.

As you probably know by now, gathering information about our design history often involves hours, and sometimes years, of meticulous research in order to make a positive identification of a design. In the case of the string chair pictured below (left), I have spent the past 5 years searching for the maker without a single clue, but a few days ago my research partner came across an advertisement (see below) in a 1950’s issue of Home Beautiful that might help narrow down the search for this unusual chair design.

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Australian corded armchair, c.1950’s (left) and Anthony Hordens advertisement in Australian Home Beautiful, 1954 (right).

As you can see, the corded chair in the advertisement is very similar in style. Sure, it’s not an exact match, but the construction of the seat looks to be the same. Both chairs appear to have been inspired by American designer Alan Gould’s 1950’s corded dining chair (see below). But why would someone copy Gould’s design?

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Alan Gould corded dining chair (left) and Contempora corded dining chair c. 1955 (right).

A combination of restrictions on imported goods during the early 1950’s and often expensive licensing agreements with overseas furniture companies (Knoll, Herman Miller, Race Furniture, etc) arguably made access to furniture by international designers difficult and prohibitively expensive. For some local manufacturers, the solution was to copy and/or appropriate designs
by leading international furniture designers. I suspect that the corded chair sold by the Anthony Hordern’s, part of their own in-house range, was most likely inspired by Gould’s design, but was perhaps different enough to avoid any  unwanted and/or protracted legal dispute over a perceived copyright infringement. On the other hand, local furniture company Contempora, who produced a wide range of steel rod furniture, manufactured a corded chair that is so similar to Gould’s now famous design (see above) that it could only be described as a copy.

So who made the yellow corded armchair? Was it originally available for sale at Anthony Hordern’s department store or was it made by a backyard enthusiast?  I think it’s highly unlikely that it’s a Gould design, and fortunately we are well beyond the days of attributing every corded chair to Clement Meadmore. Until I am able to find more information, the designer of this chair will remain a mystery. What are your thoughts?

Identifying Australian mid-century furniture designs can be time consuming, so to make this task a little easier I have put together an online archive of Australian and International mid/century design on Pinterest. The Australian Modern Pinterest site is a great tool for identifying your mid-century treasures and includes photos of iconic mid-century furniture sourced from post-war magazines and online resources. You can also share your passion for #AustralianModern design on Twitter. Our Twitter feed is a great place to share stories, pics or ask questions about mid-century design.

UPDATE: The mystery has been solved.
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The corded chair above was designed by Carl Nielsen, c.1955. And available at Marion Best, Sydney. It would appear that Neilsen may have designed the corded chair sold at Anthony Hordens and the corded armchair sold at Marion Hall Best in Sydney. Based on these advertisements I would say that my yellow corded chairs can be attributed to Carl Nielsen. Many thanks to Chris at Australian Modern Design for his help with the identification.

A Gallery of Clement Meadmore Industrial Design

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It might not come as much of a surprise to regular
readers of the Australian Modern blog, but I do have
a passion for the designs of Clement Meadmore.
Over the past 5 years I have been researching his
industrial design practice throughout the 1950’s
and I am keen to hear from collectors and people
who knew Clem, 
or perhaps know/knew people
connected to the Meadmore Originals business,
Kenneth W. McDonald, Francis Burke, etc.

I have interviewed a number of people who
knew Clem or have purchased his furniture
or lighting in the 1950’s and it would be great
to gather more stories, so please send me
an
email if you would like to share your
story.

All help is much appreciated.

To get you inspired, check out this gallery
of Clement Meadmore designs.

cheers,
Dean.

Fred Ward: A Life in Design

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When it comes to Australian post-war furniture design Fred Ward is perhaps
one of the most iconic designers of the period. With a career spanning 60 years,
Ward was at the forefront of modernist design trends, designing furniture for the
Myer Heritage range, Fler and countless large scale commissions for public
institutions. Fred Ward: A Life in Design is considered to be the most
comprehensive survey of Ward’s prolific design career and features a substantial
collection of furniture designed by Ward, as well as original drawings and photographs.

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Ward’s designs are often simple, but it is this simplicity that makes his work
stand out amongst so many other designers of the period. A highlight for me
was a chance to see some of his rare and early designs from the 1930’s, such
as a beautiful modernist chest of drawers and a lovely lounge chair (pictured).

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Many of the pieces on display were accompanied by Ward’s original design
drawings which really helps the visitor to get a better understanding of the
design process, but also the man behind the designs. I highly recommend
checking out this important exhibition. This is serious eye candy for those
who value craftsmanship and beautiful furniture.

Fred Ward: A Life in Design is a FREE exhibition showing at the
Gallery of Australian Design in Canberra from 30 May, 2013 — 27 Jul, 2013.
The exhibition coincides with the release of a new biography on Fred Ward,
written by designer Derek Wrigley, who had collaborated with Ward in his
later years in Canberra.

You can hear an interview with Derek Wrigley recorded in August 2013 for the ‘By Design’ program on ABC Radio National. For more information on Fred Ward check out the Fred Ward Archive Collection on the Powerhouse Museum website.

That obscure object of desire: Steel rod furniture

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B.K.F Chair by Austral Group, Buenos Aires c.1938

I don’t know what it is about steel rod furniture that I find so pleasing,
but it seems that during the 1950’s there was a global design trend that
involved the use of steel to produce countless homewares, lamps and furniture.
Overseas designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Alan Gould,
Harry Bertoia, Ernest Race, Robin Day and the Austral Group had
already made a splash on the design scene and it’s likely that some
Australian designers and members of the public were familiar with
these contemporary designs via the lifestyle/trade magazines of the period
such as Home Beautiful and Architecture and Arts.

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Fler Aluminium Shell chair c.1954

Steel furniture was modern, and really fit the design ethos of post-war design
whereby furniture was produced to have a light appearance which gave interior
space a less cluttered look and feel. In Australia, there are some great examples
of furniture made using steel rod, and it is perhaps the furniture of Clement Meadmore which is best known amongst collectors and post-war design enthusiasts. But Meadmore was not the only designer in Australia engaged in working with steel to produce design objects.

Roger Mc Lay’s Kone chair (1948) is an undisputed design icon. A cone of carefully pressed laminated plywood floating on slender steel rod legs.
A marriage of steel and timber resulting in a visually light and elegant design.
Also worth noting is the charming simplicity the steel chairs produced
by Fler during the 1950’s, such as the TVS chair (1957) or the unique construction
material and form of the incredibly rare Aluminium Shell chair (1954).

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Raymond Wallis W-WP100 Lounge chair c.1958

One of my favourite chairs is a rare example of the innovative industrial
design practice of Australian painter Raymond Wallis who produced a
small collection of furniture during the 1950’s. The chair’s oversized
blondewood paddle arms, teamed with its sculptural tubular steel
construction strike the perfect balance, the result is a finely crafted
sitting machine that would be perfectly at home on a beachside verandah.

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Ramler (1956) and Contempora (1955) advertisments.

Other Australian designers and companies offering interesting designs
in this modern medium include Ramler, Pandar and Contempora. Some
of the Ramler designs, such as the ‘corded magazine holder’ and the
‘standard lamp’, along with the corded chair and metal picture frame by
Contempora, are often mistaken for designs by Clement Meadmore.

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Panda (1956) and Fler (1956) advertisments

Steel rod furniture enjoyed a great deal of popularity in the 1950’s.
Companies keen to jump onto the design trend took inspiration from
overseas and each other. The ‘Calypso’ suite (1956) by Pandar (see above)
shares similarities with the ‘Peoples Chair’ (1956) designed and manufactured
by Fler, Melbourne. It was not uncommon for the home enthusiast to purchase
steel rod and weld his own D.I.Y modernist furniture in the back shed.

The award for the most unusual design would have to go to Gerard Doube for
his incredibly modern ‘Airframe’ lounge chair with air cushion. The strength of steel
juxtaposed with a whimsical lightweight cushion, what more could you want
in a chair.

doube

The beauty of steel rod is that it can be bent to create a wide range
of interesting shapes, thus freeing designers to experiment with
new productions processes and the creation of new design forms.
The B.K.F Chair (1938), otherwise known as the ‘butterfly’ or
‘Hardoy’ chair is a perfect example of how steel can be used to create
fluid lines and a contemporary twist on the hammock. Metal can take
on a soft appearance, it can be visually light and durable, and most
importantly it can look beautiful too.

Highly Strung Design: Modernist String Chairs

If you have ever wondered about the answer to the question
‘how long is a piece of string’? You might be surprised to
discover that it all depends on the chair.

For me, nothing says post-war design quite like a string
chair. Free of the unnecessary padding and upholstery of
more traditional furnishings, these chairs show off their
construction elements for all the world to see. They may
not be fancy chairs, but they are certainly no ugly ducklings.
Like webbed chairs, or the furniture of early modernists
such as Marcel Breuer and Gerrit Rietveld, the string chair,
sometimes refered to as a corded chair, is an exercise
in honesty and demonstrates that beauty can be found
in simplicity.

String chairs play with light and space as they almost
shimmer like a mirage due to their semi-solid state.
And though they may not appear sturdy, it’s surprising
just how much comfort and support can be produced
using long lengths of flagline or sashcord wrapped
around a steel or timber chair frame. Which begs
yet another question, is it the string that transforms
the frame into a chair?

Being a fan of the corded furniture designed by
Clement Meadmore in Australia during the early 1950’s,
I thought it might be nice to take a look at some of the great
designs produced in other countries, both in the 1950’s and
into the 1960’s. The selection below is made up of some of
my favourite designs. Perhaps 1970’s U.K. comedians The
Goodies were right when they sang ‘everybody loves string’.

If you love string chairs or you have a favourite string chair,
please leave a comment.

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Clement Meadmore corded chair, Australia, circa 1952.

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Poul Kjaerholm, ‘Holscher’ chair, Denmark, circa 1952.

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Unknown designer (possibly Clement Meadmore), most likely Australian, circa 1950’s.

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Alan Gould Lounge Chair, U.S.A. circa 1950’s.

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Carl Koch for Tubbs of Vermont, U.S.A. circa 1950’s.

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Jacques Guillon, Cord Chair, Canada, circa 1953

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Hans Wegner ” Flag Line ” Halyard Lounge Chair, Denmark, circa 1960’s.

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Jorgen Hovelskov, ‘Harp’ Chair 1968.

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