Australian Art for Mid-Century Spaces

Tim Ross on ABC Televion program Streets Of Your Town, 2016.

When we look closely at classic mid-century homes, we often see carefully curated spaces that convey the tastes, values, and aspirations of their owners. But there is much more to these interiors than furniture and lighting.  Whether it be paintings, ceramics, glass, textiles or sculptures, such art works play a major role in turning a room of vintage pieces into a dynamic interior that invites relaxation and/or contemplation.
So how do you go about choosing art for a mid-century inspired interior? Well that depends on a number of factors, such as room size, budget and personal taste. Everyone is different, therefore it’s important that you embrace your individuality and select artworks that are meaningful to you. Avoid making choices based on colour schemes or matching your furniture. Be bold and trust your judgement.

Sydney Ball, Canto IX, 2002-2003.

Whereas some people like to buy only mid-century artworks, I think it’s good to mix it up. As much as I admire mid-century design, I don’t want to feel like I’m living in a museum. Contemporary art is a great way to add visual interest and at the same time support the creative economy.

Rather than buying prints, always buy original artworks. If you would never buy a copy of a vintage chair, why would you buy a cheap print?Auction houses and artist run spaces are great sources of affordable original artworks.

Buying art is an adventure, be open minded and take the time to learn about art history. The more you learn about art, the more you will appreciate the art in your space. It’s also a good idea to read up on particular artists you like. It’s good to get a sense of the way their work has evolved over the years and what their work is all about. You may find that you only like work from a certain period, or you may just think everything by that artist is simply brilliant. But when it comes to buying that original artwork, only buy what you like, not what you think others might like. Remember, the main thing is that you feel a connection to the work.

David Aspden, Window IV, 1968.

There is original art to fit all tastes and budgets. If you like to collect, then small works on paper are often good value, and are also a great way to build your art collection. If size matters, then look for large works that will compliment your space. Sometimes a collection of small art works on one wall can be just as engaging, and have as much impact as a single large scale work.

If all this talk has got you thinking about art, then check out the fantastic Re-Purpose exhibition at Drill Hall Gallery in Canberra. Re-Purpose runs from Fri 11 November — Sun 18 December 2016 and features work by 3 generations of international and Australian artists. You can also read a review of the exhibition.

Here are just a few of my favourite Australian contemporary artists.

Peter Atkins: EP PROJECT, 2016.

Dana Harris: spoolworks 2010 – 12, yarn spools bound with cotton thread, variable dimensions.

Emma Langridge: Except, 2016 enamel / acrylic on wood
approx 30 x 20cm.


Kenji Uranishi: Momentary, a collection of ceramic works exhibited
at Brisbane Museum.

Momentary, a collection of ceramic works exhibited at Brisbane Museum.


Jane Brown: Outback netball, White Cliffs, New South Wales, 2014/16.


Bryan Spier Multiplicity, 2011 Synthetic polymer on canvas board 30 x 40cm.


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.

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.

Emigré Houses in Kew: Open Day Sunday 22, March 2015

The Lyall House 1955-56. Architect: Anatol Kagan

It’s not very often that you get an opportunity to look inside some of the best examples of Australian mid-century architecture, but this Sunday 22 March, 2015 (between 10am-4pm), The Boyd Foundation are holding an open day where you will be able to view homes designed by iconic emigre architects Ernest Milston (Czechoslovakia), Ernest Fooks (Austria-Hungary) and Architect: Anatol Kagan (Russia). The selected homes are outstanding examples of the creativity and innovation exhibited by emigre architects in Melbourne and reflect the influence of European Modernism in Australia.

The homes, all within walking distance of each other, are located in the Studley Park area of Kew, a suburb well known for its large numbers of architect designed mid-century homes. Tickets are limited for this event so be quick to secure a chance to see some of the most inspiring and unique mid-century homes in Melbourne.

For more details about the Boyd Foundation Emigré Houses in Kew Open Day visit the link below:

Take A Seat: Australian Mid-Century Chair Exhibition

IMG_2863If you like a good Australian mid-century chair then I suggest you head on down to Penrith Regional Gallery who are currently hosting the Take a Seat: Australian Modernist Seating exhibition.

The ‘Take A Seat’ exhibition showcases Australian chair designs between 1940-1975 and includes a selection of artworks from the period to provide some additional context. Expect to see chairs by Grant Featherston, Gordon Andrews, George Korody, Fred Lowen, Clement Meadmore, and Fred Ward, as well as a number of chairs by lesser known and/or unknown designers.

The exhibition is hot on the heels of the outstanding Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design held at NGV: Ian Potter Gallery, Melbourne in 2014. And although there are many familiar names included in this offering at Penrith, there are also some interesting designs by Douglas Snelling, Gayla Soos, Steven Kalmar, Paul Kafka and Derek Wrigkey. And for those with a passion for Parker Furniture, there are also a number of chairs designed by thus much loved Australian furniture company.

Screenshot 2015-02-05 17.13.44
Margo Lewers, Composition in Orangec. 1952 oil on canvas on cardboard.
Image property of Penrith Regional Gallery.

The exhibition also features work by Australian modernist artists of the period including Ralph Balson, Margo Lewers, Robert Klippel, Inge King and many more. There is also a small selection of photographs by renowned photographer Max Dupain. Unfortunately there isn’t a printed catalogue for the exhibition but you can download a PDF catalogue at the Penrith Regional Gallery website. The exhibition runs from 22 NOVEMBER 2014 – 22 FEBRUARY 2015, so there is still time to get down to the gallery and take a look at these rare and wonderful Australian chairs.

I haven’t had a chance to see the exhibition as yet, but it sounds well worth a visit. If you have seen the exhibition, please leave a comment. What was your favourite chair?

Myth Busting and Mid-Century Design Research

At Australian Modern we believe that auction houses and dealers should make every effort to know what they are selling to the public. It’s important to avoid making assumptions when trying to make an attribution or identification of a mid-century design or designer. The research needs to be thorough and based on evidence, such as the impeccable research on Michael Hirst carried out by artist Peter Atkins who, with the assistance of Michael Hirst’s widow Joy, has ended much of the speculation over the Hirst/Meadmore collaborations. You can read Peter Atkins’ essay on Meadmore and Hirst in the ‘Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design’ catalogue.

It’s fair to say that it’s easy to make mistakes when trying to make an attribution, but I believe that there is much more at stake here. An incorrect attribution does more than disappoint, it also denies the original designer their rightful place in our design history.

Dining table, designed by Clement Meadmore, c.1952.        Dining table, designed by Woods Williams Pty Ltd, c.1955.

A good case in point is the 1950’s kitchen table (see above) originally listed as a Clement Meadmore design at a prominent Melbourne Auction house in 2014. At first glance you might think you have discovered a new Meadmore design. It has similar features to a dining table designed by Clement Meadmore in 1952. But after a bit of research it turns out that it’s not a Meadmore design but part of ‘The Summit Group’ designed and manufactured by Wood Williams Pty Ltd in Melbourne.

Original advertising flyer, Woods Williams Pty Ltd, c.1955-60.

The company, which started out as Woods Williams & Associates in 1952, offered a ‘made to order’ service and manufactured a version of Meadmore’s basic corded chair in 1953/54, so you can see how easy it would be to assume the table was a Meadmore design. But Woods Williams & Associates also had an in-house designer and produced designs for other companies such as Sydney based furniture company Summertone. What’s important to note here is that Woods Williams & Associates company was dissolved in June 1954, and Lawrence Woods continued to operate the business under the name of Woods Williams Pty Ltd. This information also helps in dating the ‘Summit Group’ table. The business later moved to bigger premises and produced a wide range of steel rod furniture including a variation of the Butterfly/Hardoy chair and a diverse range of kitchen/dining settings in the popular styles of the period.

So how is that there are Meadmore corded chairs and stools that carry Woods Williams and Associates? My guess is that when Meadmore sold his ‘Meadmore Originals’ business to Kenneth W. McDonald to fund an overseas trip in 1953, it was perhaps McDonald who initially had the Meadmore designs manufactured by Woods Williams and Associates. In around 1955 McDonald set up a ‘Meadmore Originals’ factory in South Melbourne and continued to add new designs, most likely designed by himself.

It would appear that many auction houses simply rely on information supplied by the vendor and their in-house expert, but mistakes do happen and I was pleased to see that the auction house in question, after being presented with the evidence, amended their listing of the mis-attributed Meadmore table before the auction date.

Console designed by Peter Hayton and manufactured by Hayson furniture, Melbourne. C. 1960’s.

Another good example of mis-attribution is Hans Hayson. After having a chat with Melanie and Peggy Hayton, we discovered that Hayson furniture was actually designed and co-owned by Peter Hayton in Melbourne. And yet, auction houses, dealers and eBay sellers continue to make the common mistake of attributing Peter Hayton’s Danish inspired designs to ‘Hans Hayson’, a designer whom little is known about. I recently saw a Danish inspired timber bedhead on ebay with a label reading ‘a Hans Hayson original’, so it would appear that there is a Hans Hayson. So with two Hayson companies making Danish style furniture in Australia, it’s easy to see the source of the confusion.

There is still a great deal of research to be done. Everyone has a part to play, and when you know a dealer, auction house or gallery has got it wrong, it’s important to tell them and set the record straight. We owe it to the original designers to make sure that their work is documented and included in our design history.