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.

Australian Modern: The Magazine

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If you loved Chris Osborne’s ‘Brisbane Modern’ magazine, then you will be
literally counting down the days until the national release of his latest publication ‘Australian Modern’ in February, 2012. The magazine is a must read for anyone who is interested in Australian design culture and architecture. It promises to be chock full of fun and informative articles, as well as great photos of modernist furniture, objects and homes.

For more information and photos check out the Fun and VJ’s website.

Modernist Dream Homes

If you are anything like me and you long for lazy days spent lounging
around your post-war dream home, then Modernist Australia  is
the website for you. It’s a website dedicated to Australian post-war
architecture, from the most humble peppermint beach shack through
to designer icons such as homes by Boyd, Round, Seidler and  Romberg.

Find out the top modernist suburbs, or join the forum to chat about
renovations and mid century decor. A note of caution, once you start trawling
through the list of properties you may have to send out for supplies.
I recommend a platter of salada biscuits with Coon cheese and cocktail onions.
Then kick back in your Roger McLay ‘Kone’ chair and wash it all down with a
fruity glass of  Mateus Rose.

Enjoy

Clement Meadmore Furniture.

Australian artist Clement Meadmore made furniture during the 1950’s before he found international success as a sculptor. Most of his work is constructed using steel rod and cotton or synthetic cord, but the simplicity and sculptural quality make his chairs something quite unique. Below is a sample of some of his work from the fifties.

Below is a rare example of a Meadmore stool with backrest which
displays his flair for simplicity and functionality.

For more photos of Meadmore furniture check
out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/54393527@N03/sets/72157625267067449/

Is the Featherston chair over-rated?

There is a lot of hype surrounding Featherston’s now iconic contour chairs but is the hype deserved? It’s a well known fact that many of these 50’s classics are prone to leg damage in the form of splits and breaks, and when your paying anywhere between $2,000-10,000 for a chair you really do want something you can actually sit on.

The contour range (pictured left) produced by Featherston in the 1950’s is perhaps unique for a number of reasons. His sheer ingenuity in developing a cheap means of moulding plywood to create his organic shapes put Featherston at the forefront of contemporary furniture design and arguably paved the way for other designers. His reinterpretation of the classic wingback chair, saw a transformation of its once bulky frame into a lighter form that hugs the body whilst appearing to float upon its slender splayed legs. The popularity of these chairs continues to grow and it,s difficult to open an Australian interiors magazine without seeing a featherston chair sitting casually amongst the ubiquitous Eames, Saarinen and Hans Wegner chairs. So what’s not to like here?

The allure of the Featherston chair is undeniable but it’s not the only great chair made in Australia during the fifties. For my money, when it comes to post-war furniture design in Australia it’s hard to go past Gordon Andrews, whether it be one of his gazelle’ or ‘rondo’ chairs, both are sure to please. Not only did Andrews design original and innovative furniture, he also designed our first decimal currency.

The first Rondo chair (pictured left) is a thing of beauty and was originally made from sections of marine ply attached to a wooden spine that sat on aluminum legs. It is said that Andrews built all of these early versions of the Rondo before changing the design to something that could be more readily manufactured. The later versions of the Rondo chair saw the removal of the timber spine and the introduction of a star shaped or wine glass base. Interior designer Marion Best was a great supporter of Andrews’ designs and regularly stocked a range of his furniture in her popular interiors shop in Sydney. The Rondo was re-issued under license by Fy2k  in 2001 and is available in a choice of fabrics and bases. Retailing at around $2,000 plus cost of fabric, it’s a much cheaper option than vintage pieces which can sell from anywhere between $3,000-7,000 depending onIf you buy at auction or retail from a dealer. Whatever choice you make, you will be sitting pretty in any one of Andrews’ Rondo chairs.

So if you have a passion for post-war furniture design, don’t just follow the pack. Choose your own adventure and look out for interesting and unique pieces that can take pride of place in your home. You can still pick up bargains by Douglas Snelling, Clement Meadmore and Fred Lowen if you hunt about junk shops or trawl the Internet. A chair is more than just something to sit on, it’s a design for living that rewards the owner with comfort and pleasure.

Remember, life is too short for ugly furniture.

A nest of tables can multiply your joy

If you haven’t discovered the pleasures of nested tables then
I suggest you check out some of the brilliant pieces produced
by Australian post-war furniture designers.

Nested tables are handy to have about, not only do they look
good but they are also functional. Ideal for that time when you
wanna have a cuppa whilst relaxing on the sofa, or eating a
meal on the veranda or balcony.

Set of nested tables (timber and glass) by Dario Zoureff (1950’s)

Nested tables come in all shapes and sizes, and there is generally
a design to suit most tastes and budgets. For 60’s and 70’s nested
timber tables, check out makers such as Parker and Noblett, and
for 1950’s it’s hard to go past the timber tables by Zoureff and Rosando.

If your taste goes towards the more industrial, then try out tables by
European designers such as Breuer, Albers and English company PEL.
I found the tables below in an op shop about 15 years ago, I think
they may have been made by PEL.

Happy bargain hunting,
Dean.