SIRIUS WIN!

A brilliant bombshell has hit the sphere of Australian Modernist preservation this afternoon. A megaton of court ruling which, when it landed and exploded, rained hope, celebration, encouragement and lifeforce to everyone across the nation fighting their own little heritage and preservation battles. We speak once again of the Sirius Building. For those not up to speed we say take a look at our earlier dispatches (and here and here) as onlookers from another state firmly supporting those who undertake the real grit to save this Sydney Brutalist icon and its origins as harbour side public housing, most notably the Save Our Sirius Foundation. To wit – everyone, but everyone, in the know (and the thousands more who just love it in their lives and movements) said this concrete construction of incredible architectural, social and historical standing was worthy of some form of heritage protection. Everyone that is, but the Heritage Minister himself (insert snort here) who couldn’t see any of this for the dollar signs in his eyes and the circling developers pitching woo with dinners and furs. No matter. The man in the wig has slammed his gavel and declared, for now, that ignoring this heritage value is ludicrous. The minister is wrong. That government coffers and the personal peccadilloes of a one temporary public servant should not dictate the life or death of such landmark architecture. That $50,000 fundraised from nothing to bring this matter to court is not to be sneezed at and is but one of many examples to bring weight to the idea that preservation of this landmark is a must. Now, we were not born yesterday and we know the fight is not over for Sirius or its place on the water as a home for non-millionaires. Those battles shall continue on. There will be regrouping required, skills to be shared and energy to be revitalised in the weeks and months to come but tonight – as they say – we party!

Featherston find in the Deep North

A little tidbit from the social pages yesterday had our interest, so much so we’d thought we’d share. It began with a tale of lament on this wonderful Australian MCM furniture page (we’d highly recommend for any furniture queries you may have). One reader, Sylvia, found some chairs in Northern Qld (Innisfail to be exact) on Gumtree which she missed out on purchasing. What looked to be maybe something special was actually a set of six original, c.1964, blue velvet Featherston Scape chairs in immaculate condition. In a market where these chairs can retail for over $3000 a pop, these six were being offloaded in a homestead clearance for $200 each! (see the real estate listing here – a country ripper!). Suffice to say within hours the whole lot was snapped up and we wonder if they might not turn up in some Brissy retro shop before the Spring.

 

 

Now we can extend this post with discussions around the idea of knowingly buying an item from a seller who may be ignorant to a true market value (though we gather this seller was contacted and advised at the time). We could also diverge into the veracity of the second-hand MCM furniture market  – proficient hunters scanning real estate listings to find their next kill. We have seen it often enough in the metro areas and it can provoke some ire among a sector of Modernist Australians, however when we have also witnessed beautiful Parker Chairs left out for the hard rubbish and bespoke joinery cut up and chucked in skips during yet another soul crushing demolition – give us some loved and restored pieces of history in a swank shop any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Indeed the whole MCM movement would not have the cachet and growing sway it does without the initial tastemaker furniture dealers setting the course. So here’s to discoveries, the treasures and the ceaseless prowl. There is still gold in them thar hills, you just have to be quick!

 

Beaumaris Modern

‘Thomas House’, 27 Mariemont Avenue Beaumaris. Chancellor & Patrick Architects. 1960. Status; recently sold, very endangered. Image from Beaumaris Modern.

The Melbourne bayside ‘burb of Beaumaris has always has a small but intense collective of MCM soldiers to protect its rich but at-risk vein of architect designed residences built between the 1940s – 1980s. In keeping with last week’s watershed moment where it seems the entire country raised their voices, formal council objections, blogs posts, news articles, tweets and social media commentary in support of Kagan’s Lind House just over the way in the City of Glen Eira, we would like to give a shout of the Beaumaris Modern who are mobilising and taking their preservation and appreciation efforts to the next level. We were going to suggest that all those in the Bayside area (or greater Melbourne) especially newbies who are not quite sure what they know, but know what they like in the MCM homes they may spot on the street or in the homes mags, to come on down to the first celebration and open house from Beaumaris Modern. This is the first of many new adventures BM are undertaking to raise the architectural profile of their beautiful area, and attempt to open more eyes to the residential treasures in their midst;

“Join Beaumaris Modern for a night of ‘oohing’ and ‘aaahing’ over some of the most stunning examples of mid-century modernist exteriors, interiors & gardens in Beaumaris. With an introduction by special guest Tim Ross of Streets of Your Town (TV series) and Modernister Films fame, our inagural event promises to be a showstopper.Doors open 7.30pm. After the ‘slide show’, stick around to enjoy a drink & a chat with like minded, passionate mid-century fans.”

Now, we say ‘were going to suggest’ because this event with capacity for over 100 people, has sold out in days! There is no more room at the inn for interested parties – proof enough that the love of MCM and the desire to celebrate and protect it grows daily. Of course there will be more funtimes planned by Beaumaris Modern in the future, so we’d suggest you show your support by getting on board via their FB or Intsa – and make sure you don’t miss out on the next extravaganza.

‘Lind House’ is this how it ends?

And so it seems that the ‘Lind House’, the wonderful, unmolested residence by Anatol Kagan which the previous owner tried so desperately to find a loving owner to buy, was purchased by developers instead. There was no heritage overlay, and none sought. These developers are presently seeking permit for 8 town houses, see the application details here (type in application number GE/PP-30607/2017). This home will be demolished before the year is out unless the Glen Eira Council hear an uproar and re-consider their usual rubber stamp for such projects. This is the form to submit your opposition to it and more council info here – we implore you to take the small time to do this. Once it is gone, it will never be coming back.

 

 

This home is one of only a small collective of domestic buildings conceived by a noted, local Mid-Century architect which survive in the leafy ‘burbs of Melbourne. Several others by Kagan such as ‘Anschel’ and ‘Lyall’ houses (both in Kew) are revered, photographed, treated with love and lived in as per their original remit. ‘Lind House’ has a rightful place among them. It is not a wreak. It is not some half-baked retro Modern curio. It has pedigree, intrinsic value and is part of Melbourne’s history.

**Update** Wowee! What an response we – all the Modernist social media and bloggers – have garnered! The mainstream press is all over this AND (what’s even better) it looks like the Glen Eira Mayor has applied for interim protection for this residence from the Planning Minister (fingers crossed). In addition they have have made the call out to anyone to advise them of any MCM architecture to note for their comprehensive heritage review presently underway. So to ensure your local Modernist favourite in the hood does not suffer the same precarious fate at the ‘Lind House’ we’d suggest letting Glen Eira council know about it ASAP. In a spread which includes suburbs like Caulfield, Elsternwick and St Kilda we know there is a lot worth protecting. 

 

 

 

Ich bin ein McMansionheller!

If you are anything like us, you cry salty tears of mirth and recognition when perusing mcmansionhell.com. The way Kate Wagner offers architectural critique reaches far beyond the easy (and somewhat uninformed snobby) utterances of “It’s just not cool” into the realm of social, political and economic discourse with triumphant humor. She understands the McMansion as a tool employed to boast of moderate wealth and fill holes of self-esteem in situ, free from any deeper design or construction considerations and contemplates their ultimate symbolism of pre-GFC house-as-investment culture which continues to permeate our own country like a virus, all in between outrageously hilarious stabs at bitter families living beneath the chandeliers and marble veneer. If you’d like to hear her in fine action listen to episode #27 of US Modernist Radio.
Last year we fawningly wrote to McMansion Hell, informing Wagner about own MCM battles across the Pacific, which elicited this lovely response;

“Thank you!! This is a super important issue, and I’m glad that you and your colleagues have taken up arms against it in such a public and successful way. You have my full endorsement, and godspeed to you all. Also, I didn’t realize there was such a large number of vibrant MCM buildings in Australia. I’m totally hooked.”

 

But wait – you say – that link to her website doesn’t work.
And you’d be correct.
Let us explain.
In a similar way we use images of real estate listings to promote our bounty of Australian MCM properties currently on the market or for lease, McMansion Hell does the same – albeit with a more *ahem* educational spin. And it seems inevitable now that the sooky la-la McManion set suddenly feel that their repugnant status castles are beyond critique, that they are more important than any artwork or any celebrities commented about in the daily media and MUST. NOT. BE. LAUGHED. AT. Zillow, that North American real estate UX horrorshow (say what you like about our nation’s real estate websites but hol-y they are a joy to navigate compared to Zillow) have taken steps to lawyer up and come down on Kate Wagner for using their images, as it maybe violates their agreements with the afore mentioned sooky la-las. As a single voice in the entire USA websphere and just making her way in it, Wagner has sadly but prudently taken down McMansionhell.com, until this whole mess can be sorted out.

Can you even fathom such thin-skinned objection to dissenting ideas? Dissenting ideas about architecture?
We at MA, here and now, claim our place next to McMansion Hell, stand up for them (and us) and all who question our built environment, our ‘economic values’ and call out this absurdity for what it is – arbitrary censorship by snowflake. But in the current climate of the USA, it seems winter has well and truly arrived.

Bruce Rickard Kickstarter – 1 day to go!

Max Dupain, Swimming Pool, Rickard House I
Cover image – Max Dupain, Exterior Perspective, Curry House II

For those who came in late – we need to note immediately that the sensational Kickstarter project to have the archive of Sydney School, Modernist Australian architect Bruce Rickard (1929 -2010) published into a complete tome has reached its goal and there is only one more day to get on board and secure yourself a slice of printed Australian architectural history. And what a book! Never publicly seen plans, sketches, written perspectives from former clients, academics and colleagues (perhaps best of all) glorious Max Dupain photography to send you a spin of pure joy at one of our great unsung architectural legacies which evolved as a response to our own unique environment and climate.

 

Bruce Rickard, Sketch Design Floor Plan, Evatt House

This Kickstarter project is the hard work of Cracknell & Lonergan Architects, who maintain a close relationship with the Rickard family and hold the physical archive of his 60 year long and much lauded career, so we know this project is certainly in accomplished and anointed hands. Get your copy and support our Australian MCM history right here, right now!

Confetti and medals

When we listed a highly coveted, fully renovated residence in Hotham St Elsternwick, a few months back we just knew it would fall into some appreciative hands; “…its future as a abode for some cool cat, MCM diehards seems assured”. Well, those cool cats in question were kind enough to confirm as such with this lovely, and rather envy inducing, note to MA;

“Wanted to thank you for your great website/blog and let you know that last month we purchased 233 Hotham Street Elsternwick that we only found because of your story.  We weren’t looking at that side of town but couldn’t resist that house!…….Over the years my partner and I have been buying mid century furniture for our 1880’s Surry Hills terrace so quite a mismatch so we’re very excited to move into our new home later this year.”

Hooray!
Meanwhile down in Capel Sound (a hitherto unknown to us Peninsula pocket between Rye and The Bud) a true act of salvation has taken place. Without a doubt this classic 60s beach house was a dead cert for the chop, as its sales pitch was one based on nothing but ‘wealth creation’ and planning approval for the most putrid of bog-standard townhouses (honestly, how did such a hideous ‘design’ become so ubiquitous?). But wait! Interior designer Rhiannon (and carpenter husband) spotted the roof of this down-at-heel offering and, like the matinee hero dashing in to untie the maiden from the train tracks, swept in, scooped up this property and are now planning for the long but rewarding journey of a complete, sympathetic renovation. Double hooray! Deserving of confetti and medals all round!

 

 

It’s volley time!

Calling all Mod Sydneysiders, time to prove your dedication to our built heritage and get to rattle around our most iconic MCM residence at the same time; Sydney Living Museums have put out the call for volunteers to run guided tours of Rose Seidler House, sharing your passion for Mid-Century Modernist design in Australia while being a deft hand at dealing with all visitors. We dare say only the best and most genial need apply for these dedicated positions.

Sydney Living Museums is looking for enthusiastic volunteers at Rose Seidler House who are passionate about modernist architecture and sharing our heritage.Volunteers receive a free Sydney Living Museums membership including unlimited free entry to 12 museums plus a huge range of member-only benefits!”

Also, while we are here, SLM are also just about to launch their Modernism Program, including an insight to the built legacy of Sydney’s European émigré architects/designers and also an overview exhibition of the work of Marion Hall Best, ooh la la!

*All images courtesy of Sydney Living Museums

The Rumpus Room

Athleisurewear as once seen in rumpus rooms, patios and bars across the nation (The Sun newspaper, Sept. 29th 1983)

Conjurer and ferryman to Australian suburbia of the 60s, 70s and 80s, Tim Ross has recently released a new book on the very subject and is now travelling the countryside with tall tales to accompany it. Although late to the party, we’d like to remind you there is one such show coming up in Melbourne this Monday night, with additional special guest star Lucy ‘Design Files’ Feagins. We suggest you get on down to Northcote town and if you cannot then at perhaps buy the book and float away on a tide of childhood ratbaggery and long gone places revisited, which in our estimation may include but not be limited to; dinged ping-pong paddles, boardgames (we’d put our money on Mastermind, Test Match and Uno), murder in the dark, backyard cricket, Malvern Star bikes, Pong, trampoline injuries, pool ponies, stripey carpet*, EON FM, scuffed lino, bbq snags with coleslaw, swap cards, Wizz Fizz, Chicko Rolls, Adidas Romes, young parents holding banquet parties and children completely unsupervised for days on end. Oh what a time it was to be alive.

*you know the kind – the short loop pile carpet with a different stripe of colour per row – if anyone can name that for us, we be most grateful.

 

Three more triumphs!

Three seperate emails we’ve received in the last month, have filled our hearts with kind words and the good news that yet more homes, two in greater Hobart and one in the Blue Mountains, have fallen into the right hands. David and David (not related) have both swooped in as buyers, the first David snapping up a little brown bargain in Lindisfarne we listed a while back and the second David, although a Brisbane based designer, is in the middle of cleaning up and reviving one of our absolute favs of recent years in Sandy Bay, which very easily could have not made it through. He is even seeing through unrealised plans;

“Built in 1963 as you can see it features a curved wall , with nifty square Iron framed windows that also occur in other parts of the house. Retains its original bathroom and kitchen which features sold hardwood and ply with hand cut dovetail drawers. ……..Owner must have run out of funds because although it has a large sliding door to connect with a deck, the deck was never built. Its happening now. I have designed a hand rail which I am hoping will suit this well…….Plenty else to do like patios a new carport , the garden, etc. It had a crazy paving path made of sandstone as you can see but this has deteriorated and will be replaced…….”

For some wonderful postscript, work-in-progress images see below.

 

As for the Blue Mountains, Pip has written to let us know that the humble home of breathtaking alpine environs we wistfully admired round Easter, looks safe and whatsmore has created a wonderful legacy for the now departed owner;

“We’ve accepted an offer for the house – apparently the new owners just love it as it is which is terrific. The two adjacent blocks have been bought by developers I think but at least the house will stay. The sale prices were high…..but it’s a deceased estate and all proceeds are split between the NSW Art Gallery and the National Art Gallery of Bulgaria.”

Bravo and high fives all round this beautiful country, Modernist friends.

MA Holiday Rentals have arrived!

Attention – all you lovers of fine Modernist Mid-Century Australian architecture and goers on mini-breaks. Those of you who dream of sleeping under butterfly roofs, bathing in pink bathtubs, basking in the light and breathing in those timber ceilings of one-of-a-kind homes look no further. After a long, long time in the pipeline today we announce with glee that MA Holiday Rentals has arrived! From now on we shall host a very special space to find the perfect MCM place for you, your friends and family to enjoy, without the hassle of Section 32s, mortgage stress or removing asbestos. You can now have your smashed avo and eat it too, preferably in the sunroom of a delicious holiday home on a glorious weekend sojourn. Though only one listing thus far, we have a bunch coming along behind the scenes (which shall eventually be listed per state). And if you’re so lucky as to own a beautiful retro, Mid-Century or Mod flavoured abode for short-stay letting – please shoot us an email and let us know! You can attract the ‘right’ kinda people – your people – our people –  to fully appreciate your home and personal interior flourishes, and the best part; It’s all free, for spreading the love is the only game in town here at MA right now.

An quick note of yay!

A quick win and note of gratitude to the Modernist Australian (who’d like to keep it on the down low) for letting us know his good news;

“I bought 36 Martin St Brighton (Melbourne) on the weekend and will definitely not be knocking it down.”

We suspected this beauty, after such a sympathetic update, had a bright future and now we know for sure – Hooray!

Home improvement?

The time-machine quality of the internet, when perusing real estate listings, is an emotional rollercoaster. We can view changes to our environment good and bad in full colour and are then left to to digest such change. Sometimes that digestion gives us hope, sometimes heartburn, but no amount of Gaviscon will help us with this example we present today: Prunella Close, Doncaster, in Victoria.

Before

 

A magnificent, palatial proportioned residence by local architectural masters Chancellor and Patrick, this residence was always going to attract a big spender when it sold just over 2 years ago and it seems that big spender fancies themselves as an ‘interior designer’. Well, pardon our venom but what they have achieved in that time signifies a design intellect and capability informed exclusively by hubris and a bank account. Being a fan of The Block and adopting the features of insipid, high-end, chain hotels does not a true interior designer make. Because, lets face it, any aimless person can scatter some cushions round their living room, post it on Instagram and call themselves a stylist or interior designer these days. Why devote thought and quiet time to deeper considerations? Shopping for stuff is the peak of creativity, all that maters is surface and how expensive (or cheap) it was right?

We know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

What we see here is the damage done by this mindset – wonderful homes with an architect’s considered materiality and deference to the quasi-bushland environment – earthiness, texture, dark lushness and light interplay – turned into an echoey, snow-blind ‘contemporary home’ (TM) with all the apparent ambience of a Westfield food court. Add more down lights! Plaster that brick! Rip up that soft, tactile carpet and slap down those dull grey (always grey) tiles, clattery throughout! Rip out that gorgeous (and valuable) hardwood kitchen in totality and put up some veneered MDF! Don’t forget the marble because we are classy and marble is what classy people do. FFS.

After

The most disappointing thing is, when the wheel of fashion has turned once more, when white is ‘out’ and exposed brick is ‘back in’ (when mainstream tv shows announce it so), when people are finally reminded to consider warmth and sound, this home will be recognised as being altered very badly, but bringing it back to original will be close to impossible.

Before

After

 

In the excellent essay ‘How Beige Took Over American Homes’ by the much admired Kate Wagner AKA McMansion Hell (if you’ve never seen – be prepared to cry with tears of mirth and recognition) theorises about the North American cousin of such interior styling; the ‘Pre-GFC Beige Out’, a staple of the 2000s renovation craze, her succinct point (and rather ominously for us with the Australian housing market in its present state) was;

“Our houses lost their personal worth and touches; they were worth to us only as much as they were worth to others. Our houses were painted beige because beige enabled the prospective buyers we (even unintentionally) were designing for to picture their own lives in our houses. Beige is a blank slate – a canvas upon which anyone’s personality can be painted over………….. After centuries of the home being primarily a place or a space, during the 2000s it was seen as primarily an object or, more specifically, an asset. At a time where mortgage speculation made our houses disposable and impermanent, beige slipped happily onto the walls of millions of Americans, who wanted easy ways to make their house “worth more” at the behest of HGTV and other media, who treated the home as a thing to be changed, or disposed of on a whim”

Swap the word ‘beige’ for ‘white’ and this is what we see happening here right now. Give it some plaster, a TV approved luxe-over and then a flip. And though we’d gladly concede in some cases a freshen up for a mediocre or falling down residence is a chance at new life, and in many cases appreciate a contemporary rescue over the wasteful growl of a bulldozer – we do not accept such DIY forays with masterful originals. Not with Chancellor and Patricks. Not with such already beautifully appointed interiors and mature gardens. Leave them alone, they are beautiful, they are homes for living in. And if you have the itch? Go try your designer hand with something more comparable to your skill set: like a one bedroom, 1980s brick veneer flat and then see where that takes you.

Shag Exhibition in Melbourne and Sydney

Does anyone else so joyfully perpetuate the dreamscape of 1960s lounge Modern, of kitty-cats and cocktails, of pop-culture and poolside like Shag (Josh Agle)?
Many of you are well versed in the brilliant colours, celebrity cameos and MCM buildings which populate the output of this Southern Cali artist extraordinaire. But what some of  you may not have picked up is Shag’s credentials as an honorary Modernist Australian. For an American soaking in the Mid-Century superpower pop-dominance of his own nation – from music, to movies, cars, suburbia, cultural identities and architecture Shag has actually done more to feature the Australian echo of this era, than any other artist we can name.
His paintings have re-envisaged numerous local talismans – from The Skipping Girl,  Platypuses and Brack’s ‘5pm’ on Collins Street and placed the architectural output of our local guns such as Boyd, Seidler, Clerehan and McIntyre front and centre in his work.

On this, his tenth visit to Australia and on the eve of his new exhibition proudly presented as always by Outre Gallery, ‘Shag, A Seat in The Kingdom’ The artist once more delivers on the local front. We’re not telling you how, but if you cannot recognise those chairs and the Angry Penguin on the wall, then you need to go back to art school daddy-o!
This Australian element was the topic of his recent interview for Outre which you can read in full. But to quote;

“From the first time I visited Australia, I was drawn to the visuals and the way of life.  I saw the optimism and exuberance that I also found in my home state of California, but it was combined with a heavy dose of British temperance.  Years before I ever visited Australia, I had found a book about the Melbournian mid-century furniture designer Grant Featherston at a flea market. The book had his furniture set in 1950s Australian interiors.  Both the designers and architects of 1950s and ‘60s Australia were virtually unknown in the US and I felt like I had a secret source of inspiration I could refer to. When I got to actually see the furniture and buildings in person, it solidified my admiration for that era in Australia.”

Image courtesy of '60s33' Instagram

Image courtesy of ’60s33′ Instagram

The Shag exhibition opening night shenanigans are this coming Friday 17th March in Melbourne (6-8pm) if you can squeeze in that is! With the exhibition running then from 17th March – 7th April.
Sydney fun will kick off opening night on Saturday 25th March (4-6pm) and the exhibition runs March 25th – April 2nd.

Just an aside, it is wonderful to view the work of any artist online or in print form over the years, but take it from us – you haven’t seen a Shag painting in comprehensive, senses overload of colour veracity until you see an original in real life. The bigger, the better. If you can get to either Outre during this time, we insist you do it!

Featherston Book – let it happen!

Big news people: the very first book to extensively delve into the iconic Australian design team (and national treasures) Grant and Mary Featherston is finally in the works. First the bad news – no publisher wants to fully back it’s publication (can you believe that?) boo hiss! The good news is however thanks to passionate Featherston collector and writer, Geoff Isaac, we can cut out those impotent know-nothings and get it published anyway!
For the last four years Geoff has researched, collected, interviewed, slaved and now presents us the fruit of his labour – a beautifully presented and professionally produced hardcover book which now only needs a minimal pledge from your, dear reader, to get into your hot little hands. The Kickstarter project is here and well on its way to reaching its goal. We decided to chat with Geoff and get a little more info about the whole thing…………..

So Geoff, what is your background? It takes a lot of passion to take a subject and turn it into a comprehensive study and then seek to publish it –  4 years work in your case. What was your first experience with the work of Grant and Mary Featherston?

My background is not in design it is in marketing. I have written extensively for publication but this is my first book. My interest in Featherston started a long time ago. When I was 30 I separated from a partner and was left with the house, but no furniture and no money! I picked up some furniture from local second hand stores and among these (and unknown to me at the time) were a series of Scape dining chairs, designed by Grant Featherston for Aristoc in 1960. A few years later, my financial situation having improved, I moved to a warehouse apartment and set about buying some decent furniture for it. After several months I realised I could not find any dining chairs I liked more than the ones I had. I set about refurbishing the Scapes and started finding out about the designer. Over the next twenty years my interest grew and I started collecting Featherston chairs, working backwards in his career to buy examples form the Contour series (for which he is most famous). As prices of Contours began to rise I moved forward in Featherson’s career and started collecting examples of the designs he created for Aristoc (the Melbourne based manufacturer he worked with for 13 years) and the chairs he developed working with his wife Mary for other leading manufacturers right up to the mid 1970s. I was amazed by the variety of materials used and designs created over his 30 year career in design. I was even more amazed to discover that, although Grant Featherston is practically a household name very little has actually been published on his life and work. I started to dig around in the libraries and archives and slowly began to think about writing the book.

Who were some of your interview subjects, did you get to meet Mary Featherston and hear some good stories from the horses mouth (so to speak!)? Unearth any gems in your research? 

Mary Featherston gave me access to the press clippings in the Featherston archive and has read the proofs for the book and provided valuable feedback saving me from some potentially embarrassing mistakes. Mary has also been good enough to provide and an endorsement for the book. My first interview was with Terence Lane, the former Senior Curator of Decorative Arts at the National Gallery of Victoria who organised the Featherston retrospective in 1988. The catalogue from that show is the only other publication dedicated to the Featherstons’ work, copies occasionally turn up on line and can sell for $500 of more. Terence met the Featherstons in the late 1960s while they were working on the fit-out for the building designed by Roy Grounds, they designed all the fixtures and fittings, unfortunately most of it has since been ripped out. I also interviewed Babette Hayes, who wrote or edited several popular design books in the 1960s and 1070. Interestingly these books do not feature the Featherstons’ work so it was interesting to find out why! Neil Clerehan, the famous architect also granted an interview. He met Featherston after the Second World War, during which he had met Robyn Boyd. All three were part of a small group of Melbourne-based designers and architect interested in modernism and they formed a close symbiotic relationship, introducing and sharing clients. As I was leaving Neil’s office I asked if there was anyone else I should interview and he suggested Ian Howard, the former Managing Director of Aristoc. To my surprise and delight I found Ian alive and well at over ninety years old and sitting on an enormous archive of previously unpublished material, including photographs, sales brochures and company records. In short, I hit the jackpot! With such a rich archive to explore the project has taken rather longer than I hoped but the end result is much richer for it.

The book, from the sneak peek, seems like a nice combination of index for each individual design within historical/social context, was this always your intention? Did you have any other publications you specifically liked for the way they covered their subjects?

A chronological approach was really the only solution explored. Featherston designs evolve and change with the times. The work can really be divided into three groups – wooden designed and produced between 1947 and 1957, designs in steel (1957 -1966) and his work with Mary, primarily in plastics, from 1967 though to the mid 1970s. To appreciate the context a brief reminder of the historical and social pressures and events that shaped the times was needed. I have also tried to look around the world and see what was happening in the world of chair design and to try and tackle head on critics who accuse Featherston’s work of being derivative

I was inspired by Marilyn Neuhart’s excellent publication The Story of Eames, a highly detailed account of the Eames Office including verbatim interviews with many of the designers who worked to create the chairs. Neuhart’s book also includes the parallel story of the entrepreneurs who supported Eames. When I met Ian I realised that the Aristoc story is a very important piece of the Featherston story and so I have included a detailed account of the rise and fall of the manufacturer.
I was also impressed by Lesley Jackson’s book Robin & Lucienne Day, Pioneers of Contemporary Design and the way the words and images were combined to evoke the period. I do have a lot of mid-century design books and many of these have inspired me along the way.

For better or worse the Featherston armchair chair (#R160) (like the ubiquitous Eames Chair& Ottoman) has become marketing shorthand for MCM design. So now on one hand we see it reproduced (sometimes very poorly) en masse as replicas all over the place, what are your thoughts on this?

I find the copies depressing. People are paying a lot of money for a poor quality, uncomfortable product with only the semblance of the look of a real Featherston. I take that back, they don’t even have a semblance of the real thing, the curves are usually wrong, and the padding is over stuffed so they look dreadful as well. Featherston Contour chairs are made from plywood, when you sit in one it flexes to adapt to your weight and shape and provide support to your body. When you sit on a copy the rigid plastic shell remains a rigid plastic shell, ten minutes later and you will want to stand up. Charles Eames once said, “You hope that someone will come along and take the central idea and improve on it. I don’t mind that. But what I do mind is somebody who copies the most miserable aspects of an idea … A copier will emphasize the area in which the designer failed to solve the problem, rather than where he succeeded in solving the problem.” This is certainly what appears to have happened with Featherston’s Contours.
Interestingly though the reason that the copies are so bad is that Featherston’s Contours are really a cheat. Featherston developed a production techniques that allowed sparsely populated Australia to experience the Modern look. In North America, Eames was spending enormous amounts of money developing presses to curve his plywood, the local market could not sustain that investment. Featherston created a solution to manually cut and bend plywood to get a similar result. Modernism was all about embracing modern production methods and the machine age, therefore it could be said that Featherston cheated by using tradition production techniques to achieve the Modern look. Even today the cheap copies prove that you can’t produce Contour chairs using mass production techniques

It seems Gordon Mather with Grazia and co have the ‘offical’ rights to, and make a selection of Featherston chairs these days, are there any specific designs you’d like to see being manufactured again, which presently are not? Which is the most underrated Featherston furniture in your opinion?

Yes Gordon Mather and Grazia have teamed up to reissue a wide range of Featherston designs. It was interesting to see that the Obo has been included, reportedly at Mary’s request. The Obo was the Featherston’s response to the bean bag – its advantage being that it holds its spherical shape – making it visually more appealing than a traditional flaccid bean bag. The Obo was expensive when it was originally release and was not a commercial success so it will be interesting to see how it sells now.  I would like to see the Wing chair and the Curl-up chair added to the reissued Contour range as originals are very hard to find and both these designs are under appreciated by the market more generally.

We are astounded that there are no books on the work of the Featherstons and that you have had trouble getting a publisher to take on this project. Tell us about what you’d like to achieve with your Kickstarter campaign.

The search for a publisher has been even more depressing than the Featherston copies! I was repeatedly assured by experienced professionals that I would have no trouble finding a publisher for this work. However, it appears unless you are writing a recipe book or want to get snap shots from a celebrity’s  travels  published the local market is not open to you. I think only one publisher even read the manuscript and they wanted a significant upfront investment, really turning  it into a vanity publishing job. Personally I think it is a very poor show that I could not find one publisher willing to support the first work on our most famous mid-century designer and arguably our most successful industrial designer. Having put so much time and effort into the job I have decided to see it through. I have basically financed all the research and writing myself and have invested funds to get the design and layout complete. To get it printed will cost around $25,000 so allowing for the Kickstarter fees I need to raise $28,000. Ideally I would like to raise around $40,000 to get some of my money back – but that is all sunk costs now so the primary goal is to get it printed and out into the world. As I write this I am only at $10,000 so I have a long way to go, but still just over a month before the campaign ends (on April 10) so I remain hopeful of reaching the goal.

So there we have it, a project any self respecting Modernist Australian should be backing. Order today and ensure it’s publication. For not only does that reward you with a beautiful, hardbound reference tome, but it manifestly declares to the wider world that the pool of love and money for our own MCM identity grows bigger by the day. 

Before & After (trigger warning)

We are in the midst of a big ‘ol clean up here, migrating a bunch of listings from years gone by and taking in these beauties one more time (Look out for an improved site coming soon). In the process we need to check addresses and sometimes we just wish we hadn’t. For while some homes we assumed were goners at time of sale remain standing and are even being cared for (hooray!) others are dust. Irreplaceable, wonderful, architectural gems – they now only live here with us. Behold just a couple of damned examples lost to ignorance and avarice. If anyone has a loss dear to their heart (with the images to back it up) drop us a line, we’ll add it to the list to look upon what we as a community have wrought and further strengthen our resolve to stem this insanity.

19 Hillside Rd, Springfield, SA

Before

After

4 Cara Rd, Highton, VIC

Before

After

270 Balwyn Rd, Balwyn North VIC

Before

After

 

Making inroads

We have been extremely heartened by communication with several new homeowners over the past few months, letting us know that properties they saw first on the market  via MA are now in their safe hands. How great to start the year with glad tidings. It means so much to know we are all making a little difference to save and further the appreciation of some wonderful homes out there, not least this stunning home in South Australia – undoubtedly one of the best from last year and at the time a little controversial in its listing. Congratulations to Tim and Colleen who have told us “We will definitely not be demolishing the house – but aim to keep it as original as possible.” Hooray!

 

 

Compulsory viewing from Aunty

It’s finally here, after over a year of waiting and working ourselves into a pitched fever tomorrow, the 8 of November, brings to a head the culmination of so much hard work and lays bare a full dissemination of all that is good and evil in this world. We are speaking of course of comrade in arms and long-time supporter of MA, Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross and his ABC show on Modernism in Australia (election? what election?). Streets of Your Town’‘ (2-part programme starting tomorrow night, 8.30pm ABC tv) should bring nothing but sheer excitement, validation and gleeful eye-candy for all of us already Modernist Australians out there but much more importantly this program may hopefully open the eyes of the uninitiated and unaware masses pushing the ethos of Modern design for living, which soared last century and was then tragically cut down in a tide of money, commercial interests, politics and fashion. Tell your friends, enemies and otherwise. Share, like, repost, follow and get it out there. You need to watch this. We.all.need.to.watch.this.

Heritage victory # 1

Time to relay some good, nay brilliant, news stories which have been floating around the traps in the past month or so.

First up, a suburban Melbourne listing we posted early last year, with a depressing resignation that it was not long for the world. Well, it is always grand to proven wrong! The wheels of heritage justice have been slowly turning and here’s where we are (as summarised by Simon Reeves of Built Heritage, who has been a main player in its salvation.) Sincere congratulations and love your work sir!

  1. In 2013 the house was flagged to potentially appear in a “City of Whitehorse Post-War Heritage Study” though at the time is didn’t make the cut due to the mystery of its creator, later discovered to be the family home of architectural draftsman and Lithuanian émigré, Bolius Kunciunas.
  2. Threatened with demolition and replacement with townhouses after a developer purchased it last year (as per our listing) a specific assessment of the residence was commissioned by council (yay!), after much gum-shoeing by Simon Reeves in consultation with Kunciunas’s daughter Ryta, it was confirmed her father was indeed the designer, having been completed in 1962, thereafter the design was submitted into the Age Small Home Service, and became a standard plan #V374. Kunciunas himself completing his own architecture studies at RMIT after this in1964. Here is the citation from Built Heritage.
  3. As a result of all this fancy foot and paperwork this residence has now been officially protected by a heritage overlay, to be enjoyed by a new generation and not bowled over for some lacklustre new development.

Don’t we all love a Scooby-Doo ending?