Modernist Season at Sydney Living Museums

The Moderns: European Designers in Sydney at Museum of Sydney shows the work of a large, inter-connected group of émigrés working in Sydney in the 1930s to 1960s. Architects, interior designers, furniture makers, photographers, commentators, they brought European modernism, fresh ideas, vitality and some controversy (that last they didn’t necessarily bring).

From the museum website: Discover the vitality of this community, their stories of achievement, loss, adaptation and ingenuity in this celebration of both the richness that migration brings and the diverse history of our city – a timely reminder as history cycles. Writing this I reflect back on Godwin Yidana’s words on circles, connectedness and how all both give and receive (31-Jul-2017).

George Reves
Schwartz House

The exhibition includes plans, photographs and drawing, plus a series of vignettes set up so you can appreciate the whole design in context – furniture, rugs, artwork etc. Often the furniture was designed as an integral part of the architecture.

Rose Seidler House
Photo: NewFormula

Architect Harry Seidler must be one of the best know today of this group. A week ago I went on the SLM Donna & Brian Seidler House tour & talk.

Rose Seidler House
Photo: Marcel Seidler

The talk was in the lounge room of Rose Seidler House, another SLM property. The house is actually one of three built here, all intended for different members of Seidler’s family. The talk was given by Brian Seidler (Harry’s cousin) and focused on the recent (ongoing) restoration of Julian Rose House (originally intended for Harry’s uncle Marcel, who took the photo of Rose Seidler House shown to the right).

The care, attention and challenging choices of the renovation / restoration are amazing. The house had been extended and remodeled by owners over the years, not always sensitively or even soundly in engineering terms. Inappropriate additions, such as thick concrete pad and quarry tiles, have been removed. Damaged structure has as far as possible been repaired. “As far as possible” – there’s the rub. This isn’t a museum, it needs to function as a home. Some of the “modern” materials are no longer available, or aren’t safe, or … For example light plates. Authentic ones from the period may be sourced, but do they meet modern standards? If not, can or should the internal wiring be replaced but the old plate used?

Robert MacPherson
White/black (Arago)

Yesterday I wrote about White/black (Arago) by Robert MacPherson, the theory than can underpin four quadrilaterals in different mixes of white and black. In the small bathroom of Julian Rose House, five different tiles are used. One for the floor, then one on each wall – black, white, grey, ivory. It’s all about light – white tiles on the wall facing the window, to bounce light around. Black on the wall under the window, etc. And tiles of the right size and colours had to be sourced. And each tile needed matching grout… The level of passion and commitment was awe-inspiring.

Harry Seidler
Brian & Donna Seidler House

After the talk Brian led us on a walk – first through the nearly-finished work of Julian Rose House, and then on to what was Marcus Seidler House, and is now the home of Brian Seidler, his wife and their children.

Here again the passion and commitment comes through. It’s not easy living in a 1950s Modern house when you are determined to maintain its heritage. These houses are small. This one has been extended twice, with the involvement of Harry Seidler and later his company, but is still not large by modern standards (you can see some info on the last extension on the website of Harry Seidler & Associates). The main bedroom opens directly from the lounge area. The fridge is limited in size by the fitout of the original kitchen. The colour scheme, walls, curtains, everything, is determined by the architects. It is beautiful. It is a gem. Only very rare and amazing people would be prepared to do it. And on top of this they give talks and occasionally allow strangers to traipse through their home. It was a real privilege to visit.

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