De­sign Mo­ment

The re­vival of her wall­pa­per ar­chive un­cov­ered the rich legacy of this cre­ative chameleon, writes Chris Pear­son.

Australian House & Garden - - Contents -

The re­dis­cov­ery of Florence Broad­hurst, chameleon and wall­pa­per-de­signer ex­traor­di­naire.

Back in 1959, at the age of 60, a feisty henna-haired Florence Broad­hurst set about shak­ing Aus­tralia out of its beige post­war com­pla­cency. In a shed be­hind her hus­band’s truck show­room in St Leonards, Syd­ney, she set up a de­sign busi­ness, Aus­tralian Wall­pa­pers.

The vi­brant, hand­printed de­signs she cre­ated were the last in­car­na­tion for this master of rein­ven­tion, and would ul­ti­mately come to de­fine her.

Broad­hurst was born in Mount Perry, Queens­land, in 1899. As a young woman she toured Asia in a com­edy troupe as Bobby Broad­hurst and in the 1920s, opened the am­bi­tiously named Broad­hurst Academy, a school of mu­sic, danc­ing and jour­nal­ism, in Shang­hai. In the 1930s, she sur­faced in Lon­don as a sup­pos­edly French cou­turier called Madame Pel­lier. Upon her re­turn to Aus­tralia in 1949, she passed her­self off as English and achieved some mea­sure of suc­cess as a land­scape painter.

No less in­trigu­ing were the fas­ci­nat­ing wall­pa­per pat­terns that emerged from Broad­hurst’s shed, rang­ing from ori­en­tal birds and ex­otic flora to swirling geo­met­rics and or­nate ta­pes­tries.

How many she de­signed her­self is de­bat­able, but no one doubts her en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit and dis­cern­ing eye.

In the late ’60s, with her busi­ness on a roll, she re­named it Florence Broad­hurst Wall­pa­pers, ex­panded into fab­ric and moved to larger, more stylish premises in Padding­ton. Broad­hurst ex­ported her vivid vi­sions, many in my­lar foil and vinyl, around the world. Then, trag­i­cally, came the big­gest un­solved mys­tery of all: in 1977, the de­signer was mur­dered in her stu­dio. Broad­hurst’s col­lec­tion was sold off and the ar­chive might have lan­guished in a ware­house but for He­len and David Len­nie, founders of Syd­ney firm Sig­na­ture Prints. Spe­cial­ists in hand­printed wall­pa­per and fab­rics, they pounced as wall­cov­er­ings again found favour at the end of the ’90s. The pair re­vived Broad­hurst’s de­signs, up­dated with fresh colours. Pat­terns such as Horses Stam­pede, The Cranes, Cir­cles and Squares, Ja­panese Fans (left) and Cock­a­toos (top) found new fans, in­clud­ing in­te­rior de­signer Greg Natale.

“I was blown away – there was noth­ing else like it,” says Natale. “She took tra­di­tional pat­terns and played up the scale, which made them so mod­ern, and they still feel mod­ern to­day.”

WHAT IT MEANS TO US

“Broad­hurst was the ge­nius be­hind one of Aus­tralia’s most ex­hil­a­rat­ing de­sign ar­chives,” says Mark Smale, CEO of Sig­na­ture De­sign Ar­chive, which ac­quired the com­mer­cial rights in 2004. Broad­hurst’s bounty now ap­pears on bed­ding, tow­els, jew­ellery, din­ner­ware, ap­pli­ances and sta­tionery in 53 coun­tries, as well as fab­rics and wall­pa­pers. No­table li­censees in­clude Kate Spade New York (train case, be­low); Deb­o­rah Lloyd, Kate Spade New York’s chief cre­ative of­fi­cer, calls Broad­hurst’s work “ground­break­ing and sen­sa­tional”. And with 530 de­signs in the ar­chive and fewer than 150 of them re­leased so far, we’ve barely scratched the sur­face of her legacy.

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