AUSTRALIA’S MID-CENTURY DESIGN AESTHETIC IS BEING GIVEN A SECOND LEASE OF LIFE IN MODERN HOMES
Neale Whitaker goes back to the future with mid-century design.
On a chilly winter’s night in Melbourne’s South Yarra, I recently enjoyed a cosy, candlelit dinner – the very embodiment of the Danish spirit of hygge we’re all talking about – in a house that felt welcoming, modern and, above all, Australian. Open-plan with raw brick and a seamless indoor/ outdoor connection, it seemed incredible that the interior was exactly as its creator – distinguished Australian architect Robin Boyd – had conceived it almost 60 years ago in 1958. Back to the future, for sure.
We were dining at the Walsh St house headquarters of the Robin Boyd Foundation (robinboyd.org.au), to celebrate the release by retailers Kfive + Kinnarps (kfive.com.au) of some of Boyd’s iconic furniture designs from the early 1960s. Elegant, streamlined and functional, the Boyd Collection (three-seater sofa, chair, dining and coffee tables) could easily have debuted at this year’s Milan Design Week, but such is the enduring influence of mid-century style that each piece segues neatly into the present.
It was the second time in as many months I’d come across Robin Boyd. While planning Vogue Living’s 50th anniversary issue, I discovered he had penned an article (Boyd, who died in 1971, was also a prolific writer) in the magazine’s first-ever 1967 issue, advising readers on how to deal with an architect. By all accounts, he was an outspoken critic of the Australian culture and architecture of his day.
It seems fitting that as modern Australian design gains recognition through current stars, such as Adam Goodrum, Charles Wilson and Tom Fereday, we’re looking with fresh eyes at some of our past gems. There’s a lot to be proud of in the Aussie archive. Just last year, Melbourne-based Grazia & Co (graziaandco.com.au) reissued furniture by another great Australian designer, Grant Featherston. As with the Boyd Collection, Featherston’s original design specifications were honoured but updated with new fabric and colour options.
Kfive + Kinnarps director Erna Walsh says that Boyd’s furniture “truly captured my imagination”, as did his “desire to provide quality, affordable design to contemporary Australia”. And no doubt the late architect would approve of his new manufacturer’s commitment to ploughing proceeds from the furniture back into the Robin Boyd Foundation. Boyd’s most famous book, published in 1960, was called The Australian Ugliness. Fascinating to think what he might have called it today – or if it would have even been written. Neale Whitaker is editor-at-large of Vogue Living.