Every now and then, a property comes onto the market that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Immaculate wallpaper, shag carpet, timber panelling, colourfully tiled kitchen and bathroom – it’s like a 60s or 70s time warp. I’m always curious about who designed these homes. Was it a well-known interior designer? Back in those days, leading Sydney interior designers were like local celebrities, regularly featured on radio, television and the social pages. We find out more about some of the prominent interior designers active in Sydney’s eastern suburbs in the 60s and 70s.
Marion Hall Best
Marion Hall Best was one of the most significant Australian interior designers of the 20th century. She was renowned for her love of colour and the skill with which she used it to transform spaces. Her studio, showroom and shop, Marion Best Fabrics on Queen Street, Woollahra, stocked locally designed and imported furniture, textiles, lighting, rugs, ceramics, wallpapers and glassware from 1939 to 1974. During Best’s career, the concept of interior design was just coming into being, and she played a key role in the blossoming of the profession. In December 1950, a handful of designers gathered at Best’s Woollahra home to form a group to elevate the standard of interior design in Australia, and the Society of Interior Designers of Australia (SIDA) was born.
One of the designers present at that fateful gathering at Marion Best’s home in 1950 was Mary White. One of SIDA’s inaugural members, she later went on to serve as its president. After beginning her design career in 1950, White opened a shop in Edgecliff in 1954, selling her own custom-designed furniture. In 1961, she converted the shop to the Mary White School of Art. White was commissioned to design spaces such as Australian Consolidated Press House in Canberra, the offices of the Sydney Morning Herald, a senate conference room at the University of Sydney and even a car for Holden.
Barry Little may be best known as the husband of beloved television personality Jeanne Little, but he was also renowned as a successful and prominent interior designer. When one of his first employers, interior designer Stuart Low, died in 1962, Little took over his studio. Around 1970 he moved the business to an old shop at 95 Paddington Street, Paddington. He installed a showroom and office on the ground floor and a private residence on the first floor. The practice, which became known as Barry Little Interior Design, employed eight staff in its heyday. Little’s design schemes were famous for combining modern furnishings with antiques from East and South-East Asia, challenging notions of taste in the 1960s. Little served as president of SIDA from 1971 to 1976.
Leslie Walford established his interior design business on Knox Street, Double Bay, in 1958 upon his return to Australia after studying in Europe. He brought with him an array of continental antiques and, before long, he was the decorator of choice for Sydney’s elite, including the Packers, Murdochs and Fairfaxes. In the 1960s, he cemented his position as one of Sydney’s most revered decorators, serving as president of SIDA from 1965 to 1966 and again from 1978 to 1979. In 1995 Walford went into business with Cornelius Horgan, with the pair operating Walford & Horgan interiors in Woollahra until their mutual retirement in 2007. From 1975 until he died in 2012, Walford lived in the penthouse at Princeton in Double Bay. The penthouse, decorated with an eclectic mix of Australian art, furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries, oriental rugs and objets d’art from around the world, was a perfect example of Walford’s approach to design. “My style has always been to put things together in a beautiful, colourful, traditional way. I want to be remembered as someone who made places beautiful and comfortable and did it well,” he told Vogue Living in 2007.
Florence Broadhurst once famously announced that she would ‘colour Australia’. In 1959 she established a wallpaper studio at 12-24 Roylston Street, Paddington, producing hand-printed wallpapers with brightly coloured, oversized designs inspired by nature and geometry. By the mid-1970s, she dominated the top end of the Australian market and was exporting her wallpapers worldwide. Florence Broadhurst designs can still be found adorning everything from wallpapers to bedding today. Broadhurst lived a vivid and colourful life before she was tragically murdered in her Paddington studio in 1977. Her murder remains unsolved.
If you’re thinking about buying or selling in Sydney’s east, get in touch with my team today.