Peter Sheridan describes his profession as dentistry, his passion as photography and his obsession as collecting Art Deco.
He is very much an Art Deco aficionado and his book, Sydney Art Deco (also available at Potts Point Bookshop), documents the impact of the Art Deco style on Sydney’s cityscape and lifestyle during the 1930s and 1940s.
As a Potts Point local, he gets to live among a world-class cluster of Art Deco apartment blocks. I recently caught up with Peter to chat about Art Deco and why the movement captured his imagination.
What made you want to publish a book on Art Deco?
There have been books on Art Deco for most major cities in the world and closer to home, books on Napier in New Zealand and both Melbourne and Brisbane. It seemed overdue for Sydney to be represented. As well as living in the Elizabeth Bay/Potts Point area, which is a unique hub of Sydney’s Art Deco heritage, Jan and I collect Art Deco and are on the committee of the Art Deco & Modernism Society of Australia. I self-published Sydney Art Deco to make the book accessible to all Sydneysiders and visitors, not just Art Deco enthusiasts.
I also wanted the book to do more than just catalogue buildings but also show the lifestyle of the time. So in addition to contemporary and archival photographs, I have showcased Sydney artists and photographers of the period as well as a glimpse of fashion, furniture and accessories from the 1930s and 1940s.
Why do you like Art Deco?
To me, Art Deco is many things: a style, a period, an accumulation of architectural and decorative shapes, all wrapped in an idealised vision of a time that resonates with elegance, excess, cocktails and music. Art Deco rejected classical forms and the softness of Art Nouveau replacing it with functional angularity and machine-age modernity. For me it is evidence of the great step into the 20th century, discarding the baggage of classic and traditional modes of design and behaviour, embracing the modernity and technology of a new age.
It had an impact through architecture, art, fashion, jewellery, transport, industry, typography, furniture and homewares. Everything from ocean liners to movie theatres to radios was influenced by Art Deco styling. I believe it is a style which is timeless and still has relevance today.
Where does Sydney sit in the global Art Deco landscape?
Of course, Sydney is not New York or Chicago. We may not have tall skyscrapers like New York and Chicago but I was surprised at the depth of Art Deco in Sydney mainly in the CBD and in the inner suburbs. I was able to showcase 350 buildings from 120 suburbs covering commercial, civic and industrial buildings, houses and apartments blocks, cinemas and pubs.
What Sydney does have, that is unique, is the Potts Point/Elizabeth Bay area – one square kilometre with a big cluster of Art Deco architecture. There are more than 60 Art Deco apartment blocks, probably the best remaining Art Deco theatre in Sydney (the Metro), and an extraordinary Spanish Mission house (Boomerang). The Art Deco apartments are often overlooked in describing the charm of the area but we are so lucky to live in a precinct which rivals Napier in New Zealand and Miami South Beach in Florida, USA.
The other thing about Sydney, which is different, is that we have the most exquisite collection of Art Deco designed pubs. Tooth and Co owned 1,000 pubs in Sydney during the 1930s and 1940s and, using a range of architects, went through a modernisation process. I have highlighted around 50 pubs in the book and the range of Art Deco styling is like nothing else in Australia or anywhere else.
What’s your favourite building in Potts Point?
The Macleay Regis in Macleay Street is a magnificent example of the grand apartment blocks built in the Art Deco style for wealthy Sydneysiders. Constructed 1939, it had 87 apartments and a penthouse. It contained all the modern conveniences such as centralised refrigeration and hot water, elevators, and a kitchen to supply meals to residents. It also included a live-in concierge, a maid service and an internal telephone system that connected occupants to the pharmacy, cobbler, hairdresser and florist located in the small shops at street level.
With this in mind, is there enough being done to preserve local Art Deco history?
Sadly, I don’t think the period and the style are given enough respect in Sydney. Most of Sydney’s Art Deco is hiding in plain sight – obvious when pointed out, but normally overlooked. One of the main reasons for the book is to catalogue our city’s Art Deco heritage hoping that once it is recognised it can be enjoyed, appreciated and preserved.
For more information about this glamourous period of architecture purchase Sydney Art Deco.