Penelope Seidler

AM LFRAIA

Penelope Seidler AM LFRAIA is probably best known as an architect and the owner of iconic Killara House (Harry and Penelope Seidler House), designed in the 1960s by Penelope and her late husband, Harry Seidler.

A generous patron of the arts, Penelope has been a powerful leader in the visual arts and architectural world in Australia and internationally. In 2014, she was the subject of Fiona Lowry’s Archibald Prize-winning portrait. Penelope has been a generous long-time supporter of Sydney Living Museums (SLM).

When did you first become involved with SLM?

I have been aware of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW (now SLM) since its inception in 1980 by the Wran Government. I was so pleased that Elizabeth Bay House [which was one of the first buildings in Australia to be recognised for its heritage value] was to go to a public body at last and that other prominent buildings would be conserved.

What motivated/inspired you to support SLM?

Of course I am principally concerned with the conservation of Rose Seidler House. I knew the house when it was occupied by Harry’s parents (1950–67) and then later by my sister Elizabeth Evatt and her family (1973–80). I now find it curious that Rose Seidler House is the only 20th-century building managed by SLM.

Mid-century modernism is having its moment in the spotlight. How have Rose Seidler House and Killara House contributed to the renewed interest in the modernist period?

There is an increasing awareness of modernism and the significance of its role both philosophically and stylistically following World War II; it represented a simpler, easier and functional way of life in the industrial world. Killara House is admired more now than it was in 1967 [when it was completed]; it has a timeless quality which does not tire.

What is your favourite space or object in Rose Seidler House?

I do love the mural on the deck. At first it was not popular but now it has assumed iconic status. I am at present doing a cross-stitch of it. Rose Seidler House is a simple house but it was an early example of literally bringing the exterior – the surrounding bushland – into the interior and of simple modern living.

What is your design philosophy?

Design should be beautiful, rational and practical; make the most from the least, use few materials. Our Killara House is still as it was on day one; the furniture, art and finishes are totally valid today and after 50 years the house has developed a strong patina of life.

As an architect, what excites you most about the projects you work on?

For an architect the excitement comes when the building is realised – architecture is experienced by all!

What qualities describe SLM best?

I appreciate the professionalism that SLM demonstrates; the organisation understands the dynamic nature of house museums and presents them to the public in an enticing way.

Thank you to the Seidler Architectural Foundation for partnering with SLM on our Modernist season.


Read more about Penelope and Killara House in this Habitus Living article:

Penelope Seidler One On One With Stephen Todd

Woman standing in front of colourful modernist mural.

Penelope Seidler at Rose Seidler House. Photo © Stuart Miller for Sydney Living Museums