Sydney's home furnishing stores, 1890-1960

Until the 1960s, Sydneysiders usually 'went to town' to shop for furniture and furnishings for the home.

 ​There were dozens of specialist furnishing stores and department stores with furnishing sections in the city centre. Many were concentrated in 'furniture precincts', first along George Street and then from the 1920s around the city circle railway stations and the southern part of Pitt Street.

The decline of home furnishing shopping in central Sydney from the late 1950s was influenced by rising rents, lack of parking and a general population move to the suburbs. Shopping patterns also changed with the development of drive-in suburban shopping centres, the first opening at Top Ryde in November 1957.

Very few city stores sell furniture today and only two department stores reman in central Sydney: David Jones and Myer (on the old ‘Farmers’ site). Some of the original buildings still remain but with new uses while others have been demolished.

One other important legacy of the city stores is their trade literature such as catalogues, flyers, postcards and associated publicity ephemera. Hundreds and thousands of pieces of trade literature were produced by the larger retailers, but the nature of the material meant that it was usually discarded and so can be exceeding rare today. The Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection (CSL&RC) actively collects this trade literature and places each piece onto its online library catalogue; and it has now started to digitise a number of pieces.

This trade literature is typically rich in details of each store, the goods they sold and details of policies and practices of many stores including: listing of departments, services, credit facilities, how to order goods by mail and changes or additions to the physical presence of the stores. Illustrations of goods and differences in product terminology in previous decades can also be revealing.
 
This online exhibition, Sydney’s Home Furnishing Stores, 1890-1960, has been inspired by the trade literature from Sydney’s furniture and furnishing retailers. All the illustrations come from the catalogues and ephemera that are part of the CSL&RC. And the time frame, from 1890 to 1960, is in part influenced by the trade literature: few pieces survive pre-1890 and by the 1960s, the furniture and furnishing stores of central Sydney were in serious decline.

View store locations on map

About the author

Portrait of man in dark shirt against sandstone wall.

Michael Lech

Curator

Michael Lech is curator of the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC) and online collections at Sydney Living Museums.