A new collaboration for Sydney Living Museums fuses history with distinctly contemporary design.

The golden age of wallpaper in Australia was no doubt the roaring twenties. Thousands of new wallpaper designs were massproduced and sold each year, and then displayed in homes across the country. But what happened to these designs? A large number were simply discarded or painted over.

Fortunately, many fine examples of Australia’s interior design history have been preserved and can be found today at the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC). Recently, this important collection provided the perfect inspiration for a new collaboration between Sydney based design studio Ella and Sofia and Sydney Living Museums.

Reviving Sydney's history

In January 2013 Karie Soehardi, creative director of Ella and Sofia, opened her new studio in an evocative Art Deco building in Sydney’s inner west. Perhaps that’s why she was attracted to the historical trade literature, 1920s textile and wallpaper samples and pattern books she discovered at the CSL&RC.

For more than 12 months, Karie and CSL&RC curatorial staff went on a journey of discovery into Australian interior design, with Karie carefully selecting and then reworking historic wallpaper designs held in the collection into beautifully elegant and modern pieces.

Launched in July 2014, the result is a wonderfully vibrant collection of wallpapers and fabrics featuring four distinct designs– ‘Gadara’,‘Kandos’, ‘Vaucluse’ and ‘Rose Bay’. The names of Ella and Sofia’s designs refer directly to the historic wallpapers that inspired them. The original ‘Kandos’ and ‘Gadara’ come from a sample book of wallpaper friezes made by Sydney company Morrisons in the 1920s. ‘Vaucluse’ was inspired by a French wallpaper sample book – hence the new wallpaper has been named after a Sydney place name of French origin. The design for ‘Rose Bay’ was drawn from a large fragment of 1920s wallpaper recovered from Rose Bay Lodge during major conservation works to the building in the early 1990s.

Timeless beauty

What excites Karie is the timelessness of good design. Her new collection has been made for contemporary spaces, and for current and future generations. As Karie explains, ‘Each design is richly layered with a broad range of historical references inspired by the beauty of past eras’.

Each piece from the collection has its own story to tell. Karie sees the designs ‘as a living tribute, breathing new life into our history and into our homes. This is not reproduction design but taking elements of past designs that we feel would work again today’.


This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our quarterly Members’ magazine.

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