Tassels, part of the Robert Lloyd collection Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection, Photograph (c) Jamie North, Sydney Living Museums.
The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection holds an important collection of furnishing fabrics,  loose covers, curtains, blinds, valances, cushion covers and wallpaper, mostly provenanced to Tinker Tailor Interiors and donated by retired decorator Robert W Lloyd 

Tinker Tailor Interiors was founded in 1951 by Miss Del Agnew with the help of four friends, intending 'to trade as restorers of colonial homes.' Tinker Tailor Pty Ltd was another company that Miss Agnew was involved with that had catering interests among other pursuits The company operated from Carey Cottage in Ferry Street, Hunters Hill, and later from shops in both Burwood and Pymble. Miss Agnew spent much time 'restoring and redecorating' houses such as St Malo, Hunters Hill, Truro and Cornwall in Ashfield, and Wellings. Burwood. As well as working on houses the company owned or leased, Tinker Tailor Interiors had many private clients.

Robert Lloyd in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, 2004

Robert Lloyd in the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, holding a curtain tie back rope and tassels, which he donated to the collection. Photograph (c) Brenton McGeachie, Sydney Living Museums.

Robert W Lloyd was born in Adelaide in 1927 and joined Tinker Tailor Interiors in 1953 having met Miss Agnew while he was working for Merle du Boulay, a well-known decorator active in Sydney at the time. After a brief stint working for interior designer Mary White in 1954, Lloyd returned to work for Miss Agnew and continued his association with her until her death in 1992.

Robert modestly refers to himself as a 'jack-of-all-trades' and, although not formally trained, worked for a number of retailers, talented decorators and influential interior designers throughout his career. After making lampshades for Paul Carlyle in Rundle Street, Adelaide, he moved to Melbourne and worked briefly for Reg Riddell in Little Collins Street. Arriving in Sydney around 1947, Robert found employment in the furnishing department of McCathie's department store and later worked for Stephen Kalmar, as well as White and du Boulay.

Robert brought a depth of experience to Tinker Tailor Interiors. He made bed covers, curtains, lampshades and cushion covers -' I knew the difference between cretonne and chintz and cottage weave and chenille'. From his previous work he had learned how to block fabrics, how to determine yardages for window treatments, could advise on the wearability of fabrics, linings and headings, and had contacts with agents, manufacturers and upholsterers.

Miss Agnew, with the client, would determine the furnishing schemes and advise on fabrics, wall treatments and furniture placement. According to Robert, she 'could make something lovely out of nothing' and had a 'very good eye'.

One of Tinker Tailor's clients was Miriam Hamilton, a long-time Hunters Hill resident, who recalls Del Agnew as being a 'talented decorator who had an extremely good colour sense ... and while she used good quality fabrics and trimmings, she also understood how to create a strong effect using simple materials such as curtains from mosquito netting.' Mrs Hamilton had window treatments made for her dining room in 1957 and recalls blinds made from glazed chintz with a bobble fringe and a valance with a scalloped edge - similar examples have come into the HHT's research collection with this latest acquisition.

St. Malo, Hunters Hill NSW, c1960

Entrance to St. Malo, Hunters Hill NSW, c1960. Photograph (c) Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. Photo Douglass Baglin.

Having sub-let St Malo, Hunters Hill, from the National Trust in 1955, Tinker Tailor went about the property's 'expert renovation and period furnishing of a high standard at its own expense [and] used the historic property for wedding receptions and similar functions2 I F Wyatt, Ours in Trust: a personal history of the National Trust of Australia (NSW), Sydney, 2nd edition, 2005, p28. Miss Agnew was passionate about history and had an ability to imbue her interiors with a feel for the colonial past. Robert recalls that in refurnishing St Malo she also needed to bear in mind the requirements of the catering and function business. Del Agnew observed in Australian House and Garden, February 1963, 'In the field of furniture, looking back to our colonial days many of us are appalled at the paucity of material we can rightfully call our own. Decorators are introducing a nostalgia for the past and in the future we should find and reproduce what early Australian furniture is left.'  Although our understanding of historic interiors has grown since the 1950s, Miss Agnew was 'ahead of her time'Kevin Fahy AM, conversation with the author, December 2005.

St. Malo, Hunters Hill NSW, 1955-61.

The entrance hall of St. Malo, Hunters Hill NSW, 1955-61. Photograph (c) Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. Photo Douglass Baglin.

The HHT has acquired three different examples of window treatments from St Malo dated 1956-57: a set of blue silk faille and brocade curtains from the small drawing room, charcoal silk taffeta swag and tails from the main drawing room, and pair of tobacco coloured corduroy curtains and tie backs from the study.

The acquisition of this collection provides an important record of Del Agnew's interpretation of historic interiors and her approach to interior decoration in Sydney from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Thanks to Dr James Broadbent. Mr Kevin Fahy AM, Mrs Miriam Hamilton and Mr and Mrs Robert W Lloyd for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

This article first appeared in Autumn 2006

About the Author

Joanna Nicholas, Curator, Sydney Living Museums.
Joanna Nicholas
House Museums Portfolio
Joanna is Curator in the House Museums Portfolio - responsible for Vaucluse, Elizabeth Bay and Rose Seidler Houses. She is...

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