I was surprised... Leslie Walford is no more. Leslie reigned, untouched by human hand (or by invitation only) for fifty plus years. Actually not quite correct, Leslie’s showroom (not a shop… not ever) was always populated by numbers of handsome, busy, talented young men. He was always attended. There are very few people who have had the impact on Australian lifestyle that Leslie Walford has. His impact of the design scene was extraordinary, his reach far. Leslie was born a gentleman and raised that way, he was from an Australian aristocratic family, educated in Australia, the UK and Paris, his credentials were impeccable, his taste and style resolutely old world and only the best would do. I entered the world of Interior Design in 1970 or there about having emerged from seven years as a clerk with a bank and then escaped into a world that was simply so foreign to that which I had known. Peopled by arty men and women in all manner of creative design, it was as if I had come home, found my niche. Names like Freddie Assmussen, Leslie Walford, Lady Marion Hall Best, young designers of furniture like The Hon Merlin Cunliffe, Rob Walters for modern lighting, Greg Irvine for art and on and on. I was home, sloshing around in a world where I was completely at ease and delighted. Often confused, occasionally lost, but knowing that the place I was sloshing around in was where I had to be. Finding a way through this mire of beauty was far from easy, but it was also a time when we were encouraged to pursue. It was the time when the world threw off the horrors of war, unshackled from the past and forged ahead. Bentleigh was a strange place to start, even stranger since the bloke running the business was far from stable and in the end turned into a religious nut, leaving his wife and family and losing the business. I was able to quickly learn how to not run a design business, for that I was thankful. Lacking any formal education in design which, at the time was not readily available anyway, apart from Fine Art courses, was not an impediment, I had spent a couple of years in training pants to get to know the industry and to have contacts with great manufacturers and suppliers. I plunged in at the deep end and opened a small, but stylish interior design shop in Hampton. Sadly I was not raised on a diet of high end antiques, French court furniture and silk textiles, rather on comfortable couches, moderately awful fabrics and a little style. I was an empty vessel and filling me was a happy thing as I glided in and out of endless arty events, meetings, greetings and associations, I was learning the world of antiques, the world of colour, textiles of great beauty, meeting stylists and creators of everything from great furniture, lighting, art, woodworkers, lamp shade makers, it was endless and I loved it all. I gave free reign to my creative self, falling in and out of love with music, clothing and even church. I loved the pomp and ritual of High Anglicanism and only in time learned that it was the breeding ground for so much of the talent that was burgeoning. I seemed to have all the right credentials, just lacked the filling. An unfilled sponge!
Luck was on my side and I found myself immersed in a world where style, beauty, design and simply quality were much appreciated, where people did not regard their possessions as mere objects to be discarded as the next wave came crashing on the shore of mediocrity. I am reminded of this each time I look at upholstered furniture. In the days gone by, in fact in the early days, padded and upholstered furniture was seen with glorious textiles, often hand made, but in fact with little to recommend it for comfort, in the evolution of this form of seating, webbing, springs, feathers and design all began to exert themselves and when I was in the world of design, the furniture was well made on a good solid frame of timber, well sprung on webbing and often in the higher end pieces, with sprung edge under the seat cushions. This, along with some good design styles, some classic such as Chesterfield and some modern, made by such artists as John Moran. I was also lucky enough to develop some relationships with bespoke makers such as Wilkinson and John Lawson of Lawson and Peterson who were able to interpret my designs and would carefully and slowly, with much consultation on all sides, develop my designs. The fabrics and textiles on offer at that time were coming into Australia from all corners of the globe, ranging from wonderful designs from the Marimeko mills of Scandinavia, French silks, beautiful English linens and on and on. I was fortunate to grow a client base that would allow me to explore and to utilise textiles that were not strictly furnishing, denim and some of the tweeds and wools or Ireland and Scotland. I had a few black design holes, dining tables in particular. This was based on my sense that enjoying food at the table was an affair of the heart to be shared with loved ones. Most of my clients wanted dining rooms that only saw bums on seats on occasions when people were entertained for dinner. Dining chairs I was OK with, there were many to choose from and I even created a few of my own, one I was very proud of was simple, tall backed, double cushioned on the seat and all exposed wood legs etc were wrapped in the textile. I evolved this in several different ways. The luck continued for me as I explored the world of design, I had clients many of whom pushed for more and more innovative design. The down side was that this was prior to the days of consultants fees for Interior Designers, only architects got these, we had to make do with selling the designed items and that was the fee. Often we were caught (most Interior Designers of the day) in a debt position by servicing the social elite, who had little or no money and the socially upward movers who also had no money, just a wish to be accepted and of course the need to have interiors done by an acceptable name. The majority of the wealthy in Melbourne were served by either Reg Riddell, Interiors of South Yarra or Georges department store who had a very excellent design section, these were used to dealing with the financial viscititudes of the upper classes and had a nose for when and when not to. The majority of designers I knew or associated with and were inspired by, have moved on to the elysian fields and left earth a richer and better place, in the main. Much of the great design of the era would today, be far to expensive for any but the very wealthy. The competition today is hugely complex. I wonder how many of todays manufacturers even possess the skills to create objects of design and beauty. We need of course to accept that the world has turned, that much of what was doable is not today, loss of skills, loss
of raw material, challenges of time all conspire to making product, challenging. We need to value and hold dear to the things that were done in the past whilst also being sure we do not quickly dispose of the past. I think it important to acknowledge the creative work in the bespoke areas where artisans and craftsmen and women work to exacting standards and create product of great style and quality.