At Home: Modern Australian Design

Sydney's Old Government House has been given a magical contemporary twist with 'At Home', an inspired exhibition of modern Australian design

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

We love a ramble through a stately home, but for antiques plus attitude don't miss brilliant show 'At Home: Modern Australian Design', taking over Sydney's Old Government House in Parramatta until 22 January 2017. Hosted by the National Trust and curated by eagle-eyed design editor David Clark (who formerly helmed Vogue Living), it places hand-picked contemporary objects by over 60 of the country's leading designers cheek-by-jowl with historic pieces, exploring the nation's domestic aesthetics. The result is a marriage made in style heaven, with cutting-edge furniture, lighting, textiles, wallpaper and accessories both complementing and contrasting with the original interiors, making you look at them in a fabulously fresh light.

TOP: Adam Goodrum's vibrant aluminium 'Stitch' chair (2008) for Cappellini beside his wood and Marbro 'Broached Colonial Birdsmouth' table (2011) for Broached Commissions in the Old Government House dining room. Vert Design's 2016 digitally modelled, milky-white versions of Lucien Henry's 19th-century 'Waratah' decanter and 'Protea' cups perch on the table

ABOVE: Sarah King's leather-like carbon-fibre 'Carbon Wingback' chair (2009) in the governor's office, flanked by Daniel Emma's mixed-media 'D.E Desk' accessories (2010). Laundry marker on lino artwork 'The day a white man gave a black man (his) land' (2006) by Joan Ross hangs on the wall

For an atmospheric arrival, take the ferry from Circular Quay up the Parramatta River, then walk to leafy Parramatta Park where Old Government House oozes venerable charm. The 'country home' of the first 10 governors of New South Wales, from 1799 to 1855, it's Australia's oldest surviving public building, a convict-built World Heritage site and host to a significant collection of late Georgian furniture. But the period drama really amps up once you go inside, with the exhibition's subtle and striking juxtapositions of iconic, recent and new Australian designs inserted into hallways, lounges, dining room, bedrooms and even the kitchen. 'I hope it demonstrates the more expressive edge of contemporary Australian design,' says Clark. 'The hybrids and curiosities, the bespoke and beautiful, the exuberant, quirky and odd.'

ABOVE: Louise Olsen's handmade resin 'Liquid Moon' side table (2016) in 'Seaweed Malachite' for Dinosaur Designs, with toile artwork by Cloth's Julie Paterson; Korban/Flaubert's sculptural stainless steel 'Armour' screen (2012) in the hall, complemented by chequered floors

The kernel for the show sprang from the 2011 'Broached Colonial' collection by Melbourne design studio Broached Commissions, which included work by Adam Goodrum, Charles Wilson and Trent Jansen and riffed on colonial Australia. Clark was keen to see the pieces in the context of Old Government House, alongside other modern designs. While some contemporary items have a colonial feel – from decanters and tea sets to sleekly crafted wooden chairs – others are digitally produced, streamlined products that bring 21st-century bang to the building's vintage buck, or draw on radical materials including salvaged car parts, carbon fibre and glossy resin.

ABOVE: Curves in all the right places – created especially for the exhibition Fred Ganim's Belgian oak 'Plane' table (2016), with Japanese black stain, sits below the swirling staircase

An impressive roll call of local talent is on display, from Adam Goodrum's laser-cut, folding 'Stitch' chair, designed in 2008 for Italian brand Cappellini, to Grant and Mary Featherston's vintage 'Scape' armchair from 1960, reissued in 2016 by Grazia & Co. Established pieces by Marc NewsonRobert Foster and Dinosaur Designs are here, alongside newer creations by up-and-coming names. We love Adelaide duo Daniel Emma's 'D.E Desk' accessories, Henry Wilson's bronze 'Fin' bookends, 'Stack' trays and 'Surface' sconce lamps, and Trent Jansen's terracotta 'Jugaad with Pottery' vessels, created in India.

ABOVE: Broached Commissions' 'Piano' credenza (2013) by Adam Goodrum, made from piano ivory, timber and felt, sheet music and Victorian ash, with Charles Wilson's Tasmanian blackwood 'Government' side table (2007); The sci-fi shape of Marc Newson's tubular steel, foam and wool 'Embryo' chair (1988) contrasts with its heritage surrounds

Like a sinuous racetrack, Fred Ganim's undulating 'Plane' table occupies a startling location in the atrium, below the two-story building's curvy wooden staircase. Taking the spot usually occupied by a hurricane lantern by the hall's entry portico, ADesignStudio's 'Greenway' pendant lamp teams classic hand-blown glass and brass with 3D-printed polymers and LED lights, typifying the collision of old and new in the show. Another heavenly hybrid is the 'Waratah' decanter and 'Protea' cups, originally drawn by Lucien Henry (1889-91) but digitally remodelled by Vert Design in 2016, using 3D-printed polymers. Australia's decorative past meets its high-tech future...

ABOVE: Culture-clash rules in the upstairs lounge, decorated with terracotta 'Jugaad with Pottery' by Trent Jansen, 'Matisse' chairs by Frag Woodall, brass 'Don' coffee table by Don Cameron and zig-zag LED 'Sen' light by Liam Mugavin, all 2016; In the music room, Tony Kenway's maple 'Signature' rocker (1988) and Lucy McRae's vegetable-dyed wood and metal 'Broached Colonial Prickly' lamp (2011) for Broached Commissions add a slightly surreal touch

Lovers of wallpapers and fabrics should head upstairs, where prints and textiles draped on tables and tacked to walls include work by Anna Spiro (behind the interiors of Australia's Halcyon House hotel), Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin, flora and fauna-inspired Cloth (aka Julie Paterson), photographer Martyn Thompson, painterly Shilo Engelbrecht, and nature-influenced Utopia Goods. There's a compact design store and alfresco cafe for shopping and sipping afterwards. The Fizz heard a rumour that the upstairs lounge is haunted, but there's not a ghost of a chance that would put us off this thought-provoking show!
nationaltrust.org.au/event/at-home
'At Home: Modern Australian Design' is at Old Government House, Parramatta Park, Parramatta, western Sydney, until 22 January 2017. Open Tue-Sun, 10am-4pm (last admission 3.30pm); AU$18.50 for adult tickets, online or on the door.

Pictures: Michael Wee