Chicago, Illinois, United States of America 1871 – 1961
1914 – 1937
Cafe Australia chair
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: furniture, chairs, blackwood (acacia melanoxylon), plywood, leather
The highly fashionable, although now demolished, Cafe Australia was among the most significant interior-design projects produced by Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin Associate Architects between 1914 and 1920. Designed in 1915–16 and located in the Australia Hotel on Collins Street in Melbourne, it was a grand banquet hall featuring a balcony mezzanine. The project, which incorporated a completely integrated façade, furniture design and other elements, was led by Marion Griffin, one of the world’s first registered female architects.
Her husband, Water Burley Griffin, we all know, won the contest to design our national capital in 1912. Prior to that, both had worked in the office of eminent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright—Marion from 1895 and Walter from 1901 to 1905. The couple married in 1911 and, soon after moving to Australia in 1914, established their own firm in Melbourne and Sydney. Together, they worked on hundreds of architectural projects, including urban designs, buildings, landscapes and interiors, as well as furniture and other household items.
To commemorate this extraordinary partnership, the NGA has purchased a significant furniture element from the Café Australia’s now lost interior. If it was still standing today, the cafe would be celebrating its hundredth anniversary. The dining chair, once used in quantity throughout the cafe, is now one of only four known examples to have survived the remodelling of the hotel in 1927. Its angular design was an important element in the Griffins’ complex geometric design program and had its genesis in their work in the late 1890s with Chicago architect Louis Sullivan.
The chair bears the manufacturer’s stamp of Melbourne firm H Goldman Manufacturing Company, which made the Griffin-designed furniture for the cafe. The firm’s expertise in fine joinery made it possible to realise the complex geometric details of the chair, which place it firmly among the Griffins’ most significant expressions of early twentieth-century modern design in their adopted Australian context.
Dr Robert Bell AM, Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design
in artonview, issue 86, Winter 2016