The Iconic Australian Designer Florence Broadhurst

Thursday, February 18, 2016

This post originally appeared on the One King's Lane blog. It is about one of my favorite designers, so I wanted to share in case you missed it.

he mesmerizing wallpapers, fabrics, and textiles by pioneering 20th-century Australian designer Florence Broadhurst, together with the mysteries surrounding her life, intrigued Shannon and Thatcher Davis, the husband-and-wife duo behind innovative home design firm Selamat. “She was a force,” says Shannon, who with Thatcher worked closely with Signature Design Archive in Sydney to reimagine a number of Florence Broadhurst prints into furniture and accents that go beyond throw pillows and upholstered chairs. “What was exciting for us was that Florence wasn’t a furniture designer,” explains Thatcher. “So it was about how we can take those prints and incorporate them into furniture, accessories, and art.”
We caught up with Shannon and Thatcher at their San Francisco home—where we also got a first look at many of these pieces.

Their family home in San Francisco
How did you start working with the Florence Broadhurst archives?Shannon: “About a year and a half ago, our lead designer, Anna, and Thatcher were in Singapore, and they saw one of the prints on a throw pillow. It started this treasure hunt. We followed it back and finally got in touch with the archives, which is based in Sydney. They had restored all of her prints—the original screens—and they also digitized the prints and revived the vibrancy of a lot of the patterns. So we started chatting with them about a furniture and accessories collection.”
What’s the most exciting part about reimagining her designs right now?Thatcher: “Florence Broadhurst is well known in Australia, a little less so in Europe, and lesser so in the U.S. A lot of people recognize the prints, but they don’t know the story and the woman behind them.”

“We love mixing materials in our designs,” says Shannon of the marble-and-carved-wood ottoman depicting Broadhurst’s Fruit Vine pattern. The pillows are also from Selamat’s Broadhurst line; the rug is by Vivienne Westwood for The Rug Company.


What became the greatest inspiration from her archive?Shannon: “Our designs really follow Florence’s biography. She was born in Outback Australia. She moved to Shanghai in the Roaring ’20s and became a showgirl. Then she moved to London and became a clothing designer. When she moved back to Sydney, it was the ’60s and ’70s when she started making these large-format wallpaper prints—and she didn’t start designing them until she was 60.”
What was the greatest challenge you encountered?Shannon: “We knew we needed to treat the work with kid gloves. You have to maintain the integrity of the pattern.”
Thatcher: “It was unique for us because we’ve never designed a furniture or accessory collection purely around prints. So we had to come up with some creative ways.”

How do you hope people use these pieces in their home?Shannon: “I want them to be part of their design story. I want someone to set up a bar on one piece, I want a light fixture to be just a little bit of color in another person’s room… These pieces are meant to be lived with. We tried to make them not statement pieces alone but pieces that can fall into a room and find themselves among friends.”
Any personal favorites?Thatcher: “The Pyramids credenza. And I really like the Shanghai credenza. It’s a simple case piece, but the hardware just makes it stand out.”
Shannon: “I love the Steps chair. I think it allows people to see rattan in a modern, sleek way that I love. I’m also a sucker for that Stampede pattern—I love those Stampede sculptures.”

A corner captures the couple’s flair for eclectic vignettes. Here, a painting by Carol Benson Cobb is displayed with a Selamat stool and sideboard; the glazed ceramic elephant was a gift.

The show stopping dining room is wallpapered in Broadhurst’s signature Birds of Paradise print. “There are so many hidden things in it: a male bird with the regal tail, a female bird perched on opposing branches,” says Shannon.

A iron chair, inspired by Roman aqueduct arches, sits beneath a limited-edition Japanese Fans print from the Broadhurst archives. “It was a present from the keeper of the original Broadhurst screens, David and Helen Lennie,” Shannon tells us.

A chair in a Broadhurst floral is paired with a sculptural console that mimics one of the designer’s geometrics. “It’s completely changed the feel of our dining room to add a really dark color,” says Shannon. “It’s made the room feel richer while serving the same function.”

What do you hope the collection does for Florence’s legacy?Shannon: “I hope that it becomes inspiration for people to think about her patterns in a very contemporary and modern way. They’re so relevant creatively in the world we’re living in, and her biography inspires the idea that life experience can be recorded in patterns.”
The wildest story you discovered about her?Thatcher: “Her unsolved [murder] mystery is obviously very salacious. But I loved her moving to England, changing her name, and affecting a French accent. I always found that fascinating.”
Shannon: “After she had concocted that ruse and infiltrated nobility in England, when the Queen came to Sydney in the early ’70s, Florence actually had tea with her.”
If she were here now, what’s one question you’d ask her?Thatcher: “How do you want your martini?”
Shannon: “Why wallpaper? That’d be mine.”