Smith & Singer

Australian Design Icon

October 14, 2015

An icon of Australian 20th Century interior design, a Café Australia dining chair designed by Marion Mahoney Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin will be auctioned by Sotheby’s Australia on 27 October 2015 in Sydney. 

Café Australia opened on 8 November 1916 and became regarded as the most handsome café in Australia, frequented by the elite of the city, including Dame Nellie Melba. 

Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney Griffin are widely known for the design of the national capital Canberra.  Other buildings constructed include Newman College, University of Melbourne and the Capitol Theatre, Melbourne.  Café Melbourne was the Griffin’s first architectural and interior design commission in Australia including plasterwork, stained glass and tables and chairs with highly distinctive decorative elements.

Geoffrey Smith, Chairman of Sotheby’s Australia commented: ‘Very little remains of Café Australia, which at the time was regarded a tour de force in interior design.  Located on Collins Street, Melbourne it was demolished in 1938 to make way for the new Australia Hotel.  Rare highlights such as this complete dining chair are a valuable insight into the burgeoning modernist style created by one of Australia’s greatest architectural and interior design teams.  There is richness to the chairs design, while still remaining economical with the fabrication.’

This is the second only known complete chair to appear for auction, the only known other was acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in 2003.  There are two other partial chairs that have been identified.

Afternoon Tea Room and Stairway to balcony of Banquet Hall  at Café Australia.
Afternoon Tea Room and Stairway to balcony of Banquet Hall at Café Australia.  Collection of the New York Historical Society.

Main Picture
A Cafe Australia dining chair, blackwood
(Acacia melanoxylon), plywood and
leather designed by Marion Mahoney
Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin, 1916
Estimate $3,000-4,000


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