John Thompson reviews 'Darling Mother, Darling Son: The letters of Leslie Walford and Dora Byrne, 1929–1972' edited by Edith M. Ziegler

John Thompson reviews 'Darling Mother, Darling Son: The letters of Leslie Walford and Dora Byrne, 1929–1972' edited by Edith M. Ziegler

Darling Mother, Darling Son: The letters of Leslie Walford and Dora Byrne, 1929–1972

edited by Edith M. Ziegler

NewSouth and Sydney Living Museums, $49.99 hb, 416 pp, 9781742235257

On his death in February 2012, Leslie Nicholl Walford, the man who right from the outset of his career had determined to shift Australian taste away from drab interiors filled with Victorian brown furniture, was saluted as one of Australia’s most influential interior designers. With a sensibility honed in Paris, where he attended Le Centre d’Art et de Techniques (1954–55), Walford’s preferences were more discerning and refined: the gilded elegance of fine French seventeenth- and eighteenth-century furniture, but with an appreciation also of the sleek lines of modern Scandinavian design. Over the years, from his base in the shopping village of Double Bay in the affluent eastern suburbs of his home city, he presided over a large design practice catering especially to a core circle of wealthy clients. He was the designer of choice for the Packers and the Murdochs, and he twice decorated Retford Park, the grand country mansion of James Fairfax at Bowral in the Southern Highlands. The social world in which Walford moved with practised ease – both as a member in his own right but also its servant – was later chronicled with wit and panache in the columns he wrote first for the Sun-Herald (1967–82) and later the Sunday Telegraph (1983–84). Through the 1970s he contributed a more considered ‘On Design’ column to the Sydney Morning Herald. As an influential office bearer for the Society of Interior Designers of Australia, he did much to develop interior design as a credentialled profession.

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John Thompson

John Thompson

John Thompson is a historian and writer now living in Sydney after a long career at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. He holds a doctorate in history from the Australian National University and has written for various journals. He is a frequent reviewer for Australian Book Review. The author of The Patrician and the Bloke: Geoffrey Serle and the Making of Australian History (2006), he co-edited (with Brenda Niall) The Oxford Book of Australian Letters (1998). His anthology Documents that Shaped Australia was published in 2010.