Designs on a life
Leslie Walford's apartment.
Leslie Walford AM, who died this year, is usually considered the most influential interior decorator in Australia, certainly in Sydney, where some say he single-handedly redecorated the eastern suburbs in the 1960s and '70s.
He was a man of style and distinction, so the opportunity to buy some of his personal possessions has created a state of polite hysteria down Double Bay way. The sale of his estate, conducted by Mossgreen Auctions, will take place on November 18 at the Tim Olsen Gallery in Jersey Road, Woollahra.
Mossgreen chairman Paul Sumner, a specialist in celebrity-factor auctions, had originally planned to hold the sale inside Walford's penthouse apartment, which will also be sold after the contents have been removed.
A pair of Louis XV chairs.
He decided against it for logistical reasons (lack of space, for one) but selected clients will be able to tour the apartment before the sale.
''It's like walking into a fantasy world,'' Sumner says, ''indescribable in a way, a complete escape from the real world. Everything is constructed like some kind of theatre set. People just don't do that any more.''
Sumner will try to re-create the atmosphere inside the gallery but recommends that prospective bidders look at the photos on the Leslie Walford catalogue on the Mossgreen website to see how the pieces looked in situ.
Eye for detail ... Leslie Walford.
Walford's designs for living reflect his fascinating life. His professional career started in 1957 after an extensive education mainly in England, where he read politics, economics and philosophy at Oxford. He then studied design and decoration in Paris.
It was in the French capital that he first developed a passion for furniture and pictures of the 18th century and 19th century, some of which he kept all his life. These antiques coexisted happily with modern art by Jeffrey Smart and Donald Friend, two of his friends.
History and travel were the passions of Walford's life, so his home is also full of exotic antiques from Japan, China and India. And yes, lots of wallpaper.
The subtle mix of antiques from different centuries and cultures became his design trademark. During the period when decorators preferred to import their own objects, he rented a warehouse in Double Bay to store them.
Among the highlights of the sale is an immense Edo period Japanese screen (Lot 232, estimated at $10,000 to $15,000) and a pair of carved Louis XV walnut fauteuil, with tapestry upholstery (Lot 282, $10,000 to $15,000). The screen was picked up not from Kyoto, but from David Jones Art Gallery in Adelaide in 1972.
A similar pair of Louis XV chairs is estimated at $12,000 to $18,000, about the upper limit at the sale. These are conservative estimates, suggests Sumner, who anticipates that a large crowd of bidders could push prices way above reserves.
There's also items for those who just want a small memento of the Walford style, such as a silver model of a goose ($80 to $120) or a selection of wine coasters ($100 to $200). In the $400-to-$700 range are two large clamshells.
Woollahra is no longer the glittering centre of antique dealers it once was, but Sumner is expecting every survivor to be at the auction, along with a large percentage of local residents who knew Walford and possibly had their homes transformed by him.
Some of the more personal of Walford's possessions have already been donated to the State Library of New South Wales, including his diaries. He was a keen recorder who wrote detailed post-mortems of the countless dinner parties he held, reporting who was there and what they talked about. This includes, according to Sumner, a few prime ministers.
Walford donated much of his working material, including his original sketches and designs, to the Historic Houses Trust.