Interior designer Bronwyn Blue on why Canberrans are still in love with modernism
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Interior designer Bronwyn Blue on why Canberrans are still in love with modernism

Is there anything better than driving past a moment of pure mid-century modernist "awe" in suburban Canberra?

Verge House at 204 Monaro Crescent in Red Hill is one of those moments. Canberra House at 19 Downes Place in Hughes is another.

Interior designer Bronwyn Blue said collaboration was a hallmark of mid-century modernist design.

Interior designer Bronwyn Blue said collaboration was a hallmark of mid-century modernist design.Credit:Karleen Minney

But my personal favourite is Enrico Taglietti's McKeown House in Watson, with its sleek diagonal lines, exposed roof beams and minimalist exterior.

For Deakin resident Brownyn Blue, walking past a moment of mid-century modernist "awe" - the Malcolm Moir house at 43 Melbourne Avenue in Forrest - every day on her way to school inspired a career in interior design.

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Blue's pet husky Jake relaxing at home in the truly modernist sun room.

Blue's pet husky Jake relaxing at home in the truly modernist sun room.Credit:Karleen Minney

"I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Deakin and would walk to school at Grammar almost every day," she said.

"There's that fantastic Malcolm Moir on Melbourne Avenue and it's still my favourite house in Canberra.

"I used to walk past it every day and go, 'Oh wow'. I had no idea what it was or what architecture even was at that time.

"I was just little, but it just popped out to me."

A black and silver chair by Marcel Breuer and inspired by a push bike is one of Blue's favourite pieces.

A black and silver chair by Marcel Breuer and inspired by a push bike is one of Blue's favourite pieces.Credit:Karleen Minney

Blue has recently returned to Canberra from Cambodia where she spent a decade building a business that provides commercial interior design - outfitting restaurants, hotels, serviced apartments and cafes in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Her business, Beyond Design, also owns a manufacturing factory in the Cambodian capital.

Blue returned to Canberra earlier this year "to finally put down some roots" and now lives in Deakin with husband Dan and Jake the husky.

Her house on Lawley Street features the ultimate modernist hang-out - a large sun room added by then owners in 1965 - with classic modernist features: a stone tile floor, exposed beams, sauna-like wood panelling and a chipboard roof that "you either love or hate".

"I walked in to the house and just fell in love," Blue said.

"The wood panelling is just divine - it's lucky I love it because it's in both the sun room and the bathroom.

"My interiors were all art deco when we first moved in but I've since embraced the brown and the wood and the whole mid-century vibe and added some Marcel Breuer and other modernist touches.

"The glass walls bring the outdoors in and it's the perfect space for entertaining guests and just relaxing on the couch with Dan and Jake."

Returning to the capital after 20 years, Blue said she has "fallen in love all over again" with Canberra.

"The aesthetics of Canberra, the art deco period and then the modernism, that was what I grew up looking at and it was hard not to be touched by those things," she said.

"The ANU art school where I did summer camps, that exquisite structure, and then walking back home from ANU past the incredible Academy of Science building."

Blue believes modernism is making a huge comeback in interior design, mostly because people are living in a constant state of overwhelm.

"Mid-century modernism includes post-World War 2 modernism, so a time when people needed to make the most of what they had," she said.

"It was about doing more with less. I think now there is a nostalgia for that time, where we've been through a phase of build, build, build, buy, buy, buy, get, get, get.

"You build your house, you start your family, and you do a clean-out and just realise you've just got all this stuff in your life that is not adding any value.

"Really the things that are valuable are when you sit down and have a gorgeous little cocktail with a friend out of a beautiful glass or a beautiful family meal around a gorgeous dinner table.

"So for me, it is having a few beautiful, quality things, and not a tonne of stuff to clean, a tonne of stuff to manage. I just think less is more. That's my theory."

A new festival designed to celebrate Canberra's unique mid-century modernist character kicks off with a bang tomorrow night with a Modernist Dinner at ANU House.

Inspired by the annual Palm Springs Modernism Week, Canberra Modern Festival will also encompass Canberra Modern Market at University House on Sunday and a session on Modernist Love with Tim Ross (of Merrick and Rosso fame).

For those who love a good martini with their sleek lines and understated interiors, Canberra's own martini whisperer Phillip A. Jones will run a workshop entitled 'Cocktail Hour Lifestyle' on Thursday 16 November.

Canberra Modern festival, on now until 16 November, at various venues. For further information head to https://canberramodern.com/

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Bree Element is the life and entertainment editor at The Canberra Times