For 17 years the Fifities Fair has been shaking its tail feather in Rose Seidler House – an appropriate choice, because this gift from Bauhaus-mad architect Harry Seidler to his parents is the most swingin' house around. We sent Time Out’s resident real estate gun, Monica Kovacic, to Wahroonga for a look around the joint in the lead-up to the party
First published on 29 Jun 2012. Updated on 4 Apr 2013.
This beautiful northern suburbs home was the now legendary architect Harry Seidler's very first commission, and a break from what he described as Australia's "architectural wasteland". Though the residence was a gift for his parents Rose and Max, Seidler rejected his parents' penchant for Viennese furniture, and filled the house with modernist pieces instead. He had just come from Harvard's groundbreaking School of Design, and his methods were fittingly controversial. The floor-to-ceiling glass surfaces led to the compact three-bedroom home being dubbed "the house of glass" by the media and onlookers gathering outside to peer through the windows. The house was completed in 1950 and occupied by the Seidlers until 1968. Subsequent tenants altered its interior design over the following two decades, but in 1988 Seidler gifted the house and its contents to the Historic Houses Trust. The HHT restored the residence's modernist vibe, and turned it into a museum, so you can now walk through Rose Seidler House and appreciate it in its original form.
While the 1950s are stereotyped as the decade of picket fences, shiny new kitchen appliances and the nuclear family, there was a subversive intellectual undercurrent amongst the suburban sprawl. This was captured in literature (Richard Yates' novel Revolutionary Road is a pretty perfect example for the US), and was expressed in Seidler's rethinking of spatial boundaries and his appreciation of the interplay of light. He opened rooms that were conventionally shut out of living spaces, like the kitchen, and incorporated the Breuer bi-nuclear floorplan, creating a privacy divide between the living and sleeping areas. Back then, the world was making a transition from bland to glam – think season one of Mad Men straight to season five – and this is reflected in the bright oranges and blues splashed around the house.
Until the '50s, homes had been dark and enclosed – old California bungalows with boxy rooms, narrow Victorians with little light and redbricks with basic floor plans were the order of the day – but Seidler rejected this convention to celebrate light. The bedrooms, like the living areas, boast glass walls that look out onto the sunny Ku-ring-gai bushland, and connect the house with its landscape.
This month, period clothing, mechanics and tunes will also, once again, have their day in the sun at Rose Seidler House. There's a full day of retro fun in store at the HHT's Fifties Fair, including live music, vintage motor displays, a best-dressed competition, clothes stalls and Americana grub. We suggest you don a poodle skirt or letter jacket and get ready to celebrate the bygone era in the apt and beautiful building. It's evidence of the way modernist architecture retains its relevance and appeal. Much like the era's fashion and music, really.
Check out the details for the HHT Fifities Fair.
Read more of Monica Kovacic's local architectural musings at The House Hunter.