1946magOver the years Secret Design Studio has amassed a huge collection of 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s home magazines, such as “Australian House and Garden” and “Australian Home Beautiful”. Occasionally another magazine or plan book falls into our hands, and one such magazine is Penrod’s Publications “The Homemaker’s Book of Plans”. This Australian magazine which was published just after World War 2 provides a fascinating insight into the state of residential design, which had been put on hold during the war, and before the European migrant architects such as Harry Seidler, Anatol Kagan and Ernest Fooks had become influential.


Some of the plans in this publication have a faint whiff of modernism about them, but a lot seem very staid. Many have a strong, traditional, British feel, and most don’t account for our Australian climate in their design. One of the more interesting houses is  called “The Home of To-morrow Designed To-day” , by an unknown architect, and is described as:

“Constructed of face brick and colored cement rendered finish, this home of to-morrow offers something really exclusive in the modern design. Tiles and reinforced concrete are employed for the roof, and ceilings are plastered throughout.

The internal walls to the library portion of the lounge and around the window seat are panelled, and large plate glass windows on ball-bearing runners allow full advantage to be taken of natural light.

The provision of a sun deck, together with separate shower and W.C. compartmnets off stair landings as well as the usual bath and W.C. on each floor, are definite added attractions to this well-planned home.

Particular attention has been given to the first floor bedrooms, the generous use of glass assuring pleasant and healthy living.”

house of tomorrow2

house of tomorrow1

This design, which is really quite traditional in its layout (note the maid’s room adjacent to the kitchen), actually demonstrates how revolutionary mid-century modern architecture of the 1950’s was, as  a traditional home like this could be promoted as “the home of tomorrow”. We have a lot to thank the likes of Harry Seidler, Anatol Kagan and Ernest Fooks for opening the window to modernism for Australians, with their ideas for smaller, well-designed, compact homes with lighter construction, and open-plan living, and no room for the maid!

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house of tomorrow3

Hi Geoff, thanks for your time today.

Q1) I understand that you are in the process of publishing an art book called “Featherston”. Who were Grant and Mary Featherston?

Photo 1 – Book cover of “Featherston” by Geoff Isaac, courtesy of Geoff Isaac.


A1)   Grant Featherston was a Melbourne based industrial designer best known for his Contour series of bent plywood chairs produced in the early 1950s and highly sought after today. In fact, Grant designed all kinds of things but, between 1947 and the mid-1970s, he focused on chairs and developed hundreds of designs. Some of these designs were so commercially successful it is no exaggeration to claim that nearly everybody living in Melbourne has sat on at least one Featherston chair. Grant met Mary in the mid-1960s and they worked together in a partnership from 1966 until Grant’s death in 1995. Mary still lives and works in Melbourne although her primary interest is in early childhood learning environments.

Q2) What was so important about Grant and Mary Featherston’s work?

Grant and Mary Featherston at their wedding

Photo 2, Grant and Mary Featherston at their wedding, image courtesy Ian Howard

A2)  The real genius was in developing production techniques to allow a remote and sparsely populated country to experience the Modern look. Over in North America Eames, backed by a large team of design specialists, was producing moulded plywood chairs from machines costing over $25,000 dollars each. With chairs selling for a few shillings it was not financially viable to do this in Australia. Working alone Featherston developed production techniques that allowed moulded plywood chairs to be manufactured locally and enabled Australians to experience this revolution in home décor – a truly remarkable achievement. Throughout their careers – working in wood, steel and plastics – the Featherstons continued to experiment to allow Australia to remain at the cutting edge of innovation in chair design.

Q3) Is the appeal of Featherston design limited to Australia? Apart from the Australian Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo do they have much of an international profile, or are there any non-Australian collectors?

Talking chair

Photo 3, Featherston “Talking Chair” image courtesy of Ian Howard

A3) Interest is primarily centred in Australia and New Zealand although there are collectors in North America and the UK interested in Featherston. Hopefully my book will help secure the international recognition they deserve! One of the secrets of Featherston’s success was that he licenced manufacturing in different states and over in New Zealand. At that time the cost of transport was prohibitive so Featherston succeeded in building a nationwide following when most of the competition were only focused on getting market share in their own town. That strategy is still paying dividends today with Featherston collectors active in every state.

Q4) Why is there a growing interest in their furniture, and why is it becoming so collectible (and expensive)? What is the relevance today?

R160 Contour

Photo 4, Featherston Contour R160 chair, image courtesy of Geoff Isaac, author of “Featherston”

A4)  Well if we look at prices – auction prices for Contours grew fivefold over 15 years from the late 1990s. Interest started picking up after the 1988 retrospective held at the NGV but then accelerated until the GFC. After the crash prices dwindled a little – probably following the whole mid-century sector as it adapted to the impact of cheap copies flooding the market. More recently prices appear to be on the rise again. I think people have sat in those cheap nasty copies and are coming to appreciate the real thing!

Q5) I understand that architect Robin Boyd commissioned 240 Expo Talking chairs for the Australian pavilion for the 1967 Montreal Expo. Where are they now?

Harrold Hold opening the Australian pavilion at Expo

Photo 5, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt opening the Australian pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo testing a Featherston designed Expo Talking chair. Image courtesy of Ian Howard.

A5) I only know of two that survived from the original run. I own one and I sold the other to the Powerhouse museum in Sydney. I bought these from an auction house in New York in the early 2000s. I believe they were purchased after Expo ended and the contents auctioned off – transportation costs making it prohibitively expensive to return them to Australia. (Incidentally I failed to investigate the transport costs before bidding – otherwise I would have realised that they remain prohibitive!) The Talking chair (also known as the Sound chair) fused furniture and technology – when a visitor sat on a chair a tape deck was activated and conversations with famous Australians played through concealed speakers in the head rest.  When released the Talking chairs were the star attraction at the Australian pavilion, most people had never experienced anything like it, and they became the talk of the town in Montreal and Melbourne. Melbourne based manufacturer Aristoc saw the opportunity and produced copies of the Expo chair for the local market and these turn up at auction quite frequently.

Q6) Who is Geoff Isaac, and why write a book on Grant and Mary Featherston?

A6) I am just a fan. I am not a design academic or professional – in fact my background is in marketing. I started collecting Featherston designs in 1996. As the prices went up I got priced out of the market so I had to find a new way to occupy my collecting gene! Frustrated by a lack of publically available information on the Featherstons I started researching and collecting material on their careers. Mary Featherston and the design historian, Michael Bogle have both read the proofs for my book and written very nice endorsements for the book so hopefully readers can have some confidence in my abilities!

Geoff Isaac in Eleanor Contour chair

Photo 6, “Featherston” author Geoff Isaac sitting in a 1954 Featherston E1 Eleanor chair, image courtesy of Geoff Isaac.

Q7) With such a huge design output why has nobody published or documented the Featherstons’ work previously?

Stem chair

Photo 7, Despite over 18 months of research and development to bring the Stem chair to life the model failed to excite the market and was the last Featherston design produced by Aristoc, image courtesy Geoff Isaac.

A7) I am still amazed that no one has written a book on the Featherstons before. Grant Featherston is, beyond doubt, our most famous and successful mid-century designer. If you look at how many of his chairs are still in use today I believe that only Britain’s Robin Day could claim to be more successful on this measure. We should celebrate our successes!

Q8) Do you own any pieces by Featherston, or do you have a favourite?

Scape dining-NB-1

Photo 8 Featherston Scape dining chair, courtesy of Geoff Isaac, author of “Featherston”

A8)  Yes I have been hooked since 1996 – the deal with my partner now is that I can only introduce a new chair if I get rid of one so it is always a challenge to find a new hiding place and keep moving them around. My interest in the Featherstons work didn’t start with the Contour series for which they are most famous, it started with the Scape series. Designed in 1960 these steel framed chairs with moulded plywood seat and backrest are remarkably comfortable and beautiful to look at from any angle. They still remain among my favourites and are still in use at the dinner table – where no guests are even in a hurry to move from the table. I also have two Scape lounge chairs which are often selected by guests in preference to the comfortable sofa.

Q9) How will your book assist people who are interested in buying an original Featherston?

A9) Grant is best known for just two chairs from the Contour series, the R160 and the R152 (without arms). In fact the Contour series extended to some two dozen designs and they are all presented in the book so this will help collectors identify the less well known models in the series. Everyone who pledges $10 or more to support the Kickstarter project will be sent a print ready electronic copy of an A3 poster that is a handy reference – showing the entire Contour series. The book will also show there is far more to Featherston than the Contour series – with hundreds of chair designs there is something for everyone and the book shows that you can still get a Featherston designed chair for a few dollars – or even less than the price of a coffee!

Grant Featherston Contour range poster

Photo 9 Grant Featherston Contour Range (1951-1955), image courtesy of Geoff Isaac, author of “Featherston”

Q10) I notice from your A3 poster that there is a missing image for the Contour W170, which you have described as similar to the Contour R160, but with a higher back and shorter legs?

A10) I have never seen a Contour W170.  Even Mary Featherston does not have a picture of one either. She does have a pamphlet showing the entire Contour range and the W170 is listed here but not illustrated as the others are with line drawings.  The pamphlet does have a description of it.  So it is possible that it does not exist. It may have been planned but never produced. In the early days they were basically produced to order.  Or there may be one out there, which I would love to know about.

Q11) Your book has lots of beautiful photos of Featherston chairs, where did you source them?

R152 Contour

Photo 10, original Featherston Contour R152 , image courtesy of Geoff Isaac, author of “Featherston”

A11)  I had the most wonderful piece of luck while researching the book. I was just finishing, what I believed to be, the last interview for the book when Neil Clerehan suggested that I look up Ian Howard, the former Managing Director of Aristoc. To my surprise and delight I found Ian alive and well at over ninety years old. Ian had meticulously documented his career and had put together an archive which included an extensive record of the 13 years he employed Grant, and later Mary, as the chief design consultants for Aristoc. This piece of luck added about two years to the project by the time I had finished going through all the material. This means the book includes many previously unpublished period photographs and publicity material developed by Featherston. I also commissioned original photography or my collection and the auction houses, particularly Leonard Joel, have been very generous in allowing me access to their libraries of image of Featherstons as they pass though the market.

aristoc mitzi

Photo 11, Pages 162-163 “Featherston”, Aristoc Mitzi, courtesy of Geoff Isaac.


Q12) It must have been disappointing to receive so little interest from Australian publishers about this labour of love. I understand that you are looking to self-publish and to get started through a kick-starter campaign.  How does this work?

television series

Photo 12, pages 88-89 “Featherston”, Television Series, courtesy of Geoff Isaac.

A12) Yes I haven’t got much to say about the publishers I approached – most disappointing thing is I believe only one of them actually read the manuscript. Anyway their model is stuck in the 20th century so I have moved on and embraced the 21st century. Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing platform – anyone can put up an idea for a product and people pledge to back the project. If the funding target is met everyone is charged and the money (minus some commission of course) gets passed to the project owner to allow them to deliver the goods. In my cases I have already paid to get the manuscript edited and proofread and for the image and text to be laid out. So now I just need to get enough money to get it printed. It is an all or nothing bet – if I don’t reach the target by April 10 then nobody gets charged, I get no funding and my manuscript goes in the bin!


Elastic Suspension

Photo 13, pages 100-101 from “Featherston”, E2 Elastic Suspension armchair, courtesy of Geoff Isaac.


Q13) For anybody wanting to see this book published they really need to get behind your Kickstarter campaign and pre-order before Monday April 10th 2017. How big and what format is your proposed book?

A13) Many readers may remember that a few years ago the NGV held an exhibition called Mid-Century Modern and produced a catalogue to accompany it. My book will be the same size, 240 mm wide and 290 mm high, quality hardback, and will feature nearly 300 pages with 250 beautiful photographs. I’ve been working with a fabulous graphic artist in the UK who is passionate about mid-century design and experienced in designing books and she has produced a fantastic result. There will be two versions of the book – with a limited edition of 200 copies signed and numbered and presented in a 3mm cardboard sleeve for protection.



Photo 14 “Mid-Century Modern – Australian Furniture Design”, photo Secret Design Studio resource library.


Q14) For anybody that misses the opportunity to pre-order the book as part of your Kickstarter campaign before the cut-off date, how much will it be and where can it be purchased?

Scape Lounge-NB-2

Photo 15, Featherston Scape Lounge, image courtesy of Geoff Isaac, author of “Featherston”

A14) Just as it is an all or nothing bet for me it is the same for potential readers. I don’t want to get stuck with a garage full of books or fiddle about supplying small quantities to book shops and chasing them for payment so I am only planning to basically print what I sell. So if anyone misses out on the Kickstarter campaign they will have to keep their eyes out on the internet for a second hand copy – not that I imagine anyone will want to part with their copy!

photo 11

Photo 16, page 180-181 from “Featherston”, Scape Lounge, courtesy of Geoff Isaac.

Q15) Apart from pre-ordering your book, what advice would you give to anyone who is looking to start collecting Featherston?

A15) No one should be under the impression they can collect Featherstons (or anything) to get rich. The market is fickle and prices have gone down as well as up during the time I have been collecting. If you love it and want it then my advice is to search for examples in good original condition. Keep an eye out for modern licenced reproductions and of course learn how to spot the copies (they are so bad this is not hard at the moment). But mainly I say to would be collectors –don’t start – there are too many already so stay away!

Thanks for your time today Geoff, and best of luck with getting the support you need on Kickstarter to publish your beautiful art book. I really hope to see it gracing lots of mid-century coffee tables in the future. Secret Design Studio will be purchasing multiple copies of “Featherston” for a new client promotion to run later this year.


Photo 17 – Pre-publication mock-up of “Featherston” by Geoff Isaac. Courtesy of Secret Design Studio

To support Geoff’s Kickstarter campaign to assist with the publishing costs please visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/grantfeatherston/grant-featherston-book-australian-mid-century-desi/description. Support pledges run from as little as $5, but you will need to pledge at least $65 to receive a book. The campaign is an “All or Nothing” campaign and must reach the target by Monday April 10th for the book to be published. No one will be charged for a pledge towards this book publication unless it reaches its funding goal.

Secret Design Studio is always on the lookout for interesting places and people for Australian mid-century design interviews.  If you would like to be interviewed and have lots of photos that you would like to share please contact me,

Alistair McLean


Secret Design Studio

0448 579 707

Geoff Isaac in Townhouse chair

Photo 18, “Featherston” author Geoff Isaac sitting in a Featherston Townhouse chair, image courtesy of Geoff Isaac.


Description English: Seidler home, Killara, Sydney Date 13 April 2013 Source Own work Author Sardaka (talk) 08:14, 16 April 2013 (UTC)

Many decades ago, when I was studying Architecture at the University of Sydney, Post Modernist Architecture was the rage with all of the young, bright eyed and impressionable architecture students.  Post-Modernism was a reaction against the discipline, and material honesty of International Modernsim that was so loved by the corporate world and those with big budgets to spend on their homes. Post-Modernism, which was later abbreviated to just “PoMo”, celebrated applied decorative elements for their own sake, and “witty” historical references that could be read by the architectural elitist, but were usually lost on the typical person, amongst other evils.

Who better to defend the principles of Modernism than Australia’s foremost Modernist, Harry Seidler?  Harry was good chums with my architectural history lecturer, Prof. Jennifer Taylor, and every year the Seidlers graciously opened their own home in Killara and hosted a morning tea for Prof. Taylors’ architectural history students.  This gave Harry the opportunity to take the floor and warn his impressionable, and captive audience, about the falsity of Post-Modernist Architecture.

Decades later we can reflect on how Harry was right.  His own home that he designed in 1966, that I visited inthe 1980’s,  has aged gracefully as the landscape has established itself around it. It still has that wow factor and makes a deep impression on all who visit. There is growing appreciation of this style with new fans and friends around the world.  Whereas Post-Modernist architecture has not aged well, and has really demonstrated that it was style over substance, with many PoMo buildings looking sad, dated and actually a little but silly.


These plans have been scanned from Kenneth Frampton and Philip Drews’ excellent 1992 book called “Harry Seidler – four decades of Architecture”, published by Thames and Husdon.  To help understand the split level plan they explain ” The main aesthetic aim of the house is not only to have horizontal freedom of space but by fusing and opening the various levels into each other and by ‘pulling them apart’ and thereby creating a two-and-a-half storey-high opne shaft between them, to add a vertical interplay of space”


Harry and Penelope Seidler’s Killara Home made a deep impression on me (as it does for most people), but all of the plans, photos and images that I have seen since, have never captured the home to my satisfaction, as how I remembered it. That is until Channel 7’s “Better Homes and Garden” broadcast this segment.  Try to ignore the inane chatter of Joh and Pete, and just enjoy how they have captured this beautiful (and timeless) home.  Possibly it is enough to bring back Brutalism into residentail architecture? (Five minute video)


Pehaps the final word should go to Italian architect Gio Ponti who said ” You arrive by a high road, you put the car in the garage, and then descend, going down, diving among the tree-tops, which reach the height of the garage, down along their trunks and down to the roots: and from all the great windows of the house, from all its openings, you see the same marvellous green, a fairytale colour humid and pure; and light, for the virgin woods of Australia are not the terrifying forests accursed and menacing with hidden death, but are innocent, maidenly, friendly woods…it is not enough for the architect to create admirable spaces, lines and volumes – but also he must imagine, or discover, or suggest choices about a way of life, marvellous refuges – not so much distant, maybe, but passed over – to the friends who put their trust in him.  That is why I admire Seidler, whose works I have visited…” Gio Ponti, Domus magazine, August 1968.

For some contemporary photos of this home follow the link:



Description English: Seidler house, Killara, Sydney Date 13 April 2013 Source Own work Author Sardaka (talk) 11:04, 15 April 2013 (UTC)

Alistair: Posted on Sunday, 14 August 2011 10:13 PM

I recently stumbled across a wonderful book which was published in 1951, by Simon and Shuster called McCall’s Book of Modern Houses. This book contains a collection of wonderful mid-century modern houses that were first published in McCall’s Magazine, and which were designed by a number of different architectural firms from across America.

What is so refreshing about these houses is that there are no historicist references that plagues American suburbia today.  Most of the houses are comparatively humble by today’s standards and were designed to be affordable and accessible for the average family.

The book has plans, elevations, models and photos of 29 different houses, with many glorious colour pictures showing external colour schemes and interior shots.  Most of the interiors are furnished with many mid-century classics that are easily recognised, and which are still as appealing today as they were when these houses were furnished.  I suppose as a designer this is one of the things that excites my passion for mid-century modernism is the timelessness of many of the designs.

I also have a reprinted edition of Elizabeth A.T. Smith’s “Case Study Houses”, which was reprinted by Taschen for its 25th Anniversary, and is still available from Amazon, when I last looked.  However, even though “Case Study Houses” is considered a classic, I prefer   McCall’s Book of Modern Houses, due to the extra detail and the glorious colour.

I have decided to share this treasure, as it is not easy to get, so I will publish one of the houses on this blog every now and again, when I have a bit of time to scan the pages.

Naturally I will credit the original architects and reprint each house in full, however as it is over sixty years since these houses were designed I would be surprised if any of them are still in business!

The first house I would like to share with you is a surprisingly modest two-bedroom home with a double skillion (or shed) roof, which was a hallmark of many of these homes.  It was designed by E.H and M.K Hunter, of the Musgrove Building, Hanover, New Hampshire.





Alistair: Posted on Sunday, 18 December 2011 11:54 PM



Secret Design Studio is quietly pleased that Hollywood is looking towards Australian director, Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Breaker Morant, Mao’s Last Dancer) to develop and direct a movie surrounding the tragedy of the Taliesin murders. Frank Lloyd Wright’s mistress, her two children, and four others were brutally murdered in his compound, called “Taliesin”,  while he was away in Chicago.

With Beresford’s fantastic track record of authentic period productions we can look forward to seeing the wonderful interiors of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin on the big screen. This should increase the awareness of the importance of 20th century architecture, as well as the influence Frank Lloyd Wright had on many 20th century architects, and even in the way houses are designed today.

While it would be stretching the truth to say that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin could be classified as mid-century modern, as it is early 20th century, his original designs and his use of open-plan living influenced many architects throughout the 20th century.

Secret Design Studio hopes that Beresford can make the sets as authentic as possible from the original documentation.  The photos here show Taliesin today, however it was first rebuilt by Frank Lloyd Wright after the fire that was started by the murderer in 1914.  It was destroyed a second time by fire in 1925, possibly by an electrical fault, so the building now standing is Taliesin version III.


Quoting from the Hollywood Reporter:

“Producers J. Todd Harris and Ed Bachrach are behind the film, about the fabled American architect, which was written by Nicholas Meyer. Veteran filmmaker Bruce Beresford has signed on to develop and direct Taliesin, a film about fabled American architect Frank Lloyd Wright from writer Nicholas Meyer. 

The title refers to the architect’s former home and studio in rural Spring Green, Wis., where the key events in the film take place. The rambling hillside compound, considered a masterpiece of Prairie-style architecture, was the focus of scandal as Wright built it for himself and his married mistress Martha “Mamah” Cheney. In 1914, while Wright was away, a domestic worker murdered Cheney, her two children and four others by locking them inside and setting fire to the building.

“It’s a very good script,” Beresford told The Hollywood Reporter. “It doesn’t cover his whole life, just a small section of it, and it doesn’t whitewash him into some sort of saint.” Beresford, who directed the best picture Oscar winner Driving Miss Daisy (1990) and was nominated for best director forTender Mercies (1983), says he sparked to telling the tale of the private life of one of the greatest architects ever. 

“There’s a documentary by Ken Burns [the 1998 film, Frank Lloyd Wright] that’s quite good, but it’s odd that there’s never been a [feature] film about him,” Beresford said.Producers J. Todd Harris, of Branded Pictures Entertainment, and Chicago-based Ed Bachrach, of Kartemquin Films, sent Beresford the script. They are currently raising money for the project, and Beresford has recently been scouting locations in and around Chicago. Who would Beresford like to play the lead? “We have someone in mind, but I can’t tell you yet,” he says.”



Alistair: Posted on Saturday, 12 May 2012 1:51 PM

Not all Secret Design Studio’s engagements go as smoothly as planned, but we always aim to get a good result at the end of the day. As for any small boutique design based business referrals from past clients are always cheaper and more powerful than advertising.


This particular job had hit a few rocky patches, and both the clients and Secret Design Studio had had moments of frustration and despair.  The engagement was for a new home on a very steep site, that required town planning with a council that had a notorious reputation.  Secret Design Studio took on the job as the clients are lovely people, and I was confident that the work of Secret Design Studio could help them over their difficulties.

Secret Design Studio was not the first consultancy to assist these clients.  The first, as a friend, had completed some beautiful sketches on yellow trace, with a home with many levels, terracing down the hill.  It was romantic and evocative, but lacked detail, and due to the generous size and complex structure, would have been well above their budget.

Using yellow trace to design is a wonderful way to work, and is rapidly becoming a lost art.  Due to the sketchy nature of the media, and its artistic quality, the details don’t need to be resolved, unlike CAD, which requires more precision and decision at an earlier stage of the design process.  I could see why these clients fell in love with this early concept as it was beautifully executed, and nicely proportioned. With his yellow trace concept clutched closely to the clients hearts, the architect moved on to other endeavours, and we wish him well.

Secret Design Studio suspects that there may have been others involved after the stage, but it is ancient history now, and when approached the job was being looked after by a local draftsman with a good relationship with the challenging council.  Unfortunately his translation of the yellow trace into town planning drawings just wasn’t working for his clients.   Secret Design Studio suspects that part of the problem was his weapon of choice – a state of the art 3D CAD package.


This particular software is a great package for 3D modelling, Secret Design Studio has used it, as well as others, which are similar.  However he was relying a lot on standard objects and textures that weren’t expressing the concept as imagined by the clients, the subtlety of the design was being lost in the elevations.  This was not the fault of the draftsman, rather his experience and limitations of the 3D CAD package, and the lack of time that was available to him to create customised elements.  Despite the clients wishes it was looking a little like many other houses in the area, possibly because our man had drafted them!

Fortunately the clients realized the limitations and approached Secret Design Studio to assist.  The arrangement was to maintain the engagement with the local draftsman, as he was competent, and had the inside local knowledge of the issues.  Secret Design Studio was engaged to provide the design input and help guide the draftsman into getting the details right.

After reviewing the floor plan, and discussing how they proposed to use the rooms, Secret Design Studio was also engaged to conduct a small floor plan review.  The issues were that the plan was a bit rabbit-warren like in some aspects with quite a few smallish single function rooms split over three levels.  The clients had never had a furniture plan completed, so when Secret Design Studio started sketching some scaled furniture.(with yellow trace) it soon became obvious that the myriad of smaller rooms were not going to work as intended.

As a result Secret Design Studio did a little redesign of the rooms and managed to lose two single function rooms, and added some of the saved space into other rooms.  For the style of home it was better to have fewer rooms, that were larger, and that would work properly with their intended uses, while reducing total area and cost.  For instance we now had an appropriate space for a piano, there was enough room for an 8 seater dining table, there was no dead, floating space that didn’t have a function, and the internal changes of level were removed losing the internal stairs which ate up more valuable space.


After the floorplan tweaking, as well as reviewing various options such as relocating the front door, and then returning to the original concept, Secret Design Studio started looking at windows and elevations.  The window design is a crucial element of this design due to the climate, the BAL fire rating and the nature of the concept.  The clients are particularly discerning about the window design, even down to the latching mechanism operation, and it is great to have a client that appreciates this level of detail.  However for this level of refinement there is a cost, and the premium architectural window makers were bringing in ball park figures that were eating up a lot of the budget.  Once when the client was complaining to me about these costs, and we were both lamenting how it so unfair how well designed items often cost more, I laughingly called her a windows snob, and she laughed and agreed!

Secret Design Studio completed some preliminary elevations, without a lot of detail to try and get the proportions right, and from here the project went downhill.  It is always challenging to gauge the level of understanding a particular client has when reading drawings, which is why I prefer to present them and see if there is any difficulty, so that I can sketch elements in 3D.  Most clients can read a floor plan, however when there is a complex sloping site, that does not run parallel with the house, and the house has reasonably complex shape, and a more complex sub-floor it is difficult to read and understand how it all hangs together, especially when it is depicted as a 2 dimensional representation of a complex 3-dimensional house and landscape.

Our draftsman had a good go at converting my 2D AutoCAD elevations into his 3D model, but his 2d elevations that were taken from his 3D model did not show the refinement needed to convey clearly what was happening. We all had a short period of frustration and despair.  I had designed the elevations in 2D on yellow trace, which were rough and conveyed the concept, which the clients had approved.  From these yellow trace concepts I had completed some simple 2d AutoCAD elevations.  The draftsman had used these for his 3d model, and from them then generated 2d elevations – which looked wrong, but from a technical point of view weren’t wrong, but needed a bit of refinement.  The client couldn’t read the 3 dimensional aspect of the draftsmans 2d elevations, due to line weight etc.   It was like an architectural version of Chinese whispers, and nobody was happy.


Secret Design Studio liked the clients and the house, and could see where the problem was in the communication.  The only way out was to complete the time consuming job and draw all of the elevations in 2D in a fair amount of detail at 1:50 using every trick in the book to convey the textures, materials and life of the four elevations.  This would make it easier to communicate the subtleties, without the clunkiness of the 2D elevations from the 3D drafting package.

It was with a little bit of trepidation that Secret Design Studio approached our elevation review meeting.  As the client had recently reminded me that the successful resolution of all four elevations were the reason why Secret Design Studio had been engaged.  Secret Design Studio was engaged to provide the design input to get the elevations to convey the qualities of the original yellow trace design by the original architect.

It had been a rocky road to get to this stage, with a deviation to reduce the floor plan area (and reduce costs), and the architectural Chinese whispers between the media – yellow trace, AutoCad, and the 3d CAD system.

We had our elevation review meeting in the client’s dining room.  I walked in and the table was bare apart from a beautiful book called “Atomic Ranch – midcentury interiors”.  The client said “We would like to give you this book, as we really appreciate the work that Secret Design Studio has done.  We love the elevations, and for the first time in three and a half years since the project has started,  you have been the first to show us what our house will actually look like.”

It was a very generous and gracious present, and the book was on my Amazon wish-list, so I was very touched.  I just hope that the local council like the elevations as much as the clients and Secret Design Studio.


Design Studio would like to note that all of these images are taken form the Amazon website for “Atomic Ranch – midcentury interiors” by Michelle Gringeri-Brown, with photos by Jim Brown, and as displayed on each photo is copyrighted material. To see further images, more information or to purchase through Amazon please use this link:


Secret Design Studio will be doing a review of this book in a future blog, so please keep an eye out for it.

“Atomic Ranch Midcentury Interiors” by Michelle Gringeri-Brown, photos by Jim Brown, Gibbs Smith, ISBN 978-1-4236-1931-4″

Alistair at Secret Design Studio