About the Caroline Simpson Collection 

Home and garden design, history and life

The Caroline Simpson Collection spans the history of Australian homes, gardens and domestic life from the late 1700s to the present. Equal part information, equal part fascination, this rich and eclectic collection is a leading source of reference and inspiration for anyone interested in home and garden design, history and life.

A key strength of the collection is its wide range of formats. These include architectural pattern books, trade and retail catalogues and sample books, wall and floor coverings, garden ornament, soft furnishings and trimmings, hardware, sheet music, photographs, books, periodicals, personal papers, business archives, manuscripts, oral histories and more. Ever wondered how to make lye soap from wood ash, or what the most popular garden plants were in the 1840s? Interested in the legacy of modernist architecture or planning your own kitchen makeover? You would be sure to find an answer.

The collection, along with an associated resource centre, was established in the 1980s by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW to provide public access to the reference materials gathered by staff to help them restore, refurbish and interpret the historic houses in the Trust’s care. In 2004, the four children of the late Caroline Simpson OAM (1930–2003) gifted their mother’s collection of colonial furniture, pictures and decorative arts to the Trust, along with an endowment for the Historic Houses Trust library. Born into the famous Fairfax family, Caroline Simpson was one of Australia’s great philanthropists, supporting a wide range of causes and individuals. In recognition of her long advocacy for heritage conservation in NSW and the Simpson family’s endowment, the library and resource centre collections were renamed the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection.

Since then, the collection has continued to grow. In recent years a particular focus has been documenting modernist houses and interiors in Australia, and the contribution of migrant designers and craftspeople such as Paul Kafka, Steven Kalmar, Emmerich Révész, Hugo Stossel and George Surtees who came to Australia from central and eastern Europe from the late 1930s onwards. Today the Caroline Simpson Collection remains an unrivalled and invaluable resource for creative, research and passion projects of all kinds.