The Moderns: European Designers in Sydney

The Moderns: European Designers in Sydney at Museum of Sydney, explores a forgotten aspect of Australian modernism, highlighting the direct connections between Sydney and the European design centres of Vienna, Berlin and Budapest.

This object-rich exhibition tells the stories of Sydney’s émigré architects, interior designers and furniture makers working in the 1930s to 1960s and their impact on the development of modernist design in Sydney.

Predominantly well-educated, urbanised and middle class, Sydney’s émigrés brought a direct experience of European modernism then available to few Australians at the time. Supported by a network of European clients and assisted by émigré craftsmen, they made a significant contribution across many fields of design and in the media, and quickly recast the suburban, low-scale city into a modern metropolis.

Designers George Korody and Steven Kalmar sold lightweight furniture for the modern home, while cabinetmakers Michael Gerstl and Paul Kafka brought a European flavour to the custom made furniture market. Architects such as Henry Epstein and Hugh Buhrich designed starkly modernist houses in Sydney from the 1940s while Hugo Stossel and Hans Peter Oser formed large firms that helped transformed Sydney’s skyline. High profile and influential, Sydney's émigré designers also included commentators Eva Buhrich and George Molnar, regular contributors to some of the most noteworthy publications of the day, including The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian House & Garden and Architecture & Arts magazines.

While Austrian-born Harry Seidler AC, OBE became justifiably one of Australia’s most famous architects, the large, robust and interconnected community of European designers who were his contemporaries was all but forgotten.

Discover the vitality of this community, their stories of achievement, loss, adaptation and ingenuity in this celebration of both the richness that migration brings and the diverse history of our city.


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Photo looking across the interior of a modernist house. A stair can be seen and a sunken dining area.

Fombertaux House

Architect Jean Fombertaux (1920-1975) designed this, his own house, in 1966 at 23 Karoo Ave on a steep site at the end of a cul-de-sac in East Lindfield, on Sydney’s North Shore

Past exhibition