Lester Bunbury: An Understated Craftsman

Lester Bunbury is not the first name that comes to mind when we talk about revolutionary Australian mid-century designers. Yet, shortly after his death in 2000 he was inducted by the Australian Design Institute into their Hall of Fame. Bunbury’s career spanned various areas from interior design to furniture, and although it took a lifetime, his skill and craftsmanship are now recognised for the mark they have left on the Australian design landscape.

Bunbury was a furniture designer and industrial design lecturer who was active in the middle part of the 20th century. While he had no formal design education, Bunbury developed his craft under Fred Ward in the late 1930s. After the conclusion of the Second World War, Bunbury was commissioned by the Australian Army to assist in the rebuilding of Hiroshima by giving design lectures in Japan. Eventually returning to Melbourne, he established his own practice and designed a number of exhibitions along with privately commissioned furniture for Australian home interiors.

Bunbury’s pieces were organic, and celebrated the native timbers he worked with. He loved maple blackbean and cedar, complimenting them with black glass and brass features. A lovely example of this is the two door maple side cabinet (Lot 22) with its steam-line legs and extended brass handles.

In 1953, Bunbury was awarded first and second prize in the Guild of Furniture Manufacturers Design Competition. Commissioned by Victor Stone in the era before built-in wardrobes were a common feature in the Australian house, this unique wardrobe combines hanging space and drawers within a stylish facade of veneered timber and black glass. Stone later commissioned Bunbury to design the interior of his Collins Street dental surgery, which featured black glass sinks; ground breaking even for today.

Bunbury designed furniture and interiors for a number of prominent public architectural projects, including hospitals for Buchan, Laird and Buchan and the Arbitration Courts for Stephenson and Turner. He was later the in-house designer for William Latchford and Sons. His other notable projects included Bankstown Square, Goldfield House and the Harry Seidler-designed Australia Square.

The Australian mid-century design movement truly gained traction in the years after the Second World War. It was a movement that included all forms of design from architecture, interior, graphic, product, and even urban development. Lester Bunbury’s designs are a true celebration of the modern style; simplistic, streamlined, and still very much in vogue today.

ANNA GRASSHAM / Head of Modern Design

July 2019