A tribute to… Leslie Walford 1927 – 2012

Only a few weeks after Leslie Walford celebrated his 85th birthday friends gathered to say goodbye to one of the most recognisable figures in Australian interior design.

Walford was born in 1927 and he spent his childhood in Australia before being sent to public boarding school in the UK. His aesthetic tastes were established in his youth and he told a journalist that his love of history and beauty began at the age of 11 with a trip to Versailles. “I bought postcards at the gate and was very impressed. At 16, I had to write an essay in the 14th century library at Winchester and I wrote an exercise book about Versailles, illustrated with those postcards. It was my first vision of anything grand and important, my first opening to an interesting world.”

He went onto study politics, economics and philosophy at Oxford before undertaking a three-year design course in Paris. It was around this time that he began to cultivate an inventory of antiques. “As I student though I could only afford one glass of wine a day; I would go out on my bicycle and talk shop owners into keeping objects for me until I’d managed to smuggle a few thousand dollars from Australia to France.” He returned to Australia at the age of 27 and in 1958 set up an interior design business in Knox Street, Double Bay filling it with an inventory of continental antiques.

In late ‘50s, Sydney was in the thrall of Victoriana and decorating trends “were mostly English and fairly traditional” he recalled. But Sydney society took to what Walford had to offer, and he quickly established himself as the city’s decorator of choice. “It was commonly believed at the time that the lady of the house would have the wisdom to decorate the home well. I managed to show my clients that was not necessarily always the case,” he observed. Those clients turned to be the cream of the crop of Sydney society and included blue-ribbon Australian families including the Murdochs, Packers and Fairfaxes.

In the 1960s he cemented his status as a doyenn of decorating and man about town. He began writing a social column for The Sun-Herald that draw the curtain back on Sydney socialites and was a foundation member of the Society of Interior Designers He was National President from 1965 to 1966 and again from 1978 to 1979. In recognition of his contribution to the profession Leslie was made a Life Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia and in 2008 he was inducted into the DIA Design Hall of Fame. In 1995, the English born decorator Cornelius Horgan – who was first employed by Walford in the ‘60s – became his business partner with the duo working together as Walford & Horgan interiors until they both went into retirement in 2007 closing their Woollahra premises.

The Double Bay penthouse he bought in 1975 and lived in until his death was the epitome of his approach to decorating. Walford spent years getting the interiors of the 1930s penthouse just-so. “My aim was to gradually get it right and then keep it that way,” he said in 2008. “It’s not the kind of place to redecorate in completely different styles as the years roll by.” The apartment featured in Vogue Living May 1989 issue photographed by Geoff Lung in a story (republished on the next page) that revealed Walford’s ability to bring together an eclectic mix of antique furniture from the 18th and 19th century, Australian art, oriental rugs, and objet de arts sourced around the globe.

He saw his home as a living testament to the rich life he led, and took great pleasure in regaling visitors with stories of the original passion and excitement that had gone into the acquisition of each piece. “Every object I own means something to me and I own many, many things. There must be thousands of objects in here,” he once wrote. “Clustered together on tables and desks in a thoughtful fashion they are visual poetry to me. They represent the passage of my life and I can tell the story of every one.”

He was suspicious of minimalism and thought it important to have objects in a room that spoke of the owner’s personal life. “I feel the world is such a kaleidoscope of wonderful materials that I like to use them. Clutter, of course, is one result of my direction. Some of the most beautiful rooms that I have ever seen are cluttered,” he told Vogue Living in 2007 as he closed the door on his business and reflected on his career and the way it was intertwined with the evolution of Australian interiors. “My style has always been to put things together in a beautiful, colourful traditional way. I want to be remembered as someone who made places beautiful and comfortable, and did it well.” That legacy is assured.

Click here to read Patricia Coppleson’s 1989 feature on Leslie Walford’s Double Bay penthouse, photography by Geoff Lung.


Text: Madeleine Hinchy

3 Responses to “A tribute to… Leslie Walford 1927 – 2012”
  1. maxkater says:

    RIP Mr. Walford. You did a tented ceiling properly. Yes you did.

  2. Justin says:

    Absolutely breathtaking. What an eye for color and detail. I first came across his apartment while looking at Real estate in Australia. I was instantly blown away. It wasn’t until yesterday, that again, by chance, I found out who it had been owned by. Oh how I wish I had had the chance to walk through those rooms and take it all in. (From your biggest and newest fan, an Australia living in Tokyo)

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