George Kral

As Susan van Wyk wrote in a recent blog post, photography is a fascinating adjunct to Mid Century Modern: Australian furniture design. She discusses a number of photographs of interiors by Wolfgang Sievers, which illuminate the collaborative relationship between architects and furniture designers.

We can see a similar concern in a series of photographs taken by Sievers that survive in the George Kral collection recently donated to the RMIT Design Archives. A Czech-born émigré, Kral was an innovative interior designer and graphic designer active in Melbourne from the 1950s to the 1970s. He made a significant contribution to the development of the modernist interior here and to the establishment of Gallery A. Kral died in 1978 at the age of 50 and his work was quickly forgotten in the mainstream design media, but not in the memories of those who knew him.

One of his early commissions came from members of the Czech community, Slava and Elfie Jezek, who launched the Esquire coffee lounge in Garema Place, Canberra in 1957. It was elegant, light and minimalist with a ceiling covered in long triangles covered in gilt paper that gave it a fluted reflective appearance. The café was a ‘total work of art’ – Kral designed everything from the menu and branding to the furniture and fittings. The dining chairs, which were manufactured by Max Hutchinson’s Adroit company, were probably inspired by the furniture of Clement Meadmore who was a friend and colleague of Kral, while the Tasmanian blackwood front door which was made up of small panels resembled an abstract sculpture adorned with a heavy brass handle. The combination of minimalist spatial design with rich textured surfaces – the timber door, gilt-papered ceiling and Meadmore sculpture on the wall – would become a hallmark of Kral’s design aesthetic. This photograph by Sievers shows the interior from the outside, picking out each element with great clarity but creating at the same time a sparkling and compelling image of modernity.

Image: Clement Meadmore and George Kral

Photographer unknown, RMIT Design Archives, Melbourne

Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design is on display at NGV International until 19 Oct 2014. Book tickets now.