Fler-Melbourne, The story of innovative Melbourne furniture design firm Fler, and the influence of modernism upon the changing landscape of the Australian home in the decades following the Second World War.
The Fler company began making furniture in a two-horse stable in Richmond, Melbourne, in 1946. Its founders were two young European Jewish migrants, Fred Lowen and Ernest Rodeck. Both men had fled Nazi Europe, arriving in Australia in September 1940 via the Dunera. They met at Tatura Internment Camp in 1941 and struck up a friendship that was to last until Lowen’s death in 2005. It was also the start of a successful and fruitful professional partnership.
Despite little knowledge of timber, the pair began by manufacturing propelling pencils and wooden tableware. Encouraged by Frederick Ward, the Myer Emporium designer, Lowen soon began to design chairs. From the start he used Australian timbers in a modern style, eschewing the cumbersome, dark, uncomfortable, English-style furniture that was popular at the time.
Australian modernist architects like Robin Boyd and Roy Grounds favoured the work of designers like Grant Featherstone, Douglas Snelling and Fred Lowen, because the clean modern lines of their furniture suited the new light, open, modern interiors. In 1958 Fler teamed up with Robin Boyd to go into house building, and their first Fler design home in Blackburn still stands.
By the mid-1960s there were Fler furniture factories in every Australian state. The groundbreaking Australian Pavilion at the Montreal Expo in 1967, designed by James MacCormack, featured Fler furniture alongside the work of other Australian designers, notably the ‘talking chairs’ designed by Grant and Mary Featherstone. After Fler was taken over by Australian Controls Limited in 1967, both Fred Lowen and Ernest Rodeck left the company. Lowen formed a new company called Twen, which became Tessa, with his brother Howard Lindsey and design technician Sigi Danielzik. The company continued to experiment with new and innovative textiles and methods of manufacture. The T-4 chair (1970), which featured a sling in a laminated timber frame, was inspired by the hammock that Lowen slept in on the Dunera, and became a ‘middle class status symbol’.
Australians now embrace modernism as one of the many ‘looks’ they can easily achieve. Australian furniture designed in the 1950s and 1960s by people like Grant and Mary Featherstone, Douglas Snelling and Clement Meadmore, can be found in museums as well as in many ordinary living rooms. This is partly due to the success of innovative companies like Fler.