Brisbane blogger Iona Cominos began a blog dedicated to Queensland’s Art Deco movement in 2014 because her heart “skipped a beat” every time she walked past an art deco building.
Almost two years later and her passion for the simple clean lines and geometric shapes that art deco design offers hasn’t waned.
“Once you notice one and you notice the style, they stick out, you notice them,” Ms Cominos said.
“I am really drawn to that modern streamlined design.”
The Walter Taylor Bridge at Indooroopilly, Brisbane has a distinctive art deco style. Photo: Bradley Kanaris
Art deco took hold in Paris in the 1920s before it flourished across the world, with many making full use of its strong horizontal and vertical lines and modern materials.
“They often incorporated new materials like chrome, plastic and neons, it encapsulated all aspects of visual culture,” Ms Cominos said.
Bookended between two world wars, the art deco design spread largely due to an increase in public works to ease unemployment that resulted from the Great Depression.
“If you look at the depression in Queensland specifically, people were looking for ways to keep people employed during the depression, there were a lot of constructions and art deco was the preferred style at the time,” Ms Cominos said.
“All through regional Queensland there is a whole series of town halls built in art deco style and were built as a way of providing work for the unemployed.”
Art deco in Brisbane: 80-year-old Coronet Court in New Farm still exists as an apartment block. Photo: State Library of Queensland
Ms Cominos said Innisfail and Mackay were two towns that had a large concentration of art deco buildings.
“Within the space of about two months in 1918 there were two cyclones first in Mackay and then in Innisfail, destroyed the town centres which were built from timber and tin,” Ms Cominos said.
“They turned to art deco style because of the aesthetic value but also because it relied on strong building materials.”
Archerfield Airport was featured in the Brisbane Open House last year. Photo: Archerfield Airport Corporation
Many Queensland art deco buildings have incorporated balconies or verandahs to help accommodate airflow.
“Architects were thinking about our subtropical climate when they were applying the art deco design to Queensland,” Ms Cominos said.
Ms Cominos said she was drawn to the way art deco design told a broader social and cultural history of Queensland, while maintaining its aesthetics.
“I found over time that if you take any aspects of art deco, a particular building or fashion trend, it has a much bigger story to tell about what was happening in Queensland society at the time,” Ms Cominos said.
“McWhirters in the valley is one of the most majestic examples.”
McWhirters resident Michele Edmondson, 65, who bought one of the apartments in in the building with her husband in 2006, fell in love with the space and simple elegance the apartments offered.
“McWhirters is a building that does that to you,” Ms Edmondson said.
Michele Edmondson in front of the McWhirters building, Fortitude Valley. Photo: Glenn Hunt
What started as a small drapery in the late 1880s grew into a four-building department building by 1931, which embraced the art deco design style of the time.
“They were one of the first department stores to bring in Italian fashion, it used to get national coverage for the fashion it brought in,” Mrs Edmondson said.
“Even people who just know brisbane a little bit, they know McWhirters.
“Older Brisbane people have strong memories of it as a department store.”
Art deco at its finest: Johnstone Shire Hall, Innisfail. Photo: John Oxley Library, State Library
Mrs Edmondson said each of the 110 apartments in the building were spacious enough to allow for some creative flexibility.
“The flexibility of the apartments in here is quite beautiful,” she said.
“Art deco is all about the simplicity of the style, it is not over fussy it is very clean lines, a lot of geometry.
“It has a very simple elegance to it.”