Flowers as large as dinner plates. Tropical birds, peacocks, and painterly swirls: For textile designer Florence Broadhurst, no pattern was too outsize, no design too outlandish. The flamboyant Australian brought a unique color sense to her palette: pinks paired with metallics, yellow with magenta, black and white as her standby neutrals. Her inspirations spanned centuries and continents. From Roman architecture, to David Hicks geometrics, to Australian crocodiles— everything was fodder for Broadhurst’s designs.
Though little known outside Australia, Broadhurst defined the decorating scene Down Under in the 1960s and ’70s. “We were beige and boring before that,” says Helen Lennie who, together with her husband, David—and their firm Signature Prints—has revived the Broadhurst archive. “She took it upon herself to recolor Australia.”
The enigmatic woman behind this color quake was complicated, and ultimately tragic. She was born in rural Queensland, where her father managed a cattle station, but escaped to Europe and Asia, repeatedly reinventing herself, first as an actress, then a clothing designer, then an artist. She was 60 when, back in Australia, she founded her textiles company, hiring a team of artisans to produce silk-screened wallpapers and fabrics by hand. At the height of her success, in 1977, she was found murdered in her studio in Sydney. The evidence included two cups of tea and purportedly no sign of forced entry. The case has never been solved.
Famously cantankerous, Broadhurst once shooed away the man who would ultimately save both her archive and her reputation. David Lennie, a New Zealander in the wallpaper trade, recalls paying a visit to her studio before her death. “Young man, we have nothing to discuss— please leave immediately,” he remembers her saying. “I did so,” he says, “and never even thought of returning.”
And yet in 1989 Lennie acquired Signature Handprints, a wallpaper company whose holdings included Broadhurst’s original sample books and silk screens for more than 500 designs. He became obsessed. “The sheer scale and bold colorations of the designs were so special and exciting,” says David, who spent years puzzling over what to do with the patterns. When he married Helen, a former Chanel employee, in 1998, she too became smitten with Broadhurst. Together they reestablished her textiles studio and began producing fabric and wallpaper using the original film positives and silk screens. They have released 94 Broadhurst patterns to date, including Spotted Floral, hothouse flowers on a spotted ground, and Solar, with its radiating 1960s motif. “We do it the same way she did, on long tables where we push the ink through screens with squeegees,” says Helen. “We don’t take shortcuts, though we have moved to environmentally friendly inks and papers.”
Gradually, the Lennies found distributors for their Broadhurst patterns, and licensed some of the designs for rugs. Interior designers from London to New York—including Daniel Romualdez, Steven Gambrel, and Sheila Bridges—noticed the striking designs from Australia and started using them in their projects. “They have a vintage quality, an artistic feeling, and an intangible Australian-ness,” says Romualdez, who paired Broadhurst’s Yvan’s Geometric—toneon- tone in matte and shiny silver—with mirrors and chinoiserie in a guest room for fashion icon Daphne Guinness.
The media-savvy Broadhurst would have relished her latest triumph: This year, Kate Spade New York is planning a major launch of fashion and home collections based on a dozen Broadhurst designs licensed from Signature Prints, along with a splashy ad campaign focused on the Australian designer. “I’ve become addicted,” says Kate Spade president and creative director Deborah Lloyd, who recently papered her own Brooklyn kitchen in one of Broadhurst’s most iconic designs, Japanese Floral, in black and cream. “I had the blinds done and the cushions to match,” she adds. “And now when I wear the matching Japanese Floral dress, you can’t even see me.”
By Elle Decor