27 April 2022 -

Hidden Histories: Gender in Design interview: Catriona Quinn

Interior design is the focus of our Hidden Histories: Gender in Design seminar this week. DHS Ambassador Alexandra Banister spoke with Dr Catriona Quinn, Research Assistant in the School of Art and Design at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, ahead of her paper on Australian interior designers and architects in the postwar era.

To find out more, follows Catriona on Instagram @catriona_quinn

All Hidden Histories seminars are free to attend, please register via Eventbrite:

What is your background and how did you develop an interest in design history?

I studied art history at Sydney University in the 1980s – despite the presence of Tony Fry in the faculty, I don’t think I ever heard ‘design history’ mentioned. I was lucky to start my career at the Historic Houses Trust (now Sydney Living Museums) then a new and ground-breaking government house museum organisation. My expertise in 20th century interiors flourished and I became curator of the Caroline Simpson Research Collection. However, it’s really only in the last 5 years that I have formally engaged with the design history field, through my PhD studies at UNSW and links with the DHS.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on ways of understanding and reframing 20th century interior design practices outside the historical canon. Integral to this are investigations into client histories, the impact of migration and the significance of professional design organisations, events and policy.

Your talk is part of a wider seminar series on Hidden Histories: Gender in Design, how does this apply to your work?

I am driven by a curiosity about histories outside the canon – hidden in plain sight – and the ‘how’ in thinking about new ways to see them through evidence of practice. Interior design has had an ambiguous relationship with gendered practices which has generated a vast field of scholarship, but rich territory remains untapped – especially in stitching Australian design histories into global debates.

Please tell us about an interesting piece of design you have discovered as part of your research.

The DHS audience might be curious to know how a circus tent-inspired hanging wardrobe, 1959, by Australian interior designer Marion Hall Best in a Thredbo ski lodge ended up in Italian Domus magazine? Tune in to my Hidden Histories talk where I tease out the value of the interior designer’s intermediary role in a rare documentation of an interior designer/architect collaboration!

Image by Stef Roche Dobb.


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