After self-learning at home while operating a successful interior design studio from 1948 to 1952, Douglas Snelling was registered to practice as an architect in New South Wales, Australia, and joined the NSW chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1953.
After his first (unbuilt) house models were published in the prestigious California magazine Arts and Architecture in 1949 and 1950, he built some of Sydney's largest mansions of the 1950s and 1960s, two substantial late 1960s residences in Noumea, as well as several factories, office buildings and blocks of home units. He also designed several unbuilt residential and commercial compounds for sites in Vanuatu and Fiji.
Snelling's major work of the 1950s, the Frank Lloyd-Wright-inspired Kelly House I in Bellevue Hill, won the 1955 House of the Year Award bestowed by Melbourne-based magazine Architecture and Arts; this earned it a substantial colour pictorial feature in The Australian Women's Weekly. This and several other significant Snelling houses have been included in several exhibitions and magazine surveys of the best 1950s and 1960s Sydney architecture – but are absent from the most important books and articles on that period, written by post-1970s scholars, notably Jennifer Taylor.
All of his buildings were strongly inspired by Wright's early 20th century architecture and Japan-inspired philosophies of organic (integrated with nature) design – and by certain mid-century buildings and aesthetic strategies by one of Wright's followers in Los Angeles, Richard Neutra.
Snelling's residential architecture was built between 1950 and 1970 and his houses can be categorised in three general styles. The early years, until 1956, were obviously devoted to interpreting the greatest aesthetic strategies and structural achievements of Wright (who died in 1959). From 1957 to the mid 1960s, Snelling's work became noticeably more Scandinavian (functional) in style and his formerly rough brickwork became smoother and lighter in colour. During this phase he built two blocks of home units; his most important works of this period. From 1964 until his practice closed in 1972, Snelling returned to his earlier love of Wright's original architecture but he also added flamboyant, pseudo-thatched roofs inspired by traditional huts seen on his earlier travels through Cambodia, Melanesia and Indonesia.
The later residences and resort designs, and his domestic interiors, gardens and swimming pools, were some of the world's most splendid examples of the glamorous, hedonistic, mid-20th century 'fantasy island' lifestyle theme known today as 'the Tiki style'.
Here is a list of his architectural projects:
Assef House, 20 Bulkara Road, Bellevue Hill, NSW, 1964.
Blau House, 8 Ciprian Street, Chinaman’s Beach, Sydney 1959-62.
Bolin House, Lot 12, 298 Scenic Highway, Terrigal, NSW, 1972-75.
Brauer House (Akolele), 306-308 Bermagui Road, Wallaga Lake, NSW, 1959.
Falkner Guest House, Haddon Rigg, near Warren, western NSW, late 1950s.
Fullarton House, 26 Parr Avenue (corner Playfair Street), North Curl Curl, NSW, 1949-51 (never built?)
Hauslaib House, Lot 33 Heights Crescent, Harbour Heights, NSW, drawings 1949.
Hay (Richmond) House, 32 Killeaton Street, St Ives, NSW, 1949-53.
Kelly House I, 24a Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill, NSW, 1953-55.
Kelly House II ( Tahiti), 22d Vaucluse Road, Vaucluse, NSW, 1965-66.
Learmont House, 36a Crescent Road, Newport, NSW, drawings 1950.
Little House (Yoorami), 3 Riverview Road, Clareville, NSW, 1964-65.
Mueller House, 24b Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill, NSW, 1958-63.
Mulholland House, 146 Tunstall Avenue, Kensington, NSW, 1961-62.
Nawa (Jean) House (Bettina Paradise), Mont Mou foothills, Noumea, New Caledonia, 1968-69.
Nawa (Louis) House, Rue Michelet and Cote de l’Amiral Halsey, Noumea, New Caledonia, 1968-69.
Palmerston House, 8 Killeaton Street, St Ives, NSW, 1951-54.
Smith (Keith) House, 39a Parriwi Road, Mosman, NSW, 1955-58.
Smith (Paul) House, 23 Conway Avenue, Vaucluse, NSW, 1971.
Snelling House I, 9 Corrabin Road, Northbridge, NSW, 1949-55. (Renovations by Alexander Tzannes in 1996.)
Snelling House II, 84 Kambala Road (corner Sheldon Place), Bellevue Hill, NSW, 1957-61.
Bibaringa, 347 New South Head Road, Double Bay NSW, 1962-63.
Roslyn Gardens Bachelor Flats, 76 Roslyn Gardens, Elizabeth Bay, NSW, 1963.
Armco Steel Co Factory, 127 Bath Road, Kirrawee/Sutherland, NSW, 1953-56.
Functional Products Factory, 243-7 (now 241) Princes Highway, St Peters, NSW, 1947.
Hartford Fire Insurance Company, 46 Margaret Street, Sydney, 1952-53.
Honeywell Headquarters, 63 Ann Street, Surry Hills, NSW, 1963-64.
JH Liddle & Epstein Headquarters, 55 Macquarie Street, Sydney, 1954-56.
JH Liddle & Epstein, Adelaide HQ, 202 Franklin Street, Adelaide, 1959-1961.
Woollahra Council Toilet Block, Rushcutters Bay Park, New South Head Road, Rushcutters Bay NSW, late 1960s.
Woolworths, 441 New South Head Road, Double Bay, NSW, 1966-67.
Bourgeois Family Compound, Erakor Lagoon, Vila, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), 1970.
Erakor Lagoon Development, Vila, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), about 1970.
Bowes House, 9 Riverview Road, Clareville, NSW, 1965.
Dili City Centre, possible concepts for a waterfront development, early 1970s. (Drawings not discovered.)
Gage House, 113 Stuart Street, Blakehurst, NSW, after 1958. (Not built to Snelling’s design; documented by John Hunt.)
Ginaghulla House, 18a Ginaghulla Road, Bellevue Hill, NSW, 1965-66. (Another architect completed the scheme.)
Nawa and Kut(n)er Project House, Noumea, New Caledonia, 1968.
Hotel Likuri Lei, Likuri Island, Fiji, 1970.
International Market Place, near Nadi, Fiji, 1972.
J Farren-Price Jewellers, shop fitout, Ipswich, Queensland, drawings 1950.
Nadi Commercial Development, Queens Road, Nadi, Fiji, drawings 1972.
Quonset Hut House, Blue Mountains, Sydney, one sketch mid-late 1940s.
Rolling Hills Subdivision, near Canberra, 1972. (Initial proposal in text format only.)
Tassiriki Park Estate, Vila, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), 1970-71.
Timber Trend Home, competition scheme for Timber Development Authority, 1962.
Walker-Smith House, 15 (formerly Lot 13) Lake View Drive, Narooma, NSW, 1970.
Garden House, unknown site, model and drawings published in Australian House & Garden, April 1951.
Palm Beach House, model of a ‘build as you earn’ house, in People, 10 May 1950.
Small House for a Mid-Suburban Lot, model published in Australian House and Garden and Arts and Architecture (US).