During the 1970s and especially after his death in Sydney in 1985, Douglas Snelling's architectural achievements were ignored or dismissed by supporters of his younger rivals and he became best-known among design afficionadoes for his 'Snelling line' of timber furniture.
From 1946 to 1948, he designed Australia's first range of mass-produced modern lounge seating, dining room and storage furniture. These pieces were first sold at the Anthony Hordern department store in Sydney during 1946, but by 1948 Snelling had joined a four-director partnership, led by Terry Palmerston as managing director, to manufacture and nationally sell his furniture.
After Snelling supervised building of a factory on the Princes Highway at St Peters, Functional Products Pty Ltd prospered by marketing the furniture with Snelling-designed advertisements and product placements in 1950s home decorating magazines and by wholesaling to retailers in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
The tables and storage pieces mostly featured fashionable 'California splay' legs (apart from a series of modular bookshelves interpreting 1940s rectilinear designs by Charles and Ray Eames in Los Angeles).
Snelling's most appreciated pieces, the chairs and two-seater sofas, generally were stripped of all upholstery or fabric covers. Their backs and seats were formed by nailing to the frames interwoven strips of wide cotton or synthetic 'parachute' webbing (a construction element normally concealed under thick layers of padding by traditional upholsterers).
These models were Australia's first and most commercially successful copies of early 1940s (wartime) chairs designed by Jens Risom and made in New York by Knoll. Risom's original designs were themselves technically inferior versions of the graceful early 1930s steam-bent plywood webbing chairs designed by Alvar Aalto in Finland and Bruno Mathsson in Sweden. Scandinavia's exemplary handcraft traditions could not be successfully emulated by carpenters in either the United States or Australia, so the curves of the Risom and Snelling pieces were sawn into 'ergonomic' shapes.
Second-hand and replica Snelling line chairs and tables became widely popular among young urban Australians during the 1990s.
An illustrated portfolio of his furniture will appear in Davina Jackson's forthcoming book on Snelling's life, work and significance. Register here for notice of publication.