The man behind Parker Furniture’s popular mid-century designs is somewhat perplexed by the continued demand for his pieces.
Tony Parker grew the business his father, Jack Parker, started in 1935 to become Australia’s largest furniture maker until it closed in 1997 amid the rise of sheds and kit furniture .
But when asked if he was thrilled that Parker Furniture was so sought after decades after it closed, 92-year-old Parker briefly lost his words.
“I think a lot of it is nostalgia,” he said after a pause.
“Nostalgia because of its quality and it represents an era.”
Parker became much more animated when he talked about what he would create now if he was still in business; tables for apartments that can be extended, “light, easy to move and comfortable” dining chairs and low back sofas.
“We moved from the upper lounges to sit and watch TV in the lower lounges,” he said.
“Because they don’t want them to dictate their presence in a room. They want a room to be a room.”
Ideas may still be floating around, but the industry has lost its appeal for Parker.
When he launched his first line of contemporary furniture in the 1950s in Australia, the way furniture was made and sold was very different.
Create “dream rooms”
It was in London that Parker had his big break.
Working as a sales assistant in the respected John Lewis department stores in the early 1950s, he was asked to offer a more modern range to appeal to the “everyday pom”.
“It was really the emerging Poms after the war and I guess it was because it was after the war, people wanted change and that’s part of why it was okay,” Parker said.
He chose readily available English oak, which is lighter and easier to maintain.
Parker soon realized the new range would look out of place among the store’s existing dark wood stock, so he curated new lamps, picture frames, placemats – and everything else in one. piece – to be manufactured.
“I created ‘dream rooms’ so the person could see the atmosphere and environment they would be living in and it caught on,” he told ABC Radio Sydney.
When Parker returned home to Sydney a year later, his father had doubts about modern designs.
But her determined son created six double bedrooms filled with lighter wooden furniture and fittings for a furniture show at Grace Brothers, which later became Myer.
“We sold nine months of production in three days,” Parker said.
Talking to customers and understanding how people lived their lives motivated the designer.
“To me, good design is not wonderful form. Unless it serves a purpose, it’s not good design,” he said.
The Parker brand is now very popular with vintage enthusiasts and collectors.
Sacha Staniford restores and sells mid-century furniture in Sydney.
She says the value of Parker furniture – particularly the Nordic range produced in the mid to late 1960s – has increased by 30% over the past two years.
“I have people on waiting lists for certain items like bedside tables and some sideboards. They’re getting harder and harder to find,” Ms Staniford said.
She attributes their popularity to the clean, classic design, good quality and growing desire to live more sustainably.
For others, it’s sentimental.
Pete Sims said he was offered $5,000 for his parents’ 1960s Parker dining table. But no amount of money could make him part with it.
“I was one of four boys and when my parents finally bought the house they were going to live in forever, they saved and saved and bought an extendable teak dining table,” he said.
“Mom was so picky. No drinks were allowed on it without a coaster, no hot food was put directly on it.”
In 2009, Mr Sims’ father died of cancer and his mother died four weeks later.
“I said to my brothers, ‘The only thing I want is mom and dad’s table so that every time we get together we can sit around it,'” Mr. Sims.
“We have to think about the future”
In his North Sydney flat, Parker has just one piece of his own – a signature armchair he only recently added.
Instead, there’s a plush sofa and lounge chair and a round wooden dining table made by his grandfather.
Parker explained that he wanted his late wife Denise to be comfortable in her later years. Denise was diagnosed with dementia in 2016 and he cared for her for several years before her death.
Now Parker divides his time between his family – he has three children, including actress Georgie Parker – as well as golf and furniture design.
Parker is regularly invited to speak to furniture design students and still plays golf three times a week, walking the 18 holes rather than riding a buggy.
And, on Mondays, he poses as the prime minister and tackles the issues of the day.
At 92, Mr. Parker is looking to the future.
“I mean, you can’t stop and think, ‘This is it.’ You have to think, ‘What’s next?'” he said.