Wallpaper design: a story

Florence Broadhurst, Her secret & extraordinary lives

Growing up in a working class home during the late 1950s and early 1960s, wallpaper was all the rage. My sister and I retain a fondness for this inexpensive, decorative touch, even though we may employ less of it as we age. But, decades ago, we loved to pour through books and books of wallpaper designs when there were retail stores that specialized in this home accent, long ago.

This Australian woman born in 1899 seems to have been imbued, at birth, with a drive to create, unlike anyone I have ever read about. Beginning as a young girl, she created multiple, imaginative lives seemingly from nothing. With her family background rooted in the Australian cattle “wilderness called Mungy Station,” she became known across Europe and America as a stage presence singing and dancing with drag queens in the early 1920s to a Bond Street couturier known as Madame Pellier, along with a British accent.

It is the wallpaper designs interspersed throughout this handsomely produced book, that move the story forward. Her last reinvention as a high-end wallpaper designer gives her life the gravitas and accolades deserved as their intricacies are explained with care and detail by O’Neill. The patterns are stunning. For an artist, this is where the story lies – her creativity, her formidable personality to promote and believe in her art form. Yet, her ending is as tragic as any mythological figure diminish does not diminish her contribution.


O’Neill, Helen.  Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives.  Chronicle Books, 2006. Print.
Dedicated to my sister, Sandy, who just loves wallpaper!