While Queensland did not suffer as much as more industrialised economies in the Great Depression, times were still trying for many people. By 1931 Queensland’s unemployment rate had risen to 30%. This set up a very different decade to the indulgent ‘Roaring Twenties’ when Art Deco came to the fore.
So how could ‘average Queenslanders’ who aspired to the modern aesthetic afford to keep up? One option was to turn to DIY (do-it-yourself) furniture making.
Below are three DIY designs for bookshelves and book-ends offered to readers of The Queenslander in 1934 and 1935. The statewide, weekly publication promised ‘novel’ and ‘up to the minute’ designs and provided basic written instructions along with illustrated diagrams.
With some tongue-in-cheek, the simplicity of the modern style was hailed as particularly suitable for the home amateur not able to master complex tools:
Its severe plainness is in marked contrast with the elaborately carved and finished designs of last century, and seems to be indicative of a revulsion of feeling in favour of extreme simplicity. This is fortunate for the amateur worker who is enabled to display his handiwork in positions in the house from which it would have been ignominiously ejected in days gone by. (16 May 1935)
It is interesting to ponder the seeming popularity of the DIY bookshelf. Was this because bookshelves were premised on simple structures the amateur could reasonably emulate at home, or was it reflective of the place of reading in a society looking for inexpensive pastimes?
1. Modern bookcase
This case was designed to accommodate a large number of books, as well as pot plants or vases of flowers on the top shelf. Pine was recommended as the cheaper option if the case was to be enamelled, or ‘one of the Queensland fancy woods’ such as silky oak or maple if it was to be varnished, oiled or waxed. (16 May 1935)
2. Combination bookcase and table
This ‘novel bookstand’ was designed as a combination bookshelves and table, though no explanation is provided of how one was expected to sit comfortably at it! The box-like structure on top served as a space-saving, fixed shade for an electric lamp – an optional extra ‘unfortunately, only for residents in the larger towns’ with access to electricity. Again, pine, silky oak and maple were the timbers of choice. (16 August 1934)
3. Modern book-ends
The stepped structure of these book-ends resembles a common motif found in Art Deco architecture, giving them their modern look. Readers were encouraged to get creative, using a combination of different woods and colours to accentuate the different panels. (10 October 1935)
For those eager to try their hand at some weekend woodworking, full instructions are available in the references below!
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Black, Carmel. ‘Depression Era.’ Queensland Historical Atlas: histories, cultures, landscapes. 2010.
‘Modern Bookcase.’ The Queenslander. 16 May 1935, p.16.
‘Modern Book-Ends.’ The Queenslander. 10 October 1935, p,39.
‘Novel Bookstand. Simple Job for the Home Carpenter.’ The Queenslander. 16 August 1934, p.43.
Categories: Interior design