His father sold model trains and toys at Meadmore Models in Exhibition Street, Melbourne. After two years, Meadmore dropped engineering and began studying in the Tech’s new Industrial Design programme. This was the first time in Australia that industrial design was taught as a diploma course.
After completing his training in 1949, Meadmore’s first marketed designs appeared around 1952. These were the pressed-steel standard and table lamps known as the Calyx range and the ‘black Japan’ varnished steel furniture formed from welded rod and welded wire supplemented with cloth and colourful weather-resistant Saran cord seating.
Later furniture also appeared in white. Initially he sold his work, branded Meadmore Originals, from his own office at 86 Collins Street, Melbourne.
As his practice expanded, Meadmore designed a three-legged table lamp, a range of tables with silver ash and black Formica tops, an innovative three-legged chair formed from a single sheet of plywood (£11/10 in 1955, stools (£3/11) and a minimalist recliner chair (£13/7).
A growing number of design retailers were eager to pioneer modernist design, including Guest’s (Little Collins Street), Henry Marlow (Glenferrie Road, Malvern), Anderson’s Modern Furniture (city-wide) and Marion Best, in Sydney.
Without domestic retailing support, Australian contemporary furniture had no chance of success. In 1952, Meadmore received the Good Design Award from the long-disbanded Good Design Society in Sydney.
In 1955, Meadmore received considerable publicity for the interior design of the Legend Espresso and Milk Bar at 239 Bourke Street, Melbourne. Meadmore invited the young painter Leonard French to paint some large murals for the wall behind the long counter of the Legend.
French used the seven voyages of Sinbad as a theme and Meadmore set large mirrors along the opposing walls of the narrow shop to reflect the painter’s vivid panels. Meadmore also produced a front-of-shop sculpture of Sinbad’s ship to complement the mural’s story.
In 1959, Meadmore helped establish a new gallery in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, with designer/manufacturer Max Hutchinson and a new partner, Peter Upward.
Called Gallery A, it showed contemporary design as well as abstract art. Hutchinson told an interviewer in 1968 that after Gallery A had been running a couple of years his accountant said, “Look Max, if you go on with this you’ll be broke in a year”.
Hutchinson complained that his friend Meadmore was “very good at presentation and producing incredible catalogues that cost much more than the whole exhibition”.
Christopher Heathcote observed in his book A Quiet Revolution that the Gallery A designers were very fashionable.
Heathcote writes that “the trio (Meadmore, Hutchinson and Upward) frequented Melbourne jazz clubs, wore sharp Italian suits and moccasins, rode Vespa motor scooters, read the beat writers and The Evergreen Review (a sophisticated New York magazine of the period) and had a passionate interest in European design”.
With his interest in sculpture growing, Meadmore left Melbourne in 1960 and worked for a time as art director for the Sydney-based Condé Nast magazine Vogue Australia until he emigrated to the United States in 1963.
He greatly expanded his career in sculpture and starred in a 1963 documentary produced by a young Bruce Beresford. Once established in New York City, he continued to work in industrial design and sculpture but did little design work.
His design work has been largely forgotten, while his monumental sculpture enjoys international acclaim.
Although he single-mindedly pursued sculpture in the United States, Meadmore continued his interest in furniture design and in 1974 he published The Modern Chair (now re-published in a Dover edition), an illustrated survey of contemporary furniture, from the Thonet Brothers to Mario Bellini.
In his introduction, Meadmore reveals his own views on the aesthetics of furniture, stating that each chair in the book had been selected for “qualities which have less to do with style and period than with a solution of a defined problem”.
He goes on to say, “Some of the finer adjustments of proportion, left unresolved by the mere solving of functional problems, have often been made with a visual sensitivity which undoubtedly contributes to make a chair a delightful object”.