The man behind Parker Furniture’s popular mid-century designs is somewhat bemused by the enduring demand for his pieces.

Tony Parker grew the company his father, Jack Parker, started in 1935 into Australia’s largest furniture manufacturer until it closed in 1997 amid the rise of discounting and flat-pack furniture.

A 1961 Parker furniture catalog.(Supplied: Tony Parker)

But asked whether he was pleased that Parker Furniture is so sought-after decades after it closed down, the 92-year-old Parker was briefly lost for words.

“I think a lot of it is nostalgia,”After a pause, he said.

“Nostalgia because of its quality and it represents an era.”

Parker became much more animated when he spoke about what he would create now if he was still in business; tables for apartments that could be extended, dining chairs that were “light, easy to move and comfortable”Low-back and high-back couches.

“We’ve gone from the high lounges to sit and watch TV to the lower lounges,”He said.

“Because they don’t want them dictating their presence in a room. They want a room to be a room.”

While the ideas may still flow, Parker is not attracted to the industry.

The way furniture was made and sold in Australia was completely different when he launched his first modern furniture range in the 1950s.

Tony Parker
“Good design is not some wonderful shape. Unless it serves a purpose, it’s not a good design,” Parker says.(ABC Radio Sydney: Rosemary Bolger)

Create ‘dream rooms.

Parker was born in London.

He was a salesman in John Lewis department stores in the 1950s. He was asked to develop a new range to appeal to customers. “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 partly why it was acceptable,” Parker said.

Parker furniture
Tony Parker created “dream rooms” to show customers how the furniture would look at home.(Supplied: Tony Parker)

He chose readily available English Oak that was lighter and easier to maintain.

Parker soon realised the new range would look out of place among the store’s existing dark wood stock, so he organised new lamps, picture frames, placemats — and everything else in a room — to be made.

“I created ‘dream rooms’ so the person could see the atmosphere and environment in which they’d live and that caught on,” he told ABC Radio Sydney.

When Parker returned home to Sydney a year later, his father was doubtful about the modern designs.

But his determined son created six double rooms full of lighter wood furniture and accessories for a furniture exhibition at Grace Brothers, which later became Myer.

“We sold nine months’ production in three days,”Parker said.

The designer was inspired by customers and their lives.

“To me, good design is not some wonderful shape. Unless it serves a purpose, it’s not a good design,”He said.

Memories that last a lifetime

Vintage collectors and enthusiasts prize the Parker brand.

Sacha Staniford sells and restores mid-century furniture in Sydney.

She says the value of Parker furniture — particularly the Nordic range produced in the mid-to-late ’60s — has risen 30 per cent in the last two years.

“I’ve got people on wait lists for some of the items like the bedside tables and some of the sideboards. They’re getting harder to find,”Ms Staniford stated.

She attributes their popularity to their classic design, high quality and growing desire to live more sustainably.

It’s sentimental for others.

Pete Sims's family table
Pete Sims’s mother was careful to protect the Parker dining tables with tablecloths or coasters.(Pete Sims)

Pete Sims claimed that he was offered $5,000 to buy his parents’ 1960s Parker dining room table. He could not part with it, no matter how much money he was offered.

“I was one of four boys and when my parents finally bought the house that they were going to live in forever. They saved and saved and bought a teak extendable dining table,”He said.

“Mum was so fastidious. No drinks were allowed on it without a coaster, no hot dishes put down directly.”

In 2009, Mr Sims lost his father to cancer and his mother four days later.

“I said to my brothers: ‘The only thing I want is Mum and Dad’s table so that every time we get together we can sit around it,'”That is Mr Sims.

Pete Sims
Pete Sims has many family memories of gathering around his parents Parker dining table.(Pete Sims)

“You have to think about the next step”

In his North Sydney apartment, Parker has only one of his own pieces — a signature armchair that he has only recently added.

Instead, he has a comfortable couch and lounge chair, and a wooden round dining table that his grandfather made.

Parker explained he wanted his late wife Denise to be comfortable in her final years. Denise was diagnosed in 2016 with dementia and Parker cared for her for many years before she passed away.

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Listen to Tony Parker speaking to Cassie McCullagh, ABC Radio Sydney

Now Parker divides his time between his family — he has three children, including actress Georgie Parker — along with 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 in a buggy.

On Mondays, he pretends to be the prime minister and deals with the issues of today.

Mr. Parker is 92 years old and is focused on what the future holds.

“I mean, you can’t stop and think, ‘That’s it’. You have to think ‘What’s next?'”He said.

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