George Henry Freedman, (6 March 1936–21 July 2016) was Australia’s leading interior designer from 1970 until a younger generation (including some architects and designers he trained) became prominent in Sydney during the 1990s.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, he studied architecture at Syracuse University (1953–1958) but did not graduate. Influenced by his father, a paint company’s colour decoration adviser, he first worked as a designer and artist in London, Amsterdam and New York before he was despatched to Sydney in 1969, by New York design consultancy Knoll International, to deliver Manhattan-modern executive offices to help internationally rebrand the British colonial origins of the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac).
During 1970–1971, Freedman worked part-time for Sydney decorator-antique dealer Leslie Walford, and formed a personal and professional partnership with Neville Marsh, a successful decorator from Perth. Trading as Marsh Freedman Associates after 1972, they designed many prestigious Sydney commercial and residential interiors, often including Freedman’s own furniture designs (most built in-situ but including a restaurant cocktail trolley collected by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences).
Marsh Freedman Associates’ most significant project was designing two floors of executive offices atop a new Martin Place tower for the State Bank of New South Wales (1985–1988). Across eighty rooms, Freedman and his team provided one of the world’s finest curations of postmodern (1970–1990s) perceptions of interior design excellence. Freedman later specified colours and finishes to update two Sydney heritage monuments: the Powerhouse (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 1988) and the Queen Victoria Building (historic markets to a modern shopping centre, 2009).
As well as designing interiors for some of Sydney’s most prestigious and prosperous people and organisations, MFA created Sydney’s most magnetic transmillennial restaurants, notably Berowra Waters Inn, 1976; Claudes, 1981; Kinselas, 1983; Taylor’s, 1984; Chez Oz, 1985; Bilsons, 1988 (renamed Quay, 2004); Treasury, 1992; Ampersand, 1998; and Buon Ricordo, 2007.
In 2005, Freedman was described by The Sydney Morning Herald as ‘the Godfather of Sydney interior design’. He was recognised by design and architecture industry experts for his daring and widely emulated combinations of colours, inventive uses of materials, relentless attention to detail, and commitment to high-quality furnishings (often imported signature classics). He was respected also for his sophisticated understandings of optical perception and volumetric manipulations of interior space; talents exemplified with his optically and geometrically sophisticated scheme for Kraanerg (1988), one of three Sydney Dance Company ballets for which he designed the sets.
With his American and European architecture and arts knowledge, he was highlighted by design writers as practising more like an architect than many Sydney colleagues who were educated as interior decorators and designers. He worked with Sydney’s leading architects of the late-twentieth century—including Glenn Murcutt, Ken Woolley, Peter Stronach, Lionel Glendinning and ecological design pioneer, Sydney Baggs. Freedman also trained some of Sydney’s outstanding younger architects and designers—including Iain Halliday, Sam Marshall, Stephen Varady, William MacMahon, Arthur Collin, Robert Puflett, Tim Allison and his late-career partner, Ralph Rembel.
In 2005 the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter) awarded Freedman Rembel an Interior Architecture commendation for its design of executive offices at the AMP building overlooking Circular Quay.
Freedman’s 1970s and 1980s furniture designs, often finished with luxury European veneers and eye-catching details, were often promoted in Australia’s leading home furnishing magazines, especially Belle, Vogue Living and Interior Design. He was a Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia and the Academy of Design Australia, and a regular judge for the annual Dulux Colour Awards.
During the late 1980s, Neville Marsh retired from Marsh Freedman Associates to live in Rome and Freedman continued to practice as George Freedman Associates (with Robert Chester and Sam Marshall). In 1996 he appointed Ralph Rembel as his business partner and in 2002 their practice was renamed Freedman Rembel. In 2010, Freedman and Rembel dissolved their practice and Freedman joined PTW (Peddle Thorp and Walker) architects as Head of Interior Design (while continuing to advise his existing private clients. In 2014, Freedman married psychologist Peter O’Brien at a ceremony in New Zealand.


Davina Jackson
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