Refreshing the Senate Opposition Party Room
Located on the main floor of the Old Parliament House building and across the Opposition (northern) lobby from the Senate Chamber the Senate Opposition Party Room evokes a rich character in its warm timber panelling, frosted-glass-fronted bookcases and the convivial groupings of its generous furniture. Originally known as the Senate Club Room and used for the first ten years of the building’s history by Senators as a relaxed space in which to meet with other senators from the same state, regardless of party, it became the the Senate Opposition Party Room in 1937. This followed the change of use of the original Senate Opposition Party Room, which from 1929 on was used permanently by the Country Party (today The Nationals), and the election of an increased number of Opposition senators in the election of October 1937.
Recently nine of its easy chairs and both the settees underwent a makeover to remedy signs of age that had lent the furniture a certain care-worn appearance. The chairs and settees were designed by the building’s architect John Smith Murdoch, and in most cases the upholstery is original, dating back to 1927. Over the intervening decades the leather had become dehydrated and cracked, while some larger tears to seats and armrests were obvious to anyone visiting the Senate Club Room. The timber elements had also accumulated the scuffs, dents and marks associated with age and use, while one of the settees was missing two of its feet.
Between January and April 2011 the furniture was removed from the Senate Club Room in two batches for treatment offsite. The intention with the conservation work was not to restore the chairs to a state of newness, but to retain as much as possible of the original leather, vinyl and upholstery materials and to sympathetically treat the obvious tears. It was important that the chairs and settees reflect their history as well-used furniture and that as little as possible was done to them.
In the case of the more significant tears to upholstery, the affected panels of leather were removed from the chairs and reinforced by bonding colour-matched leather behind the original, thereby retaining the patina and aesthetic of the existing leather. Smaller tears to the upholstery were repaired by inserting new pieces of leather behind the tear, providing reinforcement. A coating of coloured wax over all leather surfaces filled cracks and areas of loss and added protection to the leather. Timber elements were cleaned, losses filled with hard wax and the settee once again has four feet!
During the course of conservation work it was discovered that in many cases the reddish-brown furniture had begun life a different colour. In fact many pieces were originally upholstered in green leather, but had been later painted brown; if you look very closely you may still see evidence of this on one of the settees.
The ‘freshen up’ of the easy chairs and settees has reinvigorated one of the most atmospheric spaces in the building and ensures that both the furniture and the Senate Club Room will continue to be enjoyed well into the future.