Oswald Noel Coulson was born in Geelong in 1905 and commenced his architectural studies at the highly-regarded Gordon Institute of Technology in that city. In January 1923, Coulson became an articled pupil of I G Anderson (1890-1963), an eminent Geelong architect who also maintained an office in Melbourne. Amongst the projects that Coulson is known to have worked on during his years with Anderson were the Block Buildings, erected in Geelong's Market Square between 1923 and 1927. After completing his articles in January 1928, Coulson remained in Anderson's employ for some time. He is credited with preparing the documentation for the striking modernist house that Anderson designed in 1935 for the Abrahams family, at 3 Elwood Street, Brighton. As late as 1941, when Coulson called for tenders under his own name for a brick veneer house in Brunswick - his earliest recorded independent commission - the advert provided Anderson's name, and his Collins Street office address, as the contact.
During the inter-war period, Coulson was also active as a musician and composer. In 1934, he copyrighted a number of musical works of his own composition, with titles such as "Waltzing with you", "Girl o' mine's a wonder", "Oh Sunshine" and "Masquerade". He was also involved in the creation of several dramatic works, including "Trunk Line" (1934), and "A Chinoiserie" (1946); the former was co-written by pianist and music teacher Isabel May Fiddes (1904-1998), whom Coulson would later marry. In 1936, the couple collaborated with another local writer, Doris Hayball, on what was described by the Argus as a musical farce, intended to be staged in London. It was noted that while the two women contributed the play's libretto, Coulson was responsible for the music and lyrics. After their marriage, Noel and Isabel Coulson resided in Sandringham, where their daughter, Barbara, was born in 1941.
By the 1950s, Coulson had commenced his own practice in Melbourne. In a brief biographical profile that was published in 1959, Coulson stated that his office specialised in domestic architecture, garden landscapes and interior decoration. Elaborating on the latter, he described his philosophy thus: "Colour is of paramount importance as is simplicity in small schemes and variation and development in larger ones - as in music, a simple melody is satisfying in a minor work but requires change of key, volume and movement in a larger work such as a symphony". Given Coulson's background as a composer, this musical analogy was entirely appropriate.
Working almost entirely within the sphere of domestic architecture and interiors, Coulson was best known works for a series of projects undertaken for prominent city businessmen in Toorak, as well as the remodelling of his own house in East Melbourne (1964). The latter included a rooftop garden that attracted some press attention; Coulson's previous work as a garden designer included a credit as "landscape consultant" on the layout of the Olympic Village at Heidelberg. One of Coulson's more unusual undertakings of the period was contributing to an exhibition of Christmas trees, sponsored by retail chain Buckley & Nunn in December 1954. Coulson's entry was described as "a wired silver pyramid, completely covered with imitation white flowers and glittering with silver and green spheres and silver leaves".
In 1970, Coulson sold his house in East Melbourne and retired to Balnarring, although he remained registered as an architect in Victoria until at least 1976. He died on 23 January 1989, and his widow, Isabel, died nine years later. Prior to his death, Coulson was interviewed by architectural historian Graeme Butler, who later incorporated some of Coulson's recollections of his early career with I G Anderson into the Greater Geelong/Geelong City Urban Conservation Study (1993). In more recent years, furniture and other items designed by Coulson have been in some demand from collectors. In 2009, a selection of Coulson's work commanded respectable prices at a Sydney auction, with a table lamp selling for over $3,000 and an unusual pedestal desk (in limed oak with inset leather top) for almost $5,000.
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