Donald Esplin was born in the New South Wales rural town of Hay in 1874.
He was schooled at the Melbourne private boarding school, Kew High School, from 1888 to 1890. At 16 Esplin began work in the architectural offices of Robert Lawson. He was apprenticed to the Sydney firm of Sulman and Power in 1895. John Sulman was one of the colony’s pre-eminent architects and one of several English architects who migrated to New South Wales in the 1880s bringing with them the latest ideas in English Revival architecture.
Such was the influence of Sulman that Esplin became an important exponent of Arts and Crafts architecture. He moved to North Sydney (Wollstonecraft) in 1907 having worked in the area since 1904. He would complete or design additions to at least 139 houses and flats by the end of the 1930s. Many of these were in Wollstonecraft - a suburb in the process of creation as the Berry Estate was subdivided. Esplin’s domestic work to the 1920s also shows the ongoing influence of contemporary English Revival architects such as CFA Voysey. His own house ‘Illaroo’ was very similar to those built in English garden suburbs planned by Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker.
From the 1920s Esplin made the common and logical transition to the wide horizontal designs typical of the Californian Bungalow, which itself had been influenced by English architecture and the celebration of crafts and natural material.
Esplin took his English influences into the flats he designed for the corner of Walker and Berry Streets in North Sydney in 1913 – now demolished. The use of half timbered gables and balconies, shingled window bays and rough cast chimneys gave a traditional feel to a modern form of living, the apartment building.
Esplin appears to have retained his association with John Sulman, who also lived in North Sydney from 1911 – at 11 Warung Street, McMahons Point. After her husband’s death in 1934, Lady Sulman commissioned Donald and son Thomas to design alterations to her house. It was one of Donald's last projects in North Sydney.
Only 15 of more than 50 Esplin designed houses in North Sydney remain. Most of those have been altered.
Donald Esplin died in 1960.