Australian Historical Art Fund & Heritage Government Residences

Breakfront Wardrobe, 2008

Khai Liew (b 1952-) South Australia
Rose Mahogany and terracotta
Height 236cm, Width 285 cm, Depth 69 cm (Depth of breakfront 8cm)

Commissioned for the principal bedroom in Admiralty House from the highly original and celebrated contemporary Australian cabinetmaker Khai Liew, this stylish wardrobe bears the Vice Regal cipher created in collaboration with Australian ceramicist Bruce Nuske.

Inspired by the facets of a jewel and intended to capture the changing light within the room, this extraordinary, contemporary wardrobe has Liew’s signature simple straight lines and sense of geometry with the sculptural qualities in the panelled design. His work follows diverse historical and cultural influences that include: Colonial Australian furniture; the ancient cultures of Egypt, Greece and China; the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Liew has merged all his influences – old and new, to create harmonious yet high quality functional pieces that resonate with the diverse background of today’s Australians.

This piece from a renowned Australian contemporary designer complements the existing collection. Liew made the wardrobe from rose mahogany (Dysoxylum fraserianum, also known as rosewood), a rare Australian timber popular in Colonial furniture, also used in such pieces as the Macquarie Collectors Chest, Mitchell Library Sydney. 

Khai Liew lives in South Australia. He was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents who left Malaysia at the time of the anti-Chinese riots of 1969. He and his family came to Adelaide in 1971 when he was 17 years old.

Unlike most of Australia’s major cities Adelaide did not have convicts at its settlement. However there were many German immigrants who made a unique style of furniture often referred to as the ‘Barossa Biedermeier’. Liew became interested in Australian Colonial furniture, initially as it was a cheap way to furnish his home as the fashion then was for English antiques. He studied Economics but all the while he followed his interest, travelling the countryside looking in attics, second-hand stores and auctions picking up pieces for very little money  – sometimes just a couple of dollars. Then he began to restore pieces and sell them. He opened his first antique shop in 1974 and became a leading restorer, as well as a curator, consultant, and valuer of early Australian furniture. He advised important Australian museums, galleries and collectors. 

He was able to study in detail the techniques of furniture construction and apply them to his work. In the 1990’s he shifted his interest to Danish furniture as he was drawn to its simplicity in aesthetic and construction, and its relative affordability. Liew established Khai Liew Design in 1997 – a retail store and workshop. His work was presented alongside Danish pieces. He established a national and international clientele. Liew works in solid wood such as oak, walnut, linden wood.

Liew is Adjunct Professor, School of Art, Architecture and Design, University of South Australia and a Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia. He has exhibited widely in exhibitions such as ‘Jam Factory’ 2001 in Adelaide. His work toured Australia in the ‘Freestyle’ exhibition in 2007; he has exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Design Museum of London. Some of his commissions include the public seating for the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, and refurbishment of the JamFactory, the Museum of Economic Botany. His work is held in major galleries as the National Gallery of Australia, the Powerhouse Museum, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and the Art Gallery of South Australia. 

Ceramicist Bruce Nuske designed and made the Vice Regal cipher for inclusion in the wardrobe. His designs are known for the detail of observation and understanding of botany and zoology. He is head of Ceramics at the Adelaide Centre for the Arts. His work can be found in collections around the world including the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Art Gallery of Queensland, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Duke of Devonshire Collection in London, and many private collections.

Designer Khai Liew             cipher 1         

This selection represents a small sample of our collection. Our book detailing the collection is currently out of print.
An updated edition has been published in 2017.
take a look