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Vale Khai Liew

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Khai Liew. Khai was one of nature’s true gentleman and an enormous talent – he will be greatly missed.

Vale Khai Liew

Khai was born in Malaysia and came to Australia to further his education. Although he initially studied economics, the call to design came through his great love of furniture and history, in particular Australian Colonial furniture. He became a collector but also began to understand the form of objects by taking chairs and other pieces apart and putting them back to together again. Khai was so successful that he began to design his own furniture, and so began his amazing journey as a designer and maker of objects.

There were two seminal exhibitions, in 2001 and 2007, where Khai presented collections and received great acclaim for his work. In 2010, another exhibition, ‘Collec+ors’ saw Khai’s work selected for the British Insurance Design of the Year Awards and subsequently showcased at the London Design Museum in the UK. 

Since then, his eponymous studio, Khai Liew, has conceived and created myriad designs for all manner of furniture and the accolades have never stopped. His furniture was included in the multi award-winning residential project Indigo Slam by Smart Design Studios, various private houses, collected by museums and simply cherished by anyone lucky enough to own one of his designs.

Photography by Sean Fennessy.

William Smart, principal at Smart Design Studio, worked with Khai and says, “We’re very sad to hear of his passing. We worked together on Judith Neilson‘s home, Indigo Slam, where Khai created all of the furniture, his largest commission. He had a beautiful eye and a great sense of craftsmanship: a combination that made him legendary.  The people who knew him would know that he was very warm and charming, and it seemed that everything he did epitomised the essence of grace.”

While awards and honours have always been Khai’s – he was named an INDESIGN Luminary in 2018 – it was the man himself who was truly remarkable. Humble, engaging, honest, funny, warm and beautiful; once met, Khai could never be forgotten. 

I had the great pleasure of knowing Khai through his participation in both the 2022 and 2023 INDE.Awards where he contributed as a member of the jury. Every conversation was a delight, every time we met it was a joy, as he was someone who you couldn’t help but simply adore.

Another friend and colleague, Vince Frost, CEO and executive creative director at Frost Collective remarks, “I was lucky enough to be asked by Khai to design his logo and website over 10 years ago. I remember feeling very intimidated as he was an absolute perfectionist, but we worked well together and created an outcome that felt like him. 

“When I first met him in his Adelaide studio I was mesmerised by his calmness and immaculate self-presentation. He was always gentle and considered. The detail in his handmade work was impeccable and he will be sadly missed. I was fortunate to have him on my podcast, Design Your Life (Designing Quiet Furniture) – perhaps your viewers will enjoy connecting with him here.”

Khai Liew will be greatly missed, not only for his talent as a master craftsman who created beautiful objects but for the man that he was – one in a million. 

Our thoughts are with his family and friends, and we extend our sympathy to all who knew and loved Khai. 

Vale Khai Liew, 1952-2023.

Read our profile of Khai Liew here.

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