Design Catalyst: Iain Halliday

Apr 14, 2009
  • Article by Jan Henderson
  • Photography by Brett Boardman
  • Designer Iain Halliday

JH: Did you always want to be a designer? And who or what were the major influences in your early years?
IH: Yes – from age 10 or earlier. At first I was obsessed with cars; I knew every model and year of every make from about five, I think. (I still like cars a lot.) I think that this obsession led to a kind of photographic memory of details of the styling and design of cars. At the same time, we were (as a family) constantly visiting and discussing houses – other people’s houses, display houses and visiting furniture stores. This was mainly due to my mother, but in late primary school I had a teacher who really encouraged an interest in architecture. Similarly, in high school, my art teachers were incredibly encouraging – I felt an inevitability to my career path from an early age.

JH: Was there any one project that specifically defined your career and propelled you onto the path that led to where you are now?
IH: I’m not sure about a specific project that defined my career. I think that the decorative arts galleries at the Powerhouse Museum (1987) were important in terms of a public awareness of our work. The project was epic and extremely involved in terms of detail. We also opted for an aesthetic that was totally reflective of the time and not simply a classic ‘white box’ approach. Looking back at it some sections I like a lot, others I’m not sure about.

JH: BKH rewrote the design scene in Sydney a decade ago with the most hip projects being designed by you and your company. What do you think were the key ingredients that distinguished this BKH work?
IH:I think that the key ingredients were and continue to be a simple, strong approach to planning based on axial views and clear circulation paths overlaid with a fairly rigorous approach to detail and materials that are appropriate to both the identity of the project and the client. Another aspect in my opinion is an ‘X-factor’ which makes each project unique. How this X-factor happens I’m not so sure but we do put a lot of effort into making each project special.

JH: Presumably each of the directors of BKH brings distinct qualities and expertise to the practice. How would you describe your unique contribution to the combined practice?
IH: BKH has two directors – David Katon and Iain Halliday. I would say that our skills have always been complementary with each of us favouring (but not limited to) a certain area – David’s is probably more architectural and mine is more to do with materials and a more diverse aesthetic résumé. I kind of like too many things!

JH: Which projects are you most proud of and why?
IH: There are many projects that I am proud of and some that I am proud of that I sometimes forget after 25 years of work! The ones that I remember and stand out to me are:
Xavier Hairdressers, Mosman, 1990.
Darley Street Thai Restaurant, Kings Cross, 1993.
Bartlett Pennington house, Woollahra, 1991.
Nankervis apartment, Sydney, 2000.
Hall-Jones house, Point Piper, 2002.
The Kirketon Hotel, Darlinghurst, 1999

JH: As you have established an office in New York, what is your work like there and what are the differences between working in the US and Australia?
IH: Our work in New York so far has been limited to domestic (which is the majority of work available there). That said, we have now completed five apartment fitouts in the (barely) 12 months we have been open. We were also involved in the 2008 ‘Kips Bay Show House’, where we created an abstract living space that incorporated Australian art with classic modern and antique furnishings all finished in different textures of black within a lavender lacquered space.
The differences in working in the States don’t seem that great except the fees are higher there! And there is a much better selection of everything readily available; otherwise it is an incredibly familiar process once you get going.

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