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2009/39/2 Credenza, designed for the Powerhouse Museum boardroom, Craftwood / glass / aluminium / brass/Macassa ebony veneer / birch / silver ash / stainless steel/ marble, designed by Iain Halliday of Neil Burley & Partners, made by Harry and Philip Clancy, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1987-. Click to enlarge.

Credenze or sideboard designed by Iain Halliday for the Powerhouse Museum boardroom

The Powerhouse Museum boardroom furniture is one of the first design commissions produced by Iain Halliday. With the 1988 Powerhouse decorative arts galleries, the boardroom table was a statement of the Powerhouse's investment and commitment to contemporary design. As a result the original Powerhouse fitout set new standards in interior and exhibition design for Australian museums. The Powerhouse interiors featured designs by two design practices who during the 1990s would became standard-setters in interior design and architecture - Burley Katon Haliday and the Melbourne practice Denton Corker Marshall.

Since 1988, as part of Burley Katon Halliday, Iain Halliday has achieved a rare degree of success and public recognition, becoming one of the few Australian designers or architects to become a 'brand' in themselves. This success was initially founded in the design consciousness of the 1980s: 'By the late 80s certain people and people were head over heels in love with new design. For the first time it became a matter of public interest, a visibly vivid and defining moment when money, glamour, a certain Postmodernism, and a great deal of youthful talent, bounce and passion led to things happening. Excitement swirled in and out of BKH, who were designing celebratory public spaces and whose profile was becoming more and more out there'. [Antonia Williams, 'BKH and Sydney', in Heidi Dokulil (ed.) Burley Katon Halliday, Melbourne, Thames and Hudson, 2007).

BKH's success is also attributable to the burgeoning lifestyle economy of inner and Eastern Sydney. This area and its increasingly affluent demographic have supported a considerable investment in the retail, restaurant, cultural and domestic sectors. BKH has provided the house style for the transformation of Sydney's leisure economy, and its inner city lifestyle.

Design during the 1980s reflected this affluence, allied to a new appreciation of historic design and style encouraged by the 1970s' Green Bans and other urban conservation campaigns. The resulting combination of conspicuous wealth and stylistic references were major elements of 80s postmodernism.

The Powerhouse boardroom is significant as an early and important example of Iain Halliday's work for BKH, rendered more distinctive by the passage of time. Iain Halliday: 'In the 1980s there were Postmodern influences, there were high-tech influences, and that was all reflected in the work I was doing as I was just out of design school'. Like the Powerhouse, the boardroom furniture is a leading artefact of 80s design in Sydney.

Charles Pickett, curator Design and Society.


Object No.


Object Statement

Credenza, designed for the Powerhouse Museum boardroom, Craftwood / glass / aluminium / brass/Macassa ebony veneer / birch / silver ash / stainless steel/ marble, designed by Iain Halliday of Neil Burley & Partners, made by Harry and Philip Clancy, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1987-1988

Physical Description

Credenza, supported by an aluminium frame with brass mesh infill. The lower section consists of two refrigerated spaces beneath a row of drawers. The front of this section is divided by an assymetrical sculpted aluminium fold. The credenza is finished in Craftwood above the fold; the remainder is finished in Macassa ebony veneer.

The middle section of the credenza contains a set of glass shelves within an enclosure with a curved Craftwood rear and intricate folding doors. The lower shelf is made of marble and the ceiling is mirrored glass, which reflects light from a concealed light fitting.

The aluminium frame extends above the shelf enclosure, and is illuminated by a concealed fluorescent light.

NB. The term credenza originally referred to the furniture designed for holding the vessels and other items used in the Eucharist service.



2320 mm


1330 mm


632 mm



Iain Halliday (b.1961) was born in Darwin, but grew up at Sydney's Northern Beaches. He studied interior design at the Sydney College of the Arts, where one of his tutors was David Katon, partner in Neil Burley & Partners. Halliday worked part-time for Burley & Partners while studying for (but not completing) an architecture degree at University of Technology Sydney. He also gained experience with interior designers Marsh Freedman, before returning to the Burley practice in 1984.

Neil Burley designed the first cover for Oz magazine, establishing a graphic and industrial design business in 1967. David Katon, formerly with the NSW Government Architect's design section, joined Burley in 1978, and with the addition of Halliday the partnership established itself as one of Sydney's leading interior designers, renaming as Burley Katon Halliday in 1989, although Burley left the firm in 1995.

Halliday's first major commission was the design of three floors of Decorative Arts galleries of the Powerhouse Museum for its opening in 1988. A few years later he designed the fitout of the Australia gallery at the National Maritime Museum. While these jobs helped create a profile beyond the design congnoscente, a series of restaurant interior commissions saw Burley Katon Halliday regularly feature in food and lifestyle pages. The first was Darley Street Thai at Kings Cross, followed by Sailor's Thai, Paramount, The Summit at Australia Square and others. As well as becoming a favourite of Sydney's most fashionable chefs and restaurateurs, BKH also attracted commissions from trendy retailers including Dinosaur Designs, Wayne Cooper, Orson & Blake, Marcs.

During the 1990s the firm expanded its activities from interiors to architecture, a development which ruffled some feathers within the architectural establishment - neither Halliday or Katon are qualified architects. David Katon: 'As interior designers we don't just take spaces and spruce them up...We treat the architecture as well, knock the walls down and change them quite dramatically...In the end people would like the detail we would give them because a lot of architects didn't get that interested back then in kitchens and bathrooms. They have since. They saw interior design as a fluffy thing and architecture as the all-important thing' (Patty Huntington, 'Architects of spin',
The ability of BKH to offer a complete package of interior, exterior and structure proved popular with prominent Sydneysiders as well as the booming market for inner-city apartments. BKH's Republic apartments (1998-2000) in East Sydney is perhaps the best-known result. In the past decade BKH have worked in Melbourne and internationally; during 2008 the firm opened an office in New York.



The Government Architect's office prepared designs for the Powerhouse boardroom and the adjacent acquisition display gallery, kitchen and reception area during 1985. At this time meetings of Museum trustees, committees and management were the main function envisioned for the boardroom. However it was also planned that 'sponsorship lunches' and 'VIP receptions' would be held in the room (This information from Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences office file 2978).

During 1987 Lionel Glendenning, the Government Architect's design architect for the Powerhouse Museum, approached Iain Halliday and Neil Burley regarding the furniture for the Powerhouse boardroom. Halliday was already designing the exhibition fitouts for the Powerhouse Decorative Arts galleries.

The new brief specified the design of a large meeting table, loosely based on conference tables designed by the US architect/designer Florence Knoll (b.1917), the primary influence on office interiors and furniture during the post-1945 period. Knoll revolutionised offices world-wide with her functional, architecturally inspired furniture. Glendenning initially considered purchasing Knoll furniture for the boardroom.

Instead, in July 1987 Halliday was asked to design a meeting table that would be sculptural, 'elegant functional' and a 'conversation piece'. The table was also to be 'democratic', not creating any sense of hierarchy among those sitting around it. (This information based on notes made by former PHM curator Judith O'Callaghan from conversations with Lionel Glendenning and others).

In September 1987 Halliday presented designs for a table and credenza The designs were approved by Glendenning, museum trustee Leo Schofield and director Lindsay Sharp.

The boardroom furniture was constructed by the Sydney cabinet makers Harry and Philip Clancy. A set of Knoll chairs was purchased to complement the table, which was completed in early 1988 and was installed in the boardroom mid-1988, some time after the Powerhouse's March opening. The credenza was not completed until August 1988.

Unfortunately the table quickly became a source of controversy. Within three days of its installation in the boardroom, damage was sustained by the ebony Macassar veneer finish of one section of the table. In addition, the Knoll chairs quickly sustained damage to their aluminium arm rests.

By August 1988 a Liberal government had been elected in NSW, new trustees had been appointed to the Museum board and Terence Measham had been appointed as Acting Director. According to Measham, 'the Board of Trustees loathed the Halliday board room table with a passion and immediately ordered me to get rid of it...The Trustees were unanimous. Not even the art/design Trustees defended the table... I was a very new Director and dragged my feet over this matter but at the next meeting they were incensed at my falure to carry out their wishes and made it clear that the matter was urgent and not negotiable. As a newly appointed Director I was aware that my terms of employment required me to carry out their orders. Publicly, I wore the blame...'[Communication with the acquiring curator, December 2009].

The table was quickly removed from the boardroom. Publically, Measham stated that the decision was imposed by issues of practicality, notably that the table's size and fixture to the floor made it difficult to use the boardroom for functions, thus reducing an important source of income for the new museum.

Perhaps unfairly, Measham was criticised for the decision to remove the table. A Sydney Morning Herald gossip column claimed that 'the newly-appointed boss of the Powerhouse Museum...may well have made an exhibition of himself over the banishment of $100,000 of lavish boardroom furniture to the building's dungeons...that nasty odour emanating from Ultimo could well be the whiff of authoritarian philistinism' ['Today's people', SMH, 26 September 1988].

Meanwhile Interior Design [No15, 1988] published a feature on the table, claiming that it posed the question: 'when is a table not a table?....the table has the delicacy of jewellery coupled with the dynamic potency of massive scale'.

Terence Measham suggested that the boardroom furniture be displayed in the Style decorative arts exhibition; however curatorial staff were reluctant to acquire it, hoping that the table would eventually be restored to its planned location in the boardroom. This has not occurred, nor has the table been displayed.

The credenza was not installed in the boardroom, and in all likelihood was not assembled at the Powerhouse prior to its display in 'The 80s are back' exhibition from December 2009. The table remained in storage, disassembled, since September 1988 until 2009 when it was reassembled for photography and documentation.

Charles Pickett, curator Design and society.

Cite this Object


Credenze or sideboard designed by Iain Halliday for the Powerhouse Museum boardroom 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 November 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Credenze or sideboard designed by Iain Halliday for the Powerhouse Museum boardroom |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=24 November 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


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