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Design Hunter Q + A: Nicolas Chiew

Design Hunter Q + A: Nicolas Chiew

Nicolas Chiew is a Sydney-sider from the Northern beaches. His love for recycled timber has become his profession, co-founding the Colonial Trading Company. We chat to this Design Hunter about his interest in wood with a story, his passion for wine and what he’s been up to…


Where you are from/live: Northern Beaches (NSW)

What you do: Co-founder of Colonial Trading Company. We are dedicated to ethically procuring exotic recycled hardwoods for use in quality projects. We work collaboratively with designers to assist in bringing their designs to realisation.

When did you first know you wanted to be a…

timber guy?! After graduating from university I spend a number of years working as a consulting engineer in the building industry. It was at this time that I discovered that what really gave me a kick was not so much my technical work as a professional engineer but seeing great design being turned from concept to reality. Intrinsic to this process was the selection to fantastic materials. For me, recycled timber is one of those materials that proudly wears the scars of its life; scars that inevitably contribute significantly to the finished project. It only took me another 15 years, and a foray into owning a telecommunications consulting company, for me to realise my passion!

Your latest project:

Michael Geraghty (my business partner) located an enormous stockpile of railway sleepers from the historic Kuala Lumpur – Ipoh line in Malaysia. These sleepers are up to 100 years old and transforming them into bespoke banquette seating, bench tops and wonderfully rustic wall cladding has been an exercise in patience, persistence and passion. Thankfully we have some wonderful designers and artisans working with us.

Where you find inspiration:

Everywhere! It can be found flicking though magazines over breakfast, staying in a stylish boutique hotel, appreciating the creative fitout of a restaurant whilst dining with friends, checking out Instagram…

Three people that inspire/excite you:

1) Brooke: the stunning woman I’m lucky enough to spend my life with
2) James Dyson: he made vacuum cleaners desirable!
3) Sibella Court: so many exciting, creative projects

What is your favourite…

Car/bike/plane/boat model:

Bike: The collaboration between Victoire cycles and Berlutti. Team an iconic shoemaker/leather goods house with a bespoke bicycle manufacturer and the resulting product is eye wateringly elegant. Unfortunately it has the dreaded “Price on Request” price tag.

Car: Mercedes Benz 300SL Gull wing- nothing more needs to be said

Chair model: Featherstone B230 Contour Chair

Residential space: Sagaponack by Bates Masi Architects

Commercial space: Hotel-Hotel in Canberra. A sustainable development that combines amazing design & materials with support for the community of artists and businesses within its precinct. The use of recycled timber in the foyer is just stunning.

Decorative product: Hublot Classic Fusion Skeleton Tourbillon King Gold watch. Quite a mouthful but one seriously beautiful watch… that I don’t own

Functional product: My Ponte Vecchio Lusso coffee machine. It possesses the charm of an old Italian lever machine and can pump out a great espresso. Unfortunately it also boasts the reliability of an old Italian car, which means that my twin bro Luke currently has it in pieces whilst he attempts to fix it.

Handmade good: My Feit vertical wallet. It’s hand moulded by Florentine craftsman from a single piece of leather and over the last 2 years it has aged beautifully.

Mass-produced good: Reidel “O” Series glasses. Simple, elegant and oh so good at holding tasty beverages

Item in your studio: My Seventy Eight Percent messenger bag. It holds everything I need to be fully functional at all times.

Time of day to work/play: Early morning for working & afternoons for play. Preferably a long lunch that has stretched generously into the afternoon

Meal: Authentic pizza with a bottle of quality red wine

Restaurant: My 2 favourites remain Porteno for a fun night in the city with friends and Mexicano for a trusty local meal of fish tacos and perhaps a sneaky mid-week tequila

Drink: hmmm… Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is a favourite that I’ve been collecting for the last 10 years when it was an emerging winery. I do love a good Pinot Noir as well… my favourite right now is a tasty organic pinot from Kawarau Estate in Central Otago… I’m also partial to a great Chablis, or a Barolo… let’s just say that I love wine!

Bar: At home with friends and family

Piece of technology: My Macbook Pro. It’s with me when I’m at the timber yard checking on stock and when we’re presenting to architects or interior designers.

Historical figure: Jesus

Fictional character: Reepicheep from the Chronicles of Narnia (from my childhood readings of C.S. Lewis). A mouse possessing courage, impeccable manners, eloquence and a sense of adventure.

Vice: Wine… and food

Virtue: Misfit Aid. During a recent hiatus I spent a year volunteering with this merry band of change agents. I’m still actively involved with this bunch of misfits! Please check them out and support them, misfitaid.org

What does the term ‘Design Hunter’ mean to you?

A Design Hunter is inquisitive and has finely tuned peripheral senses that spot unique items even when they’re not actively looking! Not only do they love the aesthetic of items, they also actively seek the history and the stories behind them. Whether it be researching the designer or investigating the history and origins of materials, a Design Hunter appreciates items for how they came to be available to fall into their greedy little hands.

See Nic’s opinion piece on aged timber here

Colonial Trading Company