Profiles

Louise Olsen at home

At her home base in Sydney, Louise Olsen has created a compelling showcase for her Dinosaur Designs aesthetic. Here, the brilliant talent at a particularly transformative time in her life.

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  2. Photographed by Hugh Stewart | Sittings editor Victoria Collison
  3. Hair and Makeup by Peter Beard | Words by Natasha Inchley
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  5. Happy, chic chaos arises when Louise Olsen lays out her extensive collection of artful bangles and lozenge-shaped necklaces on the table in preparation for today’s portrait sitting. The Sydney-based co-founder of Dinosaur Designs is a compelling colourist with a knack for assembling her creations in winning combinations. All this is playing out in the home she shares with her husband, the artist Stephen Ormandy, their daughter Camille, 14, and Skipper, the family dachshund. Their light-filled beachside house is a modern architectural space of concrete and glass – minimal, yes but with an added pop that comes from the couple’s vast collection of art. Everywhere you look, there’s a bold and intriguing vignette: a transparent prism of iridescent colour sits alongside stacks of photography books, there are displays of white ceramic vessels, clever flower arrangements and groupings of the couple's signature resin plates and organically shaped bowls.
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  7. Olsen herself belongs to Australian art royalty: her father is master artist John and her brother Tim is co-founder of the Olsen Irwin Gallery. She says her own passion for colour and light informs her style from the studio through to her home and, as Olsen tells it, art is a crucial part of her life. “I find it so strange to go to a place like a doctor’s surgery and find not one piece of art on the wall; I can’t understand it. My mum used to say that paintings were like windows that transported you. I do believe that it opens your mind to so many other possibilities.”

Above: In the sitting room, a Stephen Ormandy painting, Gemma Smith paper sculpture and selection of Dinosaur Designs vases. Louise Olsen wears a Sofie D’Hoore dress from Riada Concept.

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  2. Image gallery above: 1). In the airy living room, Olsen wears Theory top and pants from Robby Ingham with Yves Saint Laurent shoes from Cosmopolitan Shoes; Camille wears Topshop. 2). A museum-worthy assortment of Dinosaur Designs bangles; a grouping of Olsen's vases provide the perfect counterpoint to a curiously compelling flower arrangement by Saskia Havekes of Grandiflora. In the background, a painting by Stephen Ormandy. 3). Room with a view: in the living room, a Henry Bertoia chair, Gary Hume print, Arne Jacobsen side table and ceramic pot by John Olsen. Olsen wears a Proenza Schouler jumpsuit from Land’s End Store with Dinosaur Designs bangles and Balenciaga sandals from Cosmopolitan shoes; In the media room, the couple’s shelving system designed by Dieter Rams, an Eames chair accompanied by one of Stephen Ormandy’s side tables, together with a selection of Clement Meadmore and Graham Camp sculptures and vases by Dinosaur Designs.
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  4. Above: In the media room, a Stephen Ormandy painting. Olsen wears a Dries Van Noten dress with her own bangles. Below: A selection of Aboriginal works and totems with a George Nelson Coconut chair. Camille wears Topshop; Valerie Strong Olsen painting with Pandanas fruit, a gift from Olsen’s good friend, Saskia Havekes of Grandiflora.

    Above and below: Olsen's daughter Camille in her colourful art-filled bedroom wears Topshop. Below: A sculpture by Stephen Ormandy displayed before a Louise Tuckwell painting. 

  5. The designer describes her home decoration as constantly evolving. “I love the idea that sometimes you have to take things down and move them in order to see them again; the eye gets too used to something,” she explains. “I find that when I’m in the studio, I’m constantly changing my pin-boards because I think your eyesight becomes a little lazy and it’s only when you put something in a different context and a different environment that you can appreciate it again.”
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  7. Olsen applies a similar approach to the way she dresses: “I like the idea of breaking up a look and inviting other pieces in. Often it’s those unexpected pairings that have the most impact – particularly with colour, it’s an incredible life force and I find it so uplifting, much more so than black.” She cites Balenciaga, Céline and Prada as favourite labels saying, “I love their sculptural elements. Miuccia Prada, in particular, is a fantastic colourist. She gives her clothes such an earthiness and her sense of art is incredibly inspiring.”
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  9. The same could be said for Olsen’s own viewpoint. Having studied at University of NSW's College of Fine Arts, and now in her twenty-eighth year with Dinosaur Designs, she is more self-assured than ever. The company recently debuted a collection of resin side tables, while a new collaboration with Jac + Jack saw a line of colour-dipped beach towels sell out within a week; further furniture designs are in the pipeline. “My approach is quite organic but also quite structured. I guess my aesthetic has become much more layered and complex than when I first started, everything was much more raw back then. In the last five years, I’ve really spread my wings more than at any other time since I’ve been [with the company]. I think that comes from having more confidence in myself and also from taking things in: the travel, all the experiences have enriched me to the point that I feel very liberated.”
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  11. In the early days, when it came to honing their craft, the designer says fashion was never on their agenda: “I didn’t feel it was my story. My dad taught me that if you want to be really good at something you shouldn’t spread yourself too thin. I’m not interested in the transient aspect of a trend, either. I find that fashion for me is in one month and out the next, a bit of a treadmill. I prefer to work on an idea that is sustainable, something that can be treasured forever and belong in a person’s collage for their life.” 
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  13. Much of her brand’s success can be attributed to the fact that the couple has never veered from their distinct handwriting. Olsen says, “We’ve developed our own language and for us the challenge is keeping it relevant and interesting. I guess, too, the reason it has moved the way it has is simply because we love doing what we do.” She says the dynamic she shares with her partner Stephen has helped propel their vision. “When we met at art school, we became instant buddies. We worked very harmoniously and happily together and we still feel like we’re on a journey together – we travel well together, we feel like we have wings.” How then does Olsen balance the pressure of the job with family life? She says, “I think it’s all a way of life for me. I grew up with two artists and there was never any separation between being at work or home, it was this continuous thread. And I think because Stephen and I both love what we do, it has become a continuation of all the things that inspire us at home and in the studio.”
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  15. Not surprisingly, the couple’s daughter Camille also has a great affinity for art and music. Her bedroom is wallpapered with the kind of abstract sketches that belie her years; her bed is crowded with Takashi Murakami flower cushions while above the piano hangs a Wonderland display of glittery bowler hats. “Camille has a natural ability, she’s got the bug. She always travels with us and has spent a lot of time in art museums but she seems to really enjoy being with art, too.” Olsen says, and it’s obvious she has enormous pride that her daughter might one day forge her own creative niche. “Her eyes are wide open to art and that is such a wonderful thing.”
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  17. Olsen’s scoop on motherhood
  18. The lessons she's learnt from her daughter: “I think as adults we fixate on what’s going to happen next, we're always looking forward, whereas children really bring you into the here and now. Children are very good at bringing you back into the moment.”
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  20. And the lessons she hopes to instill in them: “Camille is a really compassionate person and I always hope her heart will be full of love and compassion for others. I think it's only then that you can give so much more and have the courage to take on all of life’s ups and downs.”