Louise Olsen is drawn to the land. The Dinosaur Designs co-founder’s desk is littered with organic elements – branches, gemstones and curios that look like the tide left them behind. Her partner in life and business, Stephen Ormandy, is obsessed with the ocean. “It’s always about the water for me,” he says.
Broadsheet is in the Dinosaur Designs workshop in Strawberry Hills, Sydney. Ormandy is telling us the best surf spots to check out on the South Coast of NSW, where the duo will head in October to exhibit their work at the Bega Valley Regional Gallery. Their first book, The Art of Dinosaur Designs, is due to be published the same month. They’re busy. “But I’ll always make time for the surf,” smiles Ormandy.
For a long time now, we’ve been seduced by the way Olsen and Ormandy reflect their love of the Australian landscape through their resin homewares. “That’s what really excites us,” Ormandy says. “That we are taking ideas from the natural elements and telling that story through a tangible object.” That narrative is clear in the unmistakeable swirls of colour, organic forms, bold palettes and free-form shapes that run through their work. We love that we can recognise a Dinosaur Designs piece instantly.
Olsen and Ormandy have been making and selling their homewares and jewellery for more than 30 years. They started as resourceful art-school students with a stall at Paddington Markets, and now run a global company with eight freestanding stores across Australia, London and New York. The duo’s creative fearlessness has been rewarded. It’s one of the reasons we love and admire them.
“I don’t think we’ve ever done what’s expected,” says Ormandy. “We’ll often make something we know won’t sell, but we’re still set on producing it. It’s a risk, but we’ve always persevered with our own decisions. I think that’s why we’re still here.”
There’s magic in seeing how these artists work. Dinosaur Designs’ entire production operates out of a narrow brick building in Strawberry Hills. Over two levels, long corridors separate many different rooms, all of which are integral to the Dinosaur Designs process. Ideas are tested in the design and development room, where if a piece is approved, a mould is formed in clay, plasticine or wax. From there it will move into a series of bright, colour-splattered rooms laden with tools and machines, some of which Ormandy developed and built himself. There are floor-to-ceiling shelves of strange-looking objects sorted by colour and shape. A homewares enthusiast might feel like Charlie in the chocolate factory for the first time. In here, resin will be hand poured into the mould, then sanded.
The studio is a space of constant creation, with new prototypes and inventions always in the works. We love their process, and the fact that every single Dinosaur Designs piece is handmade and sculpted here. “I think that contributes to the personality and appeal for people,” Olsen says. Resin is the through-line. Whether for tableware, furniture, jewellery, art or sculpture, Dinosaur Designs continues to find new ways of working with resin, even combining it with other materials such as brass, marble and wood. The pair understand intimately the material’s potential.
Dinosaur Designs homewares are bold and stark, and carry a quiet strangeness. There’s an illusion of movement in every piece. Everyday objects, say a salad bowl or spoon, are imbued with spirit. Each tactile piece feels smooth and organic. We love the abstract familiarity of these pieces, their usefulness, and how each is an opportunity for expression. In bringing objects by Dinosaur Designs into our homes, we’re obliged to create space for something that is as expressive as it is functional, and it's this playful paradox that keeps us coming back for more.