Where I Work: Louise Olsen of Dinosaur Designs

Where I Work heads Down Under to Sydney, Australia to check out the workspace of Louise Olsen, designer and co-founder of Dinosaur Designs. Olsen met Stephen Ormandy in school in 1983, along with Liane Rossler, and the trio formed Dinosaur Designs in 1985 to sell their self-designed jewelry. Over the years, the business grew and retail stores have popped up in Australia and New York City. In 2010, Olsen and Ormandy became the sole Creative Directors, and continue to launch various collections of resin jewelry, housewares, objects, furniture, and rugs, all with their signature organic/graphic style. Today, we get a glimpse into Olsen’s colorful and inspirational world as we visit her Strawberry Hills office.

What is your typical work style? Regimented and scheduled?

My work style is all of the above; it’s a studio life not an office life for me. I do have scheduled design meetings and try to be as planned as possible but there is always an unexpected element that keeps the journey of working on a design alive and that’s the most important thing. It’s always a balancing act between the rigors of running a business and the freedom to allow room for creativity.

What’s your studio environment like?

We have tall ceilings and big windows which flood the space with light. There’s no specific music – it varies depending on the mood and what area of the studio you’re in.

Liquid Moon Side Table

Liquid Moon Side Table \\\ Photo courtesy of Dinosaur Designs

How is your office organized/arranged?

The space is open and divided. We have sliding doors that open and close to the needs of the working space. Often we overflow in to differing areas for differing projects. At the moment there are huge sculptures of some of our jewelry pieces outside my office so there’s intense pops of colors every time I look around.

We don’t work at one long open desk we have our own space divided by particular areas of the business such as accounts, development, production. I have my own office where I have wall-to-wall inspiration boards which are covered with an ever changing collection of images and references.

How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?

We have been in this building for 15 years as we had to move to accommodate the expanding business and we’ve gradually taken over the whole building. Before we had another studio in a neighboring suburb of Surry Hills.

If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

We always need more space as we manufacture here too.


Photo courtesy of Dinosaur Designs

Is there an office pet?

Yes – Skipper our Dachshund is a champion sleeper! He has a very calming energy in our work space as well as a very big appetite for a little dog. We all have to be careful not to leave our lunch open in our bags.

How do you record ideas?

I have a sketch book I carry – a small red Moleskine that lives in my handbag, plus another at the studio and one at home.


Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?

I so love doing pin boards, I have three going at the moment – I’m always working on one. My current one is a journey into and exploration of the color red.


What kind of design objects might you have scattered about the space?

Many objects from previous collections like my owl from the ‘Bird’ collection or the hand carved wooden hands, resin trees and glass.


Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

I have tools that I use for making clay prototypes, but more often than not, I mould with my hands. You can’t beat the connection you feel when you make something by hand which is a really important part of our aesthetic. We also manufacture all our resin and silver pieces in the building.


What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?

My designs always start in my sketchbook. I love working with my hands but I also use very fine dental tools and wooden sticks.

Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell us about your tech arsenal/devices.

Apple laptop and iPhone.

What design software do you use, if any, and for what?

My brain, a sketchbook, and clay.


Photo courtesy of Dinosaur Designs

Do you have a favorite piece or collection that you’ve designed? 

I love the bowls and plates from our Earth collection.


Photo courtesy of Dinosaur Designs

When did you feel like you “made it”? With what piece or design?

There have been many moments but as you grow you keep setting new goals and having new ambitions which redefine what ‘making it’ means. From making the first resin bead to our bowl and most recently my table. Things like opening our first store in Sydney was a milestone and then the store in New York. There have been exhibitions such as the Victoria & Albert in London, Museum of Modern in Art Brisbane, Australia to the collaborations we’ve done collections with; Louis Vuttion chess set and more recently a set of towels with Australian fashion label, Jac + Jack.


Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?

I’ve just put together a color collection around the theme of Red in which we’ve taken some of our favorite pieces and re-cast them in collection of colors from intense hues through orange and fiery swirls to softer peach hues and brass jewelry. We’re also working on pieces for an exhibition at the Karen Woodbury gallery, in Melbourne, Australia, which opens in March.


What’s on your desk right now?

Too much and it’s a little too messy for my liking; pens, pencils, sketch books, magazines cards, lemons, glass of water, clay prototypes, tools, books on art and design. It really needs a tidy. I do find that having a clear desk gives me a sense of calm and a clarity, so it’s constant process of sorting, evaluating and clearing but that’s part of the creative process for me as my mind wanders and dreams and ideas form.

Do you use any of your pieces in your own home/life?

Our home is full of our designs, we can’t help it! When we started designing house wares we were looking for pieces that we couldn’t find in the market and that process continues. If I wouldn’t have a piece in my own house, I wouldn’t add it to a collection and definitely wouldn’t sell it. It’s so good to bring objects home to see how they look and feel in the space.

Photographs by Martyn Thompson from his recent book Working Space.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.