'Paintings can be like views'
By Julie Earle-Levine
May 31 2008
Louise Olsen is one of the designers behind jewellery and homeware collection Dinosaur Designs. She is inspired by artists such as sculptor Henry Moore and painter Jackson Pollock but also looks to her immediate surroundings for ideas and finds them often at her home in Bronte beach, a seaside suburb of Sydney. She is the daughter of John Olsen, the renowned Australian landscape artist. Her husband and business partner, Stephen Ormandy, is also an accomplished painter.
Do you have many childhood memories of places you lived?
Yes. I come from a family that travelled a lot, because of the nature of my parents' work. My father and mother are both painters. One of my first memories was living in Portugal in a beautiful stone house. My father was working as a chef in a restaurant to support the family while he painted. Then we lived at Watson's Bay in Sydney in a wonderful weatherboard house that used to rattle in the wind.
Was it near the beach?
Very near. My brother, Tim, who now has an art gallery in Woollahra, Sydney, and I would go down to the beach every morning at 6am to swim before school. My father liked to paint in the living room so whenever you walked into the house it was like one big studio. It smelt of turpentine and oil paint, which was wonderful. That was his space. It was quite a big house, with two storeys but that was my favourite room. We lived there until I was about 10.
Where else did you live?
We went to live in a big artists' colony - Dunmoochin, near Melbourne. Clifton Pugh [the Australian portraitist and landscape artist] had a big house there and we had a mud brick-house in the bush. There was no electricity and a pot-belly oven. It was great, like going back to grass roots. There were emus banging on our windows and kangaroos thumping around.
You also lived in another home in the country?
Yes, my parents wanted to live further in the bush and have large studios for work, so we moved to Dural, north-west of Sydney. My parents designed and built the house, with big sliding doors and verandahs out to the bush. It was a very beautiful place in a valley of angofa trees.
Tell me about your Bronte home.
My husband and I renovated this house for a year. This is a place where we enjoy creating, too. Stephen has a studio and I tend to work a lot at a large table with a view of the sea. Having the beach - seeing whales - is just like watching a moving theatre. It is incredible to see them, to feel their energy. It is never the same. It is so amazing. I love the smell of the sea and the salt.
How important to you is a sense of home?
It is good to have a home base but I always think that nothing is for ever. I will always feel a strong connection with where I live and with the nature of a place because that is something that developed as a child. It is important to me to be in a place where I feel I can work and create. With Dinosaur Designs it doesn't really feel like I am working because I love it so much. The business side is work but the creative side is pure joy.
Tell me about the renovations.
We lived here for eight years before we renovated. It was very different and very dark. We really wanted to work on the light aspect of the house. Being by the sea, we wanted the feeling of opening the house up to that and letting the sea in. There is a whole new storey and we have decks that open out on to the sea.
What is your favourite room in the house?
The open kitchen is lovely to work in. On one side you can look at the sea and on the other is the garden. We have lemon, orange and avocado trees. In six months the Australian native gardenia tree will really take off.
Do you collect art?
Yes, I love it. I have mum and dad's and their friends' work. We have art throughout the house. I think paintings can be like views. I like to collect Australian contemporary art.
What objects do you love at home?
We like to collect different things: one item is a sculpture from Milan, a special way of blowing glass where they pour salt in it, so it looks like bubbles. Another of our rooms has surfboards, aboriginal bark paintings and family photos. I'm fond of a picture of my father and me in the bush.
Your company is very conscious of the environment. Did you think about this when you were renovating your home?
Yes, we are a carbon neutral company. We offset our travel, if we travel, by planting more trees. At home, we have a solar expert guy across the road from us who has sun panels he is testing. If they measure up, we will put a set on our roof.
Any tips when renovating?
Get your house blessed. After the house was done, we had this lady come and she did a special ceremony with sage. She used drums and feathers - but, you know, there is something to it. It felt great afterwards.