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Inside Dinosaur Designs

Inside Dinosaur Designs

The Dinosaur Designs studio is in an unassuming brick building in the ramshackle part of Strawberry Hills. While the 'Extinct' store and showroom are open to the public and perused by prop stylists and magaziney types in thick framed glasses, behind the double doors is a Willy Wonka-esque labyrinth filled with bright resin delicacies in various intriguing stages of production.

There's a cavernous store room filled with shelves upon shelves of glowing resin bowls, vases, platters - all in Dinosaur's signature bright blues, burnt oranges, yellows, charcoals and glossy blacks. Towering stacks of tortoiseshell dishes vie for shelf space above drawers of bangles, earrings, and cuffs – all sorted by colour like the best kind of boiled sweets.

Upstairs, there are rooms piled with silicon moulds, benches stained bright with spilt blue and magenta and orange dye, and ponytailed designers pouring liquid resin into moulds like it's magic potion. In another room, there are two women leaning over long tables covered with intricate handmade coral-shaped beads, painstakingly choosing and arranging them in the right formation for threading.

The whole place is noisy with the sound of silversmiths soldering, sanders polishing and – everywhere - laughter. The walls are adorned with pictures torn from magazines, lengths of neon ribbon, hand written notes and scrawled cartoons. It has to be one of the happiest and most productive places in Sydney – which kind of makes sense when you consider the unfailingly upbeat products these guys having been putting together for the past thirty years.

“I think as a designer you can’t help but be influenced by the environment that you work in,” says Dinosaur Designs co-founder Louise Olsen. “It comes through in a sense of light, colour and warmth. Sydney is vibrant and bright like a jewel that looks different on how it catches the light. It’s hard not be influenced by that.”

Louise, who is the daughter of iconic Australian painter John Olsen and whose mother Valerie was also an artist, says the evolution of the company was organic. Her twenty year old self was 'naïve, shy and eyes wide open.'

“I had big dreams and I was ambitious to create something that would open a new door on design,” says Louise.

While it was Dinosaur Designs' resin jewellery that became their signature, these guys have experimentation in the blood. Since they first established themselves in the 80's, they've designed enormous abstract rugs, glasses for Bombay Sapphire, minutely stylish dolls house furniture, and tutus for the Australian Ballet. They've collaborated with the likes of Paul Smith, Louis Vuitton and even appeared in one of Caroline Herrera's runway shows.

These days Louise and Stephen are the chief designers at Dinosaur, and they've just released a collection of resin side tables that are wonderfully reminiscent of floating translucent jellyfish.

“I’m always excited to try new materials – and there have been moments where I have felt completely off-track experimenting,” says Louise. “But I find you always make some wonderful discoveries when you're off-track!”

Dinosaur Designs' latest collection, Rainforest, mixes bold, hand shaped resin pieces with precision cut 24 carat gold and silver jewellery. The collection mirrors the company's evolution and Dinosaur Designs itself: fun without being flippant, and progressive without being too serious. 

“Now that we are a bigger company with over 75 staff we have to be more structured and yet still allow room for creativity and fun,” says Louise.

Which is why, we imagine, they host a weekly 'family lunch' in a big, sun-filled meeting room upstairs – catered by Louise's chef friend, Millie. “We felt it was important to have one day a week where we all get together and share lunch,” says Louise. “It’s always a treat.”

Astoundingly, Dinosaur Designs release four new collections every year and every single piece is cast, polished and finished by hand in the Strawberry Hills studio. It's an impressive output both creatively and logistically and Louise says she often turns to nature for inspiration.  Hence the jellyfish?

“I think it’s important to keep our pieces interesting and to keep changing,” says Louise. “We have to challenge and surprise our customers and bring them along on the journey with us.”

Check out Dinosaur Designs' newest work here.