My Space | Richard Christiansen

  • We sit down with Richard Christiansen to learn how his LA Home, Flamingo Estate designed by Studio KO, seeks to be at one with the gardens surrounding it.

    Chandelier Creative and the Owl Bureau founder Richard Christiansen talks to us about his refurbished 1940s LA home Flamingo Estate, its bountiful gardens, the importance of nature as our greatest teacher and the estate’s latest offering – a sex tonic for summer.

    How is your space a reflection of you?

    Richard Christiansen: Flamingo Estate didn’t just change my life; it saved my life. It pulled me out of decades of sleepwalking. After working very hard in advertising for decades, it became a reflection of me because it’s the place I ran to, to realign. I was so tired and overworked. The house and the garden rescued me in every way. It was very much a place of repair and joy as I started working in the garden and planting.

    In the literal sense, I had a big part in the way it looks and feels. It’s a reflection of years of keeping my eyes open and looking for things that I love. But, more than anything else, it’s been a project about reprogramming my life.

    The pandemic saw a significant shift for so many people because when things fall apart, we return to nature. We were all searching for comfort, joy and pleasure. That’s where it all begins. So I think there’s been a sea change in terms of our relationship with the green world – growing and harvesting. It’s long overdue.

    Describe your interior style.

    Richard Christiansen: I worked with Studio KO, based in France. We met each other when I was working on a project in London. We met through the Chiltern Firehouse hotel, which is a hotel they designed. The hotel feels very residential; it feels warm and meaningful – in the way that the draws and cupboards open, down to the textures on the wall. It’s very intentional, and I loved it.

    Flamingo Estate saw two French architects (Studio KO) working with someone from rural Australia and a landscape architect who lives in Morocco – pulling references from places like Japan and India. Someone once described the house as taking the best pieces of the world and putting them in one place. It also used to be a porn studio, so the house needed to feel very sensual.

    How did your design sensibility inform your collaboration with Studio KO on Flamingo Estate?

    Richard Christiansen: I had been collecting images for a long time of dream houses and gardens. Coincidentally, six months into the project, I realised Studio KO designed a vast majority of those projects.

    I was so in awe of them; their taste and thoughtfulness were impressive. As a creative director, I’ve always been the creative leader in the room. It’s challenging for me to collaborate with someone else. With Studio KO, I found two people who far surpassed me in taste, intellect and thoughtfulness. It was the first time I’d experienced that, where I could sit across a table and throw them an idea, and they’d come back to me with something that wildly surpassed it. We had this beautiful creative ping pong that went on for many years. I promised them I wouldn’t bring even a teaspoon into the house that they didn’t approve of first.

    I sent them thousands of photos of things I saw and vice versa. Still today, they’ll be in a weird flea market somewhere in a foreign country, and they’ll send me a photo of something. It was a beautiful collaboration and one of the greatest joys I’ve ever had of building something with someone. They pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but I also pushed them outside of theirs. They have a very earthy palette, traditionally stone and stoic. I came to them like Willy Wonka, who wanted a Walt Disney edition full of colour and excitement. They took something that really could have been a bit much and put a tasteful patina over all of it.

    I will never sell Flamingo Estate – it will be my home forever. But if I ever had another house somewhere else, I would only ever work with Studio KO. They’re exceptional.

    You love ‘live out loud’ colour; how does it play out at Flamingo Estate?

    Richard Christiansen: There’s lots of colour in Flamingo Estate, but it’s very intentional. One of the goals we had collectively was to bring the garden inside. You think about the main room, the living room, its big, bold green stripes – all of those colours were taken from different plants in the garden.

    The kitchen is very colourful, but again very intentional. You move through zones of colour throughout the house. It doesn’t ever feel juvenile or childish; it’s very much grounded in natural colours.

    When the designers and I were in India together, we looked at ceramics and rugs – and the different feeling between something modern and something older. You know, because the colour doesn’t vibrate. They didn’t have synthetic dyes 50 years ago; you have a red that feels like a blood-red instead of a lipstick red. Although there’s a lot of colours in Flamingo Estate, they’re not artificial. It feels optimistic but not chintzy.

    Australia is a great touchpoint; Australians have a special relationship with colour. The colour of the sky is blue you don’t see anywhere else. I have a lot of Ken Done’s artworks in the house, and he is someone who loves the contagious enthusiasm of colour. But also, it’s very much derivative of colours he sees in the ocean or the landscape. Ken Done’s work feels very aligned with the idea of bringing the garden inside.

    There are so many distinctive objects in your home; what are some of your favourite pieces?

    Richard Christiansen: The screen in the living room by David Hockney is probably my favourite. It’s one of my happiest possessions. My Ken Done art – all around my bedroom and on every wall – reminds me of home and Australia. When I go home to Australia, I always see Ken and buy a big piece of art. It’s become a ritual for me.

     “It was a beautiful collaboration and one of the greatest joys I’ve ever had of building something with someone. They pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but I also pushed them outside of theirs.”

    – Richard Christiansen

    Richard Christiansen

    How are tactility and sensory experience important to you?

    Richard Christiansen: If you close your eyes and you walk around the house, without thinking about the way something looks, but the way it feels, you run your fingertips across raw concrete, shiny cold marble, deep velvet and intricately textured wood. With the lights off, it’s almost more beautiful than with the lights on because you have this total sensory overload of textures, smells and feelings. It’s an adventure for all of the senses when you’re there. This is quite rare in today’s architectural landscape, where everyone wants something clean, shiny, and new.

    You’ve said Flamingo Estate was founded on the simple idea of pleasure; how does this manifest?

    Richard Christiansen:  Pleasure is a human right. Pre COVID-19, I feel like we may have lost sight of that. It was a bit of a time stop to put a hard filter on what brings us pleasure; the music we listen to, the people we bring into our world, the wine we drink, the food we eat, the sex we have – all of those basic human needs. It’s about questioning, ‘is this what I want?’ That’s the cornerstone of what we’re trying to do here.

    We’ve worked hard to create a series of spaces at Flamingo Estate that double down on those fundamental human pleasures; a great kitchen, good music, a long, deep hot bath, wide windows that open up to the garden wagon-loads of Jasmine growing outside of the bathroom window. It’s that idea of inspiration for all of your senses, all of the time. Living in that constant environment of joy is something everyone can edit for themselves, in big or small ways.

    I once had a friend that said the nicest thing about my house was that all of the windows opened up all of the way, so they could always hear the birds singing. Some of those simple human truths are the most important to embrace in a home.

    Your house and incredible seven acres of gardens seem to meld seamlessly together ‘as one’. How does this influence your creativity?

    Richard Christiansen: It sounds cheesy, but I think Mother Nature is the greatest creative teacher. My office, which opens up to the garden, is where I work all day long for both of my businesses. Quite selfishly, the different structures at Flamingo Estate were built to work in the garden and work in nature. I’ve often said that the most beautiful room in the house is the garden, influencing colour, texture and form.

    More recently, now that the house has become a brand under Flamingo Estate, we started thinking about how nature can be your best friend, therapist, and biggest inspiration. We began making shampoos and body washes because all of the water from the house runs into the garden and other products started to turn my roses brown. So we just started making products that could run directly into the garden, and that led to tinctures for jet lag and lotions for sleep and calm. We wanted to harness all the things we were growing and think about how we could use them on our skin or in our hair – in different ways to make ourselves feel better and find pleasure.

    We have been in business for a year and have sold so many products from the garden. I’m continually shocked at how many people have responded to it – and very grateful. It was very much an honest, generous act of wanting to open up my kitchen and bathroom to everyone. The garden pumps on all cylinders; it’s a happy garden.

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