Richard Christiansen has led a one-of-a-kind life as an entrepreneur and a creative. He’s founded multiple businesses, including uber-cool LA farm and food mecca Flamingo Estate, as well as the dynamic agency Chandelier Creative (which is behind Chairish’s own Magazinish). Having grown up on a farm in rural Australia, it was Richard’s imagination and capacity for dreaming that led him to embracing a life in the world of design. And his unique point of view and determination have led him to success in a plethora of fields — not only is he a successful businessman, but he’s hiked Mount Everest and met President Obama. Suffice it to say, he gets around, and gets a lot done.
We wanted to hear directly from Richard about the things that inspire him, how he created Flamingo Estate, and the types of art and design elements that he likes to surround himself with. See what he had to say below, along with images from inside Flamingo Estate and his own home, and be sure to shop his selection of Chairish favorites.
Your creative agency, Chandelier, has offices around the world and has worked on some incredible projects (including Chairish’s own Magazinish, of course). How did you develop the company, and where’s it heading next?
The company started around my kitchen table in my tiny little apartment — three of us sitting around a lacquered red dining table when I was 28. I had purchased the table from the flea market in Chelsea and carried it downtown to my place and painted it red. And that set the tone. Perhaps because we started in my home, the agency always had a home/family feeling, even when we opened in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and then Paris. Almost 20 years later we still care deeply about the way our spaces look, and how you feel inside them. Our amazing Head of Creative Michael Scanlon and I used to talk about furniture and design endlessly. I think that’s one of the many reasons we’ve been successful, because even though we started with branding and advertising, we have a great respect for spaces in the way they can make people feel. Creating desire is about all the senses being ignited, and now we look at all of a brand holistically, not just one part.
How did your upbringing in rural Australia influence the way you think about the world? Did you always know you wanted to do the kind of work you do now?
My parents are farmers. When I was a kid we had a tough time, and we saved our farm by inviting Japanese tourists for the “outback experience.” We would do everything to attract tourists: we would tie cabbage patch dolls to the back of livestock and do races. We’d teach tourists how to fish, and how to shear sheep — and tell lots of folklore about the Australian outback. It was an amazing education in how to learn about the importance of wonder and imagination for people. There’s also a blue sky optimism that comes with bright color and open spaces like the Australian outback. So I always knew I wanted to be creative and “create worlds” with this palette. I was sure about how I wanted my day to feel, even though I had no job title for it, or a role model.
How do your design sensibilities as a creative director come into play when designing your own home and office spaces?
I understood “the first rule is theatre.” All the offices were designed with a “wow” moment at the entrance, and then a meandering way to reach the meeting room or work area. Even before Instagram created the need for “Instagramable interiors” we understood the need for sophisticated awe and wonder. But not in a staged or fake way. We are dedicated to beauty. Also, I know in my heart that how you do one thing is how you do everything. People come to us for our design POV, so we have an obligation to live that. We need to be masters of hospitality and purveyors of great design, because that’s what brands need from us. I banned plastic plates and “sensible” chairs. We always have a large supply of fresh flowers, candles, and good wine. The office is where we spend the majority of our day, so we have an obligation to make it as inspiring and calm as possible.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic, if you had to sum it up in a few words?
If Gabriella Crespi and Walt Disney had a baby.
As a visual person and a creative, what kind of art are you most drawn to? Do you tend to keep pieces for a long time, or do you switch out things in your homes and offices often?
In a world that’s become digital, I find comfort in the slow analog hand of painting and sculpture. We had a large David Hockney screen in the library of the New York office for a very long time. I’m also a very big fan of Ken Done, the iconic Australian artist — in many ways, he’s the Aussie David Hockney, with that same love of color and landscape. These artists, and others, have always been in rotation between the offices and my home.
Tell us a bit about the development of Flamingo Estate. How do organic farming and sustainability come into play with regard to the way you live and work?
Flamingo Estate is my home. But it’s also a brand and promise. I’ve always said Mother Nature is our best doctor, therapist, and friend. My garden has been my greatest love. And now we’ve created a full range of products from the garden to help you have better sleep, less anxiety, better sex, and more calm. From olive oil to hand soap to wine. We’ve also delivered regenerative farm boxes to over 55,000 homes in LA, connecting a collection of the best growers and farmers. From a work POV, it has been exciting to put our design eye over the garden and farming industries, which have not been design driven before.
On Chairish & Vintage Shopping…
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
If you can’t see it, you can’t dream it. Chairish gives us the ability to dream. There’s joy in something made by hand. And it’s a privilege to get lost in the rabbit hole of inspiration. Even if you’re not looking to buy, but you’re curious about how, say, rattan furniture is made, or Italian lighting — it’s all there.
How does sustainability factor into your design choices and love of vintage?
We get complaints all the time about the cost of our Flamingo Estate fresh produce, which is grown regeneratively from farms without pesticides. Good food costs more, because we don’t take shortcuts. And we pay people fairly. The same is true for design. Objects in your home are like friends — they all have a memory of the person who created them. So it’s not so much about “sustainability” for me as a buzzword. It’s about buying less but buying better. About making it really count. About surrounding yourself with meaning. I don’t live on fast food, so I am not going to live with fast furniture.
Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? What’s a dream piece for you?
What are a few of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?
I love this Restored Set of 12 Rising Sun Style Bamboo Chairs; this 1980 Restored Manau Series Sofa by Henry Olko; this Handknotted Regal Geometric Tiger Rug; this Plaster Fixture in the Manner of Giacometti; and this 1974 David Hockney Lithograph.
Some Design Favorites…
Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:
Lighting and flowers from my garden
Favorite decorating “cheap thrill”:
Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:
Favorite paint color:
Favorite piece of decor in your home:
The concrete bathtub in my bathhouse, deep in the garden
Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:
Favorite style icon:
Yves Saint Laurent — for his garden, not his clothes
Design destination every creative should visit at least once:
India and Morocco
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:
Quitters don’t win, winners don’t quit.
Some Lifestyle Favorites…
Favorite vacation destination (the next time travel becomes an option):
My next stop is Rome.
Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:
St. John in London
Elise Loehnen’s new podcast, Pulling The Thread
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:
Flamingo Estate, of course
Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:
Fresh blue eggs from my chickens; Magic Mushrooms; a huge bunch of fresh flowers from the garden; and a basket of fruit from the orchard
Narcissus papyraceus (known as paperwhite)
Favorite adult beverage:
Favorite way to unwind at home:
A long hot bath (every day)
Favorite entertaining essential:
All photos by Francois Halard, except for the portrait of Richard Christiansen by Christian Högstedt