At just 30 years old, Melbourne-based interior architect David Flack has, in little more than a year, established one of the most exciting design firms in Australia under the banner of Flack Studio. Working across residential, commercial and hospitality projects, Mr Flack’s style is one of binaries – warm elegance and masculine restraint, modern finishes with respect for heritage details – that feels perfectly judged for the fluid nature of contemporary design that has largely moved away from steadfast trends and themes. In his work you see the enduring influences of design luminaries such as Joseph Dirand, Vincent Van Duysen and David Chipperfield – designers whose rooms are sparse, but not minimal, warm, but not fussy – reimagined in a contemporary local context. Following the success of projects such as Melbourne restaurant Entrecote and furniture store Criteria, Mr Flack’s namesake studio finds itself in an enviable position.
You’ve moved in leaps and bounds since establishing your namesake studio last year, but it’s no easy feat launching a new business. What was the impetus to strike out on your own?
I’ve always had an itch to build a business of my own brand. I come from a family full of entrepreneurial spirit, so it was really just a matter of time, at the right time. I grew up observing the ins and outs and challenges and successes of operating businesses. I’ve always firmly believed that customer service and an understanding of people’s needs is a touchstone for the quality, and ultimately success, of a business.
What is the modus operandi, so to speak, of Flack Studio?
Delivering a finely crafted and functional product is what we’re all about. I love working with each of my clients – not under them, pandering, but also not over them, instructing – to create something honest and unique to them that realises all the potential of their space. The process of designing an environment really is a journey that you go on together, and it’s often very emotional, which makes sense to me because great design really is about touching the senses and creating certain, rounded feelings in any given space. Sometimes I’m quite fascinated by the experience of emotion that goes into it: what was challenging, daunting, exciting, and full of hope all of a sudden falls into place as something quite calm and comforting.
How challenging has it been to build a business with all of the inherent duties that come with that, like finance and administration?
To be honest, I haven’t yet been overwhelmed, but it is a challenge to make sure that time is utilised effectively. The main concern is balancing the needs of the business that can be built into a structure that allows for the mental space and flexibility for creative design. If the design isn’t being administered and cared for, there is no such thing as Flack Studio. I’m also a firm believer in acknowledging your weaknesses and having a plan to deal with them while focusing on your strengths. That’s not copping out; it’s smart to outsource what you’re not good at.
How do you juggle those new roles with maintaining your creative vision?
People talk about nurturing creativity and one of my thoughts on that is that you need to protect your creative headspace by keeping it separate from, but supported by, the practical side of things. Being organised and confident that all the nuts and bolts are in place, from the financials to media communication, growth strategy to staff management, allows ideas to thrive. I’m still finding that the satisfaction of running my own studio gives me the enthusiasm to hit the ground running every day. I honestly love waking up in the morning and having a new and different task at hand. I hope that feeling lasts.
You have amassed a number of standout projects in a short amount of time. What ties all of your work together?
My intention is always to have an underlying look and feel to a space that is unmistakable as a Flack Studio design. Of course, each project is always going to be different. I would never want to re-create a space, and who would want that anyway? The potential of a space, its inherent character and functionality, complemented by the client’s personality always predetermine the final product. But it is my aesthetic that informs and completes the style, and it’s what attracts clients. I want people to turn the page of a book or magazine, click on a website or walk into a room and immediately recognise my work. Many of my favourite designers from around the world whose work I have long admired hold this ethos; I believe it’s what makes you a consistent brand and designer.
How might you describe your aesthetic?
Styles for interiors will naturally shift and evolve over time, but I think I always stick to warm and textural materiality to create an honest environment of substance. I mean honest in the sense of being true to the building’s character, the architect’s intention, the client’s personality and aspirations. That might be a lot to consider but that is the essence of respectful design. I think being contemporary means to acknowledge excellence in other eras, nodding to elements of past styles by perhaps making a new interpretation without re-creating them, and celebrating quality materials. I love to use and combine timber, steel, glass, cool stone and lustrous fabrics, finished with an understated glitz. I think the key to my execution, though, is having fun. Taking it all too seriously undermines the creation of warm and inviting spaces.
Are you particularly influenced by any one particular era of genre of design?
I’m always trawling the internet, blogs and Instagram. Keeping up with what’s super current is critical for obvious reasons, but you just can’t go past a strong back catalogue of European design magazines and old books. If you follow me on Instagram you’d know that I love to travel, and it’s my greatest source of inspiration. My camera roll is loaded with photographs of details, materials, spaces and nature. The freedom to explore and the anticipation of discovery are feelings that I find very inspiring too. These experiences enrich projects in ways that I don’t know at the time. A little detail here and there will be influenced by something I’ve seen or done.
Your design of Entrecôte has been well received, and you must be proud of it. What was the approach to this project?
It has such an electric atmosphere and what’s wonderful is that the space really works from morning through to night. The fact that they serve beautiful food until midnight is a big part of its vibrancy, none of the very Australian, kitchen-closes-at-9pm kind of nonsense. The building is very grand, and it needed a little bit of play injected into it to create a sense of casual fun and approachability. A quite light-handed approach was taken, with little structural work; it’s the colour choices that made the biggest impact. I had to go large and stick to my guns. I knew it was what had to be done to do to evoke a sense of nostalgic Parisian bistro glamour, just teetering on the edge of kitsch without being on the nose. As a designer you if you’re making the right choice here, but it paid off.
Is there one project you’d love to work on?
I’m a total transport geek. Planes, trains and automobiles, I just love them. There’s just something so romantic about the history of travel, so I would love to design a first class lounge or work together with industrial designers on the interior of an aircraft. And today, business is global and can be done remotely, and it’s something I want to harness.
If you weren’t designing, what would you be doing?
I know this sounds utterly clichéd, but I cannot imagine myself doing anything else. I knew early on in my high school days that I was going to be an interior architect and haven’t ever stopped pursuing this pathway. I always loved studying the visual arts components of my degree, so if I was dragged kicking and screaming from Flack Studio, I suppose I’d do a masters of painting. Get my hands dirty, but not my Lanvin trainers.
Mr Flack was photographed by Jordan Graham on 14 May 2015 in St Peters, Australia.