Flack Studio will have you spellbound

Words: David Congram
Photography: Brooke Holm

Only a mere four years since founding, one Australian design studio in particular has captured the world’s attention. Gracing a litany of Asia Pacific’s leading design awards programs – including the shortlist for the Belle Coco Republic Interior Designer of The Year for 2018 – Flack Studio has quickly established itself as one of Australia’s most innovative and tenacious design practices.

And with David Flack at the helm, I would expect nothing less. Over the past four years since throwing open its doors, Flack Studio has tackled watershed projects throughout the region and across a staggering number of sectors. Uncommonly virtuosic – in approach as in signature – each and every one of these projects nonetheless carries the distinctive Flack hallmark: sleight of hand.

“Surely this is the work of magicians,” I think to myself while surveying the studio’s recent projects. Before too long, I have two raised fists in my eyes rubbing circles in a gorblimey cartoonish fashion, hardly believing what is in front of me. Here: what has to be the country’s most stylish butchery (T.O.M.S. in Victoria) that evokes the concept of ‘organic’ without any of the usual hessian yardage and rough-hewn pine clutter. There: a veritable jewelery box in real-world scale for an up-market fashion boutique (Ginger & Smart in Queensland). Wait. Butcher? Boutique? Two worlds that could not be further apart. And yet, they are both brought to realization by the same hand. See, I told you it was a magic trick.

But where you might expect him to exclaim “ta da!” with all the brilliance and éclat of one who has brought allure to a butcher shop, Flack’s sensibility is one that would rather eschew cheap theatrics for deep introspection. “Design is a journey with clients,” he says to the Australian Design Review as one of this year’s IDEA Awards jurors. “The relationship starts simply and the spaces evolve as you design and introduce them to ‘your’ world.” I assume that this experience is precisely what the recently-coined phrase ‘to Flackify’ truly means. Over the past four years I’ve heard it whispered throughout the region: from some of Melbourne’s finest restaurants like Entrecôte, to the upper climes of South Korea where projects like Caravan I and II – two charmingly realized eateries – all bear the Flack hallmark of detailing, tonality and materiality that delights the eye and thrills the touch.

Needless to say, that it was with the keenest of anticipation that I crossed the threshold of Armadale Residence, one of Flack Studio’s recent residential projects in Melbourne. Like the studio’s other projects, upon entry you have the peculiar feeling that you’ve happened upon a whole new world. What’s more, while navigating the home, this peculiar feeling transforms. It says: ‘this is not only a whole new world – you are a whole new you’. And it is this very quality that makes Armadale Residence exemplary of Flack’s inimitable design imagination.

In the home’s restraint of color there is a superabundance of textural depth. Reveling in the dichotomies of beauty – dark and light, refined and robust – it emerges with a personality entirely its own: one courageous, heartfelt and intelligent. Stepping inside from the overbearing activity of Melbourne you find yourself in a sanctum of absolute calm. Here, the riotous colors of urban living cede to a serene palette of chocolatey golds, blacks, whites and greys. And much like Flack’s own sensibility, such a design prompts you back within: a retreat into mindfulness; a slower, quieter living where, womb-like, you’re immersed in total sensory profusion.

In taking their clients on a journey for each and every project, Flack Studio approaches the work of design as one of intimacy. Clearly, knowing the personality – that rich, interior self – of each client underwrites the practice’s ongoing success. In the case of Armadale Residence, we see this in spades. Working within the client’s preference for a restrained color palette, everything upon which the eye alights appears meticulously handpicked. Where a rush of color might otherwise provide bold, visual interest, here instead the eye is unhurriedly drawn down to textural chevron timber filling the floorplate with soft geometries. Offsetting the luster of its patina by adjacent white walls and generous use of Calacatta marble, the pristine sincerity of white allows the interventions of time and nature to shine through – whether that be in the curious knotting and ring marks of timber, or the delicate veining and variegation decorating stone surfaces. Mottling is elevated to the distinction of a masterpiece. Discoloration becomes a coveted detail. And everywhere, hand finishing on brass fixtures, trims and fittings demonstrates the incredibly granular scale at which Flack designs. Meanwhile, touches of the macroscale – particularly the use of stained American Oak joinery across the home – serves to reunite a variety of spaces into one harmonious design resolution.

Streamlined, confident and fuss-free, this sense of self-assuredness carries through all elements – be it in the sleek form of the HydroTap by Zip Water specified in the stylish rectilinear kitchen, or the expertly minute curation of tonal varieties throughout furniture, fixtures and surfaces – all reflecting a particularly contemporary approach to thoughtful living.

In more ways than one, Armadale Residence’s sense of harmony offers a correctional to the excesses of our daily lives. At once insouciant and attentive, discreet and dynamic, the home declares a system of quiet contemplation as paramount. Refusing a clamor of polychromatic activity, the home looks for its hypnotic cues elsewhere. And here we note yet another instance of ‘Flackification’.

Mastering the filtration of light throughout the structure, generous windows and doors frame exterior spaces in vistas and yet also serve to frame interiors spaces, too. Moving throughout the floorplan, one has the distinct impression that each separate though interconnected room visually unfurls through a succession of frames. Vestibules, corridors and artfully arranged mirrors all capture the essential charisma of the home, arresting the character of each room in a single, highly choreographed vignette. Frame upon frame opens up and seems to suggest that, with each movement from one room to another, so too are you going deeper and deeper within yourself, becoming increasingly introspective and stepping away from the overstimulation and fractured attention of your day-to-day. Suddenly you note the discreet charm of quietness assuming the material form of creative, thoughtful design. A mode, Flack proves, more enchanting than abracadabra could ever allow.