Type to search

Q&ADR: Studio Dot’s Steele Olney

Q&ADR: Studio Dot’s Steele Olney


Every week in our Q&ADR column, ADR interviews an architect, designer, object maker or industry person about who they are beyond the work – their life, inspiration, challenges and aspirations.

This week we meet Steele Olney, founding director of Studio Dot, a practice that he named after his daughter. Olney discusses how travel made him a rounded architect, designing his family home, and his teenage dream of designing cars.

ADR: Tell us about your background and how your interest in architecture came about
As a child I was always in Dad’s shed building stuff, mostly out of timber and metal. He taught me how to weld, how to concrete and the basics of building. He liked to build things around the home that would last forever. Unfortunately he didn’t have a great eye for detail (questionable taste), so I can safely say I didn’t learn aesthetics from him. In my final schooling years I realised I enjoyed designing and thought I might become an industrial designer. I designed and constructed a bandsaw from scratch for my year 12 D&T project and enjoyed the process of seeing my ideas come to life. By the time I finished high school, it became clear that my teenage dream of designing cars was maybe a little unrealistic so I headed towards architecture instead.

Every creative puts a part of themselves into their work. Which of your projects has been the most important to you and why?
The most important project I’ve worked on was our home that we sold before we moved to WA. It was the Bull Street house and my wife and I spent a lot of time and effort designing and renovating it. It was the first house we ever owned, it was our daughter’s first home and it was my first solo project.

The detail of the original building and the history that it held within its walls fascinated me. The project allowed me explore design ideas and it also gave me an opportunity to physically build things again. Although I’d worked as an architect for 10 years, it was the first built project for Studio Dot and I learned so much along the way. The project was so important to me as an architect and for us as a family. Little did we know the arrival of our daughter would change our interactions with the space and a few years on we would be tackling another project on a much bigger parcel of land.

The Bull Street house, Olney's first first project under Studio Dot and his daughter's first home.

The Bull Street house, Olney’s first project under Studio Dot and his daughter’s first home.

Tell us about what living in WA was like and what made you decide to move there?
We’ve now returned from WA to work on our own home in Lorn, NSW. Our decision to move to WA was somewhat unplanned and surprisingly simple, we needed a change of scenery and my wife, an art teacher, was offered a position to teach in a remote Indigenous community. We sold our house, packed our belongings and made the 4500km journey to the Kimberly. It allowed me to spend time with our daughter Dot, explore the incredible countryside, meet some really amazing people and think about what type of architect I’d really like to become.

Culturally it was such a contrast to our life in NSW and it was really interesting to contemplate what role architecture plays in our lives from multiple perspectives. We had some incredible experiences as a family and I think it was a formative time in my career. I left a commercial practice before we moved, and in retrospect, I think our time in WA was really important for me both personally and professionally. It gave me the space to find my direction as an architect and start to appreciate great design again.

What is your favourite place or space in Australia and why?
I guess I don’t have one single favourite place or space. We love to explore and travel and have fallen in love with many places for many different reasons. The Dampier Peninsula is a pretty special place. It has an ancient, prehistoric feeling. It makes you feel insignificant. The coastline is dramatic and contrasting. I’d have to say that there’s nothing better than a visit to any number of Australian beaches on a beautiful day. Mother Nature is the greatest architect.

The Dampier Peninsula in WA. Photo courtesy North West Tourism.

The Dampier Peninsula in WA, one of Olney’s favourite places in Australia. Photo courtesy North West Tourism.

Who/what/where inspires you?
I’m inspired by so many things. The environment. Light. Materiality. My wife and I travelled for 12 months before we married (and had children) and the time we spent skipping all over the world changed our lives. We visited 43 countries and soaked up all the world had to offer. Experiencing how different people used and responded to space inspired me. I’m also inspired by other architects like Vokes and Peters, Hannah Tribe and Clare Cousins who are constantly designing beautifully detailed work and pushing the envelope.

What would you say has been your proudest moment, either career-wise or otherwise?
The birth of our daughter would have the be my proudest moment. She’s a determined little woman and she is full of character. Her name was the inspiration behind the business name. Winning the Newcastle AIA Chapter Alterations and Additions award for the Bull Street house was also a very proud moment. It was my first project and first award as a sole practitioner.

Olney and his family. Photo courtesy the architect.

Olney and his family. Photo by Damien Furey.

What are you working on currently and what are your goals for the future?
I’m lucky enough to be working on a number of alterations and additions to existing houses in Heritage conservation areas. I’m also working on an exciting multi-res development that is about to be submitted for DA in a prominent heritage conservation area in Sydney. I have a real appreciation for Heritage architecture and have luckily had some personal experience with working on our own Heritage homes. This has given me the opportunity to understand the fabric of heritage buildings and see first-hand the detailed construction methods of 100+ years ago. I’ve been able to admire the craftsmanship that went into the construction of these homes while challenging my own skills in responding to such beautiful existing dwellings in a considerate manner.


We’d love to hear your inspirations and experience in the architecture and design community. Simply email adrteam@niche.com.au with a little introduction of yourself to be featured.

Read last week’s Q&ADR with Karen Abernethy here.


You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *