Studio Visit

Russel Koskela

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
23rd of March 2012
The new Koskela showroom at Rosebery - photographs Anson Smart
The new Koskela showroom at Rosebery - photographs Anson Smart
A few faves from the Koskela range - 'Bye Bye Birdy' pendant lights in fab fluoro colours (nope. still not sick of neon...!) and the brand new JAKE chairs! I have MUCH MUCH LOVE for these chairs.  Seriously eyeing them off for my new soon-to-be-completed TDF studio / office!

'Follow your heart Trust your Judgement Do it with joy'

This is the mantra of Sydney based furniture company Koskela, and really - what is not to love about a company with a motto like this?  I love that they've emblazoned it across their front counter for all the world to see.  It's like the retail equivalent of wearing your heart on your sleeve.  So refreshing in such a competitive market, don't you think?  The thing is, in the case of Russel Koskela and partner Sasha Titchkosky, this philosophy really is at the very heart of their creative practice, and firmly stamped on every project they put their name to.

The concept for Koskela first formed when Sasha and Russel put their heads together whilst on holiday in Europe many moons ago... they had a shared vision for an Australian furniture company that would offer mid-priced locally designed and made furniture and homewares, thereby supporting Australian manufacture and offering customers a quality alternative to mass market furniture and homewares.  In 2000, after much contemplation and planning, they finally took the plunge!

In the past twelve years Koskela have grown to employ 15 staff.  Russel and Sasha still head up all design / product development, and work closely with their network of local manufacturers, with whom they have built close ties.

Over the years Koskela's success has enabled Russel and Sasha to invest in projects close to their hearts.  One they are particularly passionate about  is the Yuta Badayala project.  After stumbling across the work of weavers from Arnhem Land, Russel and Sasha wondered if these traditional skills could be applied to contemporary design products.  After much research and perseverance, they managed to form a mutually beneficial relationship with Elcho Island Arts, in which local weavers were able to earn an income through the creation of unique woven products, commissioned by Koskela.  The project has been a huge success, and one of the most rewarding aspects of the business for Russel and Sasha.

Koskela spent over 10 years based in an amazing loft space in Surry Hills, but as you know they have recently taken on another massive challenge - moving to their ENORMOUS new space in Rosebery!  This impressive industrial space is home also to Megan Morton's photographic studio and The School, and the fabulous Kitchen by Mike restaurant!   Such a brilliant, brave venture - truly awe-inspiring.

As I was penning this article (yesterday!) I sent a quick note to Megan Morton (this week's AMAZING guest blogger)... who, of course, has spent the best part of the last year working closely with Russel and Sasha during the development of their shared space in Rosebery. I was a little stuck for a new 'hook' for today's post.  I asked MM - 'everyone knows Koskela, everyone knows are such an inspiring creative team... everyone knows their look, their beautiful products, their amazing new showroom... but what is the real hook, what is it that really makes Koskela special?!'.

Of course, being MM, the response was succinct, but gold.  'The real story' she said, 'is that Russel is totally the real deal. 100% dinky die'.  And that, I guess is the point. Koskela has the kind of inherent integrity that means they don't have to spout marketing hype or shout their 'brand strategy' from the rooftops. With Koskela, what you see is what you get - and that's pretty special.

Koskela and Kitchen by Mike 85 Dunning Avenue Rosebery NSW 2018 Open Monday to Friday 9.30am – 5.00pm, Saturday 9.00am – 4.00pm, Sunday 10.00am – 4.00pm. Massive thanks to Russel, Sasha and Renee at Koskela for this ace interview and stunning pics at such a busy time... if you haven't popped in to Rosebery yet - DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR people! :)
Russel and Sasha looking amazingly rosy despite a massive few months! - photograph Anson Smart

Tell us a little about your background – What path originally led you to furniture design and interiors, and to launching Koskela initially?

I studied interior design and did furniture design as one of my core subjects. I have always had a passion for furniture. After some years working on some really interesting commercial office fitouts, I started designing furniture for projects and loved it. Then Sasha and I met at a time when both of us were ready to do something different. It was just a matter of working out what exactly that was.

A long seven-week holiday sowed the seed for doing something ourselves. We can clearly remember sitting in this café in Paris with this funny French bulldog staring up at us thinking, “ We’d really like to create something ourselves but what?”

Sasha had worked with a range of different companies and was keen to create an organisation that embodied more of the values we believed in. She was also shocked at how little furniture was made in Australia, and how there was a lot of competition at the top end of the market and the lower end but a pretty big hole in the middle.

So that’s where Koskela came in. A mid-priced Australian designed furniture and homewares company that proudly supports Australian manufacturers.

The massive and very varied showroom display at Koskela in Rosebery

How has Koskela grown since the early days?

It has changed a lot. In the early days we had no money so we had to upholster everything in cheap white fabric. We have so much more freedom now to invest in designing more complicated products or things like moulds for products.

We are also now able to put money into creating more products and into some great collaborations that we are very passionate about such as Yuta Badayala with the weavers from Elcho Island in Arnhem Land.

More and more Australian furniture brands are moving offshore for their production – why has it been your priority to keep Koskela products made locally, and is it a constant challenge to compete with overseas manufacturing?

Initially it was a struggle! So often I returned home after having taken a design to a number of different manufacturers only to be told I’d never get it made here and I should get it made in China.

We finally found some great people to work with that we have now been working with for over ten years. We are really partners in each others businesses and we really love working with them as they are as passionate about making really great products as we are. Having visited a number of different manufacturers in Europe before we started our business, we know that our techniques and quality is as good as any.

We also really like to know who is making our products and to feel confident that they are properly paid and work in good conditions.

You have had a super busy year preparing your brand new showroom in Rosebery – what have you been up to and what can visitors expect to see at the new space!?

We have had a huge year! It is really exciting to finally see our dream come to reality. Getting the new showroom up and running was a massive task. Now we can’t wait for the gallery space to keep evolving and the workshops we are running in conjunction with that to take off. We are also really keen to get focussed on getting back to developing some great new ideas for furniture and homewares products we’ve had to put on the backburner while we got the space up and running.

Rachel Castle artworks, Greg Hatton stool at Koskela in Rosebery

How is your business structured? How many people do you employ at Koskela and in what roles, and what significant tasks do you outsource ?

We have a pretty flat structure. We have 8 full time staff and 7 part time. Sasha and I do all the product development, 6 people are in sales focussed positions, the rest are production, finance, internet (including moving content, blog and soon to be launched webstore!) and last but by no means least graphic design.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

A typical day will probably involve some client meetings which I enjoy, as I love working with interior designers to create products that might work for a specific brief.

Then I will often visit one of our manufacturers to discuss a new idea or check pieces that are in production or development. I will also often spend some time at my desk working on drawings for projects.

My key thinking time is usually at night, after our boys are safely tucked up in bed. This is also when I might look at blogs or reply to emails. Often in the morning people will reply to me saying “did you really send that email at 2am?" Every designer will relate to this, you just get mind block then when things, as in ideas come flooding in you have to get it all out and down on paper. Some nights I will wake up at 4am with ideas, then go back to bed an hour later……

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media (ie 5 specific magazine titles, websites, blog or other media), which you visit regularly?

Well aside from The Design Files, I really like…..well I must admit I am not that into all the online things happening around the globe, I just don’t seem to have enough hours in a day.

It’s fine to be inspired by different types of  media but at the end of the day to produce something it’s about making a sample and another and another... too many can get caught up in online dream land.  It’s not until you produce a piece that works and proportionally sits beautifully that counts!! Gee I hope I am making sense here. It’s all about pure passion, the physical object.  Not an image on a screen from the other side of the globe.

Which designers, architects or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment.

At present it’s not about a particular person or product it’s what’s in the detail that counts. Anyone can design standard pieces that’s not hard. The art is in the detailing... or the finer detail. Everyone wants something that’s unique, that challenges your way of thinking.

BOOKS!  No showroom is really complete with a book corner. Genius.

What would be your dream project?

We will be doing a small boutique hotel/accommodation place soon.. I can already see it, we have been designing it for a while now.

What are you looking forward to?

The skate park with my two boys….they….we.... love it…..ha ha!

Kitchen by Mike at Koskela - (no shortage of JAKE chairs)

Sydney Questions –

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

I love Bronte where we live for its beach, park and Three Blue Ducks café and Iggys bread. I am also growing very fond of Rosebery where our new showroom is located. I love the big old 1930’s single story houses with their mango, citrus and olive trees. There is such an interesting mix of people living there, many of whom are migrants who I am sure have really interesting stories to tell.

Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade? Ie anything from hardware to tools to reference books?

I am embarrassed to admit this but I love it when it’s council clean up days. You drive past all this stuff that has been thrown out and that is going straight into landfill. I come up with ideas and designs from old pieces or ones that I think could be saved. Is that weird?

Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

I am not being biased here but I love food at Kitchen by Mike. It’s no fuss and the freshest of what’s in season…..friends of ours came for breakfast on the weekend and loved reading the papers and relaxing etc. When they came to leave all the food was being put out for lunch which looked amazing so they decided to stay and have lunch…..that’s pretty cool. Imagine being able to do that.

Sydney’s best kept secret? Well its actually an hour and 15min from Sydney and it’s called Patonga... when you get there it’s a world away from anywhere. As I grew up in the country I am one of those people who have to get away to clear my mind.
Kitchen by Mike at Koskela - serving breakfast and lunch daily.

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