Behind the Scenes with

Design Activists: Koskela

Koskela's Sasha and Russel

For years we have admired the designs and the design philosophy of Koskela, in their commitment to the support of Australian craftspeople, artists and furniture makers. Their Rosebery warehouse is an inspiring space that clearly and impressively reflects both their design aesthetic and philosophy. It’s always intriguing to spend time there sourcing pieces from their extensive range and also to engage with their creative workshops. We asked Russel and Sasha to share their history and vision with us.

How was Koskela born? Koskela was started by Russel and Sasha in 2000 (5 months after we got together!). We were both at a point in our careers where we were not entirely fulfilled and were thinking of our next steps. We both took a 6 week break (the longest holiday we’d had in our careers) and it was during this time that the plan was hatched. Russel had always had a passion for furniture and when we got back I was really surprised to see how little furniture was being made in Australia and also how much competition there was at the top and bottom of the market but how few companies were offering Australian made great product to people like us. So after brainstorming product ideas on a hill overlooking Bondi Beach, Koskela was born.

What has the journey been to where you are now? It has been 14 years! We started off very cautiously with both of us working on the business in the evenings after work and on weekends. Then Russel started working full-time in the business while I kept earning us some income. We had a great launch party in our first shared showroom space in Surry Hills and then quickly set up our own space after that in a crumbling old warehouse space in Surry Hills, overlooking Central Station. 18 months later I resigned from the consulting role I was doing part time and we moved to a new space in Surry Hills where we stayed for the next 7 years. That was one of the scary points for Russel and me as we tripled our rent in one hit and all of a sudden we both had to survive off the success of the company. Our focus was primarily on the commercial side of our business – most people who visit the showroom probably don’t realise that we work with many of Australia’s leading corporations to design furniture for their offices. These are often bespoke pieces that we create for them to reflect their brand, culture and also to influence their way of working. Luckily for us our idea paid off and the next really big leap for us was moving to our beautiful 2000m2 space in Rosebery. This was very much about us offering a new sort of retail experience for Sydney, one that housed our furniture collection, ethically made homewares, a gallery and workshop space and great food.

What is the Koskela philosophy? We firmly believe that we can use our design skills to effect social change. We do this through our work with Indigenous artists, by manufacturing in Australia so we can really understand how our products area being made and by minimising our impact on the environment.

Where do you find your inspiration? Russel finds his inspiration everywhere! He genuinely lives and breathes design and is constantly thinking about design and how to create something better.

What have you gained from your collaborations with other artists and designers? We really love collaborating. It is great to be able to take an idea and work together to create something neither of you could have done without the other. It is very inspiring and energising as well.

How did you come to collaborate with Kitchen for Mike? When Russel and I found the Rosebery site, it had been vacant for over 2 years. As soon as we walked in, we knew exactly where the café would go and we planned the garden and outdoor area. We had all the design worked out and were then lucky enough to meet Mike who was able to bring the food alive. We knew if we were going to be in a location further out from the city and in an unknown area we would need to offer people multiple reasons to come here and setting up Kitchen By Mike was in keeping with that strategy.

Part of what’s exciting about Koskela is its diversity, how do you achieve this diversity whilst staying true to the Koskela brand? Although it may look like we are doing lots of different things we are very disciplined in our product selection and our design ethos. This often means we might forgo short term sales but in the long term people know what we stand for. We really believe that.

We love the way that your workshops have brought design to the public by engaging them. How do the workshops contribute to your overall philosophy? We enjoy giving people the tools to be creative. We found that people often don’t have spaces anymore where they can make a mess and feel free to create, so we wanted to offer that space. Even our creative clients don’t often get the opportunity to really do things with their hands anymore. There’s a real sense of fulfilment and satisfaction derived from doing things with your hands, that we don’t often get to experience in our screen-based worlds anymore.

Photography by: Nicholas Watt Jenni Hare Andrew Cowan; Anson Smart Shantanu Starick

The Koskela Showroom in Rosebery
The Garden @ Koskela
Hare + Klein Interior Featuring Pony Rider Quilt from Koskela
Hare + Klein Interior Featuring Pendant Light from Koskela
Hare + Klein Interior Featuring Red Stools from Koskela