The Two of Us | Sasha Titchkosky + Russel Koskela
Life and work partners Sasha Titchkosky and Russel Koskela are a magical force. They share a wonderful philosophy when it comes to design - driven by their love for local, thoughtful and timeless pieces. For Sasha and Russel, work doesn't really feel like work at all and their company Koskela, which they established almost eighteen years ago, is a testament to their passion for what they do. Here, we catch up with the pair to find out more about what motivates them, how they balance their private to work life and the power of ethical design.
Hi Sasha and Russel, how and when did you first meet? We first met about 18 years ago, through one of my sister’s partners who are both architects. Russel was working with them at the time and used to grab a lift occasionally with us going home. Once we got together it was all or nothing! We started Koskela about 5 months later.
Tell us a little about the journey to where you are today? Sasha: Russel had always had a love of design, especially furniture, and a passion for its creation. Even as a kid growing up in a small country town, he was customizing his own sneakers and coming up with ideas. He’d studied Interior Design at University and was working on large scale commercial interiors projects - creating inspiring workplaces that were cutting edge. He started to create his own products when he couldn’t find what he wanted. He’s a natural entrepreneurial, creative type, so it was only a matter of time before he was ready to embark on his own venture.
My background was completely different - I’d studied Economics and Law and was working at the Australian Stock Exchange when we met. My passion was understanding what makes a company great - I was interested in how you create a company that is principled, inspiring, a great place to work and also financially viable.
We both took a long holiday and, as so often happens when you step off the train, decided it was time to try something new and to look into creating a furniture design company.
What’s the best part about working together? Sasha: I don’t know how you would start up something and have a life partner not part of the journey! It’s so consuming in the beginning and needs so much of your mental energy and time in those first few years. It’s fun creating something together and it's more rewarding when you can share it.
What are you most passionate about? Russel: Design is my absolute passion and drives everything.
Sasha: The work we do with Indigenous artists and the opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives plus the ability to create a great workplace where our staff feel excited to work.
How do you switch off from work? Is it hard to separate work life from your private life as a couple and not take work home? Sasha: Yes, yes and yes! But having children has made us be much more conscious of this. It’s important and way more fun being a parent who is truly present when they are around.
Russel: We are more conscious of carving out time that’s not related to work. If you don’t do this it’s really hard to maintain perspective and continue to feel inspired, but I do really struggle with this as my mind is racing all the time.
Sasha, what do you most admire about Russel? He approaches ideas from a completely different perspective to other people and his energy and enthusiasm are infectious.
Russel, what's Sasha’s biggest talent at work? Sasha’s great at cutting through issues and finding solutions that perhaps people more involved in a problem can’t see. She’s also great at juggling multiple things and driving the direction and ethos.
Where do you gather inspiration? Sasha: Nature, conversations, books and art.
Russel - Everywhere!
What has been your proudest achievement so far? Sasha: In a work context, working with Yolngu weavers and the fact that we’ve managed to successfully continue this for nearly 10 years.
Russel: Creating Koskela and seeing our products featured in some of the leading workplaces and universities around the world. Who would have thought a little Australian design company could have products in Pinterest and Google HQ in the US?!
What’s been the biggest lesson learnt since opening Koskela? Sasha : Focus - both of us have a tendency to want to do everything. We have no shortage of ideas but being a bit more disciplined about which ideas to pursue is key or you never end up feeling like you do anything as well as you’d like as you stretch things too far.
Russel: Focus. I still struggle with this and have a tendency to want to jump into all sorts of new ideas and opportunities.
Your motto at Koskela is to ‘Follow you heart, trust you judgement and do it with joy’ - why is this mantra so important to you? Sasha: Life is so short. Way too short to do something you don’t love which doesn’t sit with who you are! Occasionally we run into people who just seem so unhappy with their work which, while it isn’t everything in life, it's a big part of our lives - it really makes you realise how lucky we are. Over the last 18 years of running Koskela, there have not been many days either of us has woken up with a feeling of dread about coming into work.
Russel: We used to be so frustrated when people we knew would focus on getting their business plan just perfect before doing anything.
We absolutely love that you are big supporters of acknowledging and celebrating Australia Indigenous culture - why are you so committed to social enterprise at Koskela? Sasha: The idea that I have a responsibility to give back to others who haven’t had the same advantages as I have had is ingrained and was present in my make up from a very early age. I was awarded a prize in year 5 at school, which was a book of Aboriginal stories and I was so intrigued. As I grew up I could never understand why Australia didn’t realise how special and defining it was to recognise and celebrate our Indigenous heritage. What other nation is lucky enough to have the oldest surviving culture in the world with all the wisdom and knowledge that brings? It took us a while to get the company to a point where we could embark on these projects - it was important to us that the company be financially viable and able to commit to a long term relationship with the artists we work with. It’s really one of the most rewarding aspects of the business and is evolving constantly. We are now getting involved with projects on a much bigger scale where these design elements are being embedded in the fabric of buildings and interiors. Our experience, design and manufacturing capabilities and relationships make us uniquely placed to facilitate these Indigenous design projects.
Russel: I love the relationships we’ve developed with the artists over the years. It’s been so rewarding to watch our kids develop connections and I’m really excited about the new opportunities that are coming to us to create new income earning opportunities for the artists.
What are you looking forward to in 2018? Sasha: What’s not to look forward to - we have the best team we’ve ever had working with us and we have so many exciting new ideas in the wings. New social enterprise products and exciting new product ideas. Watch this space!
Russel: Focussing more on product development and new ideas. We have so many cool products we’re developing!
I usually wake up at: 5.45am.
My perfect day would involve: For a work day - sitting down to coffee and getting my plan for the day together after getting my kids on the train to school, working with our team on new ideas, some time to think and research, dinner with our family and then a walk in the park or a swim in the .
I am inspired by: The creativity and ingenuity of Australian Indigenous artists.
Best advice I’ve ever received: Sometimes you simply have to stop worrying, wondering, and doubting. Have faith that things will work out, maybe not how you planned, but just how it’s meant to be.
I couldn’t live without: Coffee and hugs from our boys.
My favourite daily ritual: I have lots! Taking 15 minutes to enjoy a coffee sitting down and organizing my day before I get into work, listening to podcasts on my way into work, having a walk in the evening as the day is coming to a close.
I recently discovered: The Coal Loader at Waverton - great reinvention of an old industrial site that not many people know about.
On my wish-list: BMW i3 - electric car. The environmental impact of every aspect of this car has been considered from the battery to the upholstery and interiors.
I’m currently reading: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.
And listening to: Old Mazzy Star albums.
My guilty pleasure: Chocolate. I love it!
My mantra is: Live a life with intent.
My perfect day would involve: Working on some new ideas with the team, being involved in a workshop with clients to develop concepts for a project and spending time in the factory with our amazing manufacturers to develop ideas.
I am inspired by: Our makers - I love their skill and passion for their craft.
Best advice I’ve ever received: Where focus goes, energy flows.
I couldn’t live without: Being able to create.
My favourite daily ritual: Creating one hour a day of disciplined screen-free time.
I recently discovered: Cambodia - a country of contrasts and amazing history.
On my wish-list: Tesla battery - we’re going to renovate our house later this year and I can’t wait to get one of these and move to solar power.
I’m currently reading: I’m more of a listener than a reader. I love the podcast series called How I Built This.
My guilty pleasure: Bread with lemon butter.
My mantra is: Live life to the full.