Looking at the bright, raw, open warehouse space that houses the trio of creative businesses Koskela, Kitchen by Mike and stylist Megan Morton’s The School, it’s hard to imagine where such a seamless mergence of the three disparate businesses might have begun.
One year after moving into the old Rosella canning factory, they blend and bleed into one another in such an organic way that it’s hard to say where the kitchen ends, the showroom begins and the studio takes over. Yet all three aspects of the space are decidedly individual, marrying to create a destination space for designers, foodies, artists and homemakers – or anyone looking to feed their creative impulse. In fact, the food, art, shop and showroom combination has been so successful that we’re seeing mimicry in varying configurations popping-up all over the city – but so far none reaching the scale or success of 85 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery.
“You see lots of people come into the space – especially to the cafe and Koskela – taking photos of the details and trying to work out how to replicate what we do here, but the total truth is that it was such an organic and genuine process that brought us together that it will never happen again like this,” says stylist Megan Morton over the buzz of the coffee grinder and the clatter of cutlery. “You couldn’t plan it if you tried.”
We’re sitting with Kitchen by Mike’s Mike McEnearney and Koskela’s Sasha Titchkosky around a large table in the surrounds of Kitchen by Mike canteen. As always, the place has a friendly and thrumming atmosphere.
Groups gather for brunch, business meetings take place and diners regularly abandon their tables for a look around the Koskela showroom and homewares store. Meanwhile, bookings are made for kids Lomography classes and basket weaving workshops in the studio spaces.
“We have these polar opposites that manage to compliment one another all in the one space,” says Morton. “That’s the power of it, and it’s not even what you put in. Sometimes it’s what everyone leaves out that makes it work.
“The space is big, but you could do it in so many ways. That’s why a lot of people get scared of big, huge spaces. It’s so raw.”
And it’s just that rawness that drew McEnearney and Morton into the journey with Titchkosky and Russel Koskela. “We purposely set out to find a space that hadn’t been developed. We wanted to find somewhere where everything hadn’t been beautified or made to look new again,” says Titchkosky, pointing out that it would allow the space to act as a canvas.
“Russel and I came to the decision that the next phase for our business was doing something more interesting on the retail side. Something that Sydney didn’t have that specialised in Australian design, while combining furniture and homewares.”
When it transpired that both Morton and the Koskela team were looking for new digs at the same time, a mutual practice of “keeping an eye out” for spaces that might appeal ended in the businesses coming together to share the warehouse. With the layout naturally carved up into three clear areas, things couldn’t have worked out better, especially when McEnearney was added to the mix to bring food to the equation. Introduced through some mutual friends, he could see the vision unfolding after just one meeting.
“It was really amazing. That first coffee and chat, to walk in, see a picture of the space and then to go away and come back with very similar ideas about what we could do – it was an incredible thing,” he says with a grin.
Morton draws a romantic analogy to explain her feelings on the space. “It’s like falling in love with a boyfriend who you know is too big, too much and all wrong. All this could be smaller and easier…but knowing what you’ve seen, you just can’t go back.”
It’s that blank canvas of generous space that has allowed each separate business to create their own signatures, blending gently together at the edges without crowding one another. “There’s nothing else like it,” rejoins McEnearney. “There are no canteens where you queue up for your food, see the kitchen cook and view the fresh ingredients. You really couldn’t do this in many other spaces – you need this volume.”
The key to the group's success clearly lies in the organic nature of the relationships. Had they auditioned one another for the space-partnership, you get the sense that that they wouldn’t have developed such a unique rapport. “People are looking for more experiences,” says McEnearney. “If they can walk in and have a coffee and also be inspired, then that’s the experience they’ll take.”
But are there ever any drawbacks to sharing your creative space? “You do have to be a bit more consultative,” says Titchkosky, struggling to find a downside. “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing or a hindrance, it’s just something to factor in.”
And it seems the benefits of having a pool of creative talent in the one space simply fans the flames of success. “It’s hard to get everything right in just one year,” says McEnearney. “But we’ve all got a bit more confidence now and there’s a cross-pollination process. We all bring different people to the building for different reasons, so it gives us more options with what we can do.”
Digging a little deeper at Koskela: we profile the creative minds behind 85 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery.
Koskela – Sasha Titchkosky and Russel Koskela
The business partnership that gives the Koskela concept warehouse its name comprises Sasha Titchkosky and Russel Koskela and it’s manifested in the sweeping showroom aspect of the warehouse space. Here, the finished products of the pair’s design process are displayed as distinctive, thoughtful, beautiful and (importantly) Australian made furniture, along with a carefully curated selection of children’s goods, lighting and homewares. A huge part of what Koskela does is built on relationships – relationships that govern everything from manufacturing to day-to-day business.
“For me it’s twofold,” says Titchkosky. “When we started the business in 2000 everyone was predicting that the Australian manufacturing industry was in its death throes and we wanted to do something about that in some small way. We felt that a lot of the manufacturing sector was dying because there wasn’t a great design skill-set here, or that the manufacturing sector didn’t recognise the importance of that…
“We wanted to challenge the idea that you couldn’t actually manufacture something here of a really high quality.”
That was part one. “Then we also wanted to know where our products were being made, how they were being made, what people were earning for making them, and to feel confident that we knew there was ethical production involved. We felt that was something that people would want to know.” That was where it started. From there, Titchkosky and Koskela spent plenty of time and energy seeking out and cultivating relationships with manufacturers to realise that ambition.
“Eventually we found some great people to work with and now we’ve got people that we’ve been involved with for more than 10 years… For us, it’s really rewarding that we work with people we love to realise ideas as an end product.”
A benefit of developing such relationships is that it has allowed Koskela to foster a thorough and comprehensive charter addressing environmental concerns in conjunction with their local focus for design pieces. And overarching it all is the wonderfully positive Koskela motto: “Follow your heart, trust your judgement and do it with joy.” It couldn’t be simpler than that.
Kitchen by Mike – Mike McEnearney
Mike McEnearney likes to champion the more unusual peripheries of seasonal produce. “I try and go to the markets a couple of times a week to have a walk around and to try to spot not just what’s in season, but those beautiful little curios that no body wants,” says the chef and mastermind behind Kitchen by Mike, the dining component of the Koskela showrooms.
“A classic example was finding these really beautiful, tiny baby figs. They tasted wonderful but they were going cheap because no one wanted them…people want to buy big, juicy figs and pay a lot of money for them.” The chef is incredulous. “But I get to find this amazing seasonal produce and have the pleasure of turning them into something great.”
And that’s a big part of the philosophy behind Kitchen by Mike. Squarely positioned at the entrance point to the Koskela concept design space, the canteen is the “diving off point” for the whole Koskela warehouse experience. Regardless of whether or not you stop off for a bite to eat, you still get to walk through the busy, vibrant atmosphere on your way through to the rest of the Koskela space.
With its open kitchen, seasonal philosophy and pared back methodology, it would be easy to suggest that it is a big departure for chef McEnearney, hailed for his time in fine dining at Rockpool among other ventures. But it’s a passion for seasonal produce served simple and fresh that drives him.
“Most people don’t understand about seasonality – it’s something that hasn’t been at the top of peoples minds for the last 50 years. Convenience took over and you can buy fruit and veg from anywhere in the world. People don’t really worry about the costs, they just have to have a tomato in the winter time, even if they’re a summer fruit. It’s just wrong.”
It’s a deep conviction. “Not only is seasonal produce better for you, it’s better for the environment and it certainly tastes better and it’s better on your wallet. That’s a no-brainer for me. There’s no other angle.”
By stripping away the tablecloths, waiters, menus and bookings, McEnearney sets the stage for the produce and preparation to shine. With a canteen-style approach, it only took a little shift in thinking to help customers see the value in lining up for simply served, excellent food. Much like the whole warehouse space, it’s a rethinking of the dining experience – canteen dining with restaurant quality fare and a flexible menu.
“If I’ve only got five portions, then I’ve only got five portions,” says the chef. “Sometimes we change the menu up a couple of times in a day.” And that’s just to get the best out of the produce available.
“Sure, I miss the fine dining, but we do dinners and events and they’re fine dining in a very stripped back atmosphere. We get to play with that every now and then. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Megan Morton Stylist
Stylist Megan Morton isn’t at all taken aback when asked what it is she does. “I create atmospheres,” she says with conviction. It’s a beautiful explanation from one of Australia’s most prolific and respected styling talents.
“The stylist is there to make the best of what is there already,” says Morton, who does residential styling in addition to her considerable studio and print portfolio. “I could go to Space Furniture tomorrow and I could get whatever I wanted and I could style it all and it could be great. But I think a really good stylist shows evidence of mixing things from different genres, colours, ages or price points to show something really magical. A stylist’s job is to create the best of what is in front of them.”
Morton not only works her magic out of her studio spaces at Koskela, she offers a secondary studio – dubbed The School – as a canvas for other artists, orchestrating and hosting a slew of creative classes, finding and exhibiting the work of some incredible (and often unsung) talents.
“I used to think when I started The School, ‘How am I going to keep it up?’ because first and foremost I am a stylist. The School is like a passion project that has become something else.
“It started when I realised that I had this beautiful white space. I know what it’s like every day when I walk into my studio and think ‘Oh my god I can’t wait to make this into a Moroccan fiesta’. I love the kind of transformative nature of it, and then I noticed that other people would come in and be wowed by the process too. When you’re involved in it every day you can forget how beautiful it is.”
A font of design and artistic expertise, she is not frightened of sharing her knowledge and equipping others with the know-how to continue their own creative journey. “The idea with all the classes is that you’ve got the materials, the list, the technique and the worksheet, which means that you can go and have a craft weekend and make your own.”
For Morton it’s about touching people’s lives and making it about more than just one afternoon – a philosophy that extends to her residential styling. “We come to the interior process completely from a stylist’s perspective; it’s never from a design perspective,” she says. “We try to say ‘Where’s that bit of fun that the designer won’t give you?’
“It’s really house whispering, which sounds ridiculous, but that’s exactly what it is. We try to say ‘This house needs to be Joni Mitchell but you’re trying to make it Sophia Loren’. It’s thinking about how we can make a house account for itself and not be an overinvestment or over-decorated.
Everyone wants a house to be as beautiful as it can be, and the house usually tells you that.”