On Kathryn Robson’s first day studying architecture at university the lecturer warned that there were more architects driving cabs than working in their chosen profession. He told the students that if they were in it for the money then they might as well walk out of the room then. Kathryn was intrigued, and never regretted her decision. “It’s always felt right, and I’ve gone to work every day excited about what lies ahead,” she says. “Architects require the diversity of technical knowledge and uninhibited design and I find this deeply satisfying.” After working for some of Melbourne’s leading practices, she set up her own practice in 2002 and more recently joined forces with her husband Chris Rak, who had retrained as an interior architect after working for 13 years as a steel sculptor. Together they run Melbourne-based Robson Rak and have been shortlisted for many awards over the past couple of years.
Which five words best describe you?
Kathryn: Driven to create the best life.
Chris: Honest, ambitious, curious, perfectionist, dreamer.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since?
Kathryn: On completing architecture I worked as a graduate architect for Sean Godsell, and then moved on to working with Chris Connell. After three years working in London for Swedish architect Orefelt Associates, I returned to Melbourne to work for Chris Connell Design again and stayed there until 2002 when I left to start my own practice. There has been an extraordinary amount of hard work and long hours put into where we are at today, and this never stops. We’re excited about the future of Robson Rak and the future of design in Australia.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
Kathryn: Design as though no one is watching. Don’t be affected by what others are doing or saying, and never, ever stop listening to your gut instinct. It’s always right. Oh, and always employ the best accountant you can find.
Chris: Don’t cut corners.
What’s your proudest career achievement?
Kathryn: I think it’s yet to come. There have been some very proud moments along the way but I know what’s currently on our drawing boards and on site and I’m excited to see their evolution.
Chris: Creating a career which includes family.
What’s been your best decision?
Kathryn: To join forces with my husband Chris Rak to create Robson Rak. We feel so lucky to be designing spaces for our clients that see no boundary between the architecture and interior. They are smooth, holistic spaces that provide the user with warmth and a sense of well-being.
Chris: Joining forces with my wife Kathryn; we’re very fortunate to be able to do that.
Who inspires you?
Kathryn: Melbourne and its people. Whether it’s Sergio who makes me the perfect coffee every morning, or walking through the bluestone laneways of Melbourne and discovering a beautiful jewellery designer, the perfect plate of sashimi discovered in a basement at Izakaya, or the array of talented architects, designers and artists who create the evolving fabric of our city.
Chris: Anyone who takes pride in their work and goes that extra mile to achieve a better result. I lived in Tokyo in the early 90s and was influenced by the Japanese. I remember being blown away at seeing cabbies with their immaculate cars (complete with doilies on the dash) and white gloves on. Treating their chosen paths with utmost respect and doing it as best as they could.
What are you passionate about?
Kathryn: I’m passionate about “home”. Not only my home, but more that sense of home, which is so important in the spaces, we design. It may be achieved by a certain smell, a texture, or a shard of light passing through a room. As Ilse Crawford said, “Home is where the heart is”, and I’m constantly thinking about what makes a house a home and trying to translate this into architecture and interior design through material, details, landscaping, and of course the perfectly proportioned space.
Chris: I love a well-made object. Something that’s been labored over and resolved.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Kathryn: Firstly, my Dad. He passed away suddenly last year with many things left unsaid. Secondly, Steve Jobs who once said, “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that designers are handed this box and told, ‘make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Of course, there is a balance between aesthetic and function but this balance is often wrong. Robson Rak tries hard to achieve this balance with every project.
What dream do you still want to fulfill?
Kathryn: I have so many! Probably the one on my radar right now is our own extension to our home in Elwood, which is very exciting. It’s the first home Chris and I will have designed for our own family and it’s deeply satisfying after nearly 20 years of designing homes for others. Oh, and we want to relocate our family to a Greek island for a year or two.
Chris: Taking my boys to an adventure through Greece for six months and letting them discover their roots.
What are you reading?
Kathryn: The Gardenist by Michael McCoy. It’s a book about landscape design that has been a revelation as it approaches landscaping in a very architectural manner and has changed the way I think about planting. For example, “The space that surrounds a tree is just as important as the tree itself, and when there are two or more trees they are able to capture and hold an open space between them.” It’s all about form and space, built or planted.
Chris: Furnitecture: Furniture That Transforms Space. I got it for my birthday. Not a bad read.