When Melbourne-based interior designer Susie Cohen travelled with her family while she was growing up, they didn't take a camera. Instead her father captured their experiences through quick pen and wash sketches. “What was most inspiring was how powerful and considered each ink line was,” she says. “With very few lines he could capture an absolute feeling – celebrating the notion of less is more.” After school Susie had the opportunity to live and work in Japan for six months, and it was a time when its contemporary craft, design and architecture made a big impact on her aesthetic. Afterwards she returned to her native Melbourne to study interior design at RMIT. “I have never looked back, as I love what I do,” she says. In 2009 her first project for Made by Cohen, the Windsor Warehouse, was shortlisted in the Australian Interior Design Awards and published in Vogue Living. A more recent project, Elwood, pictured above, was a collaboration with architecture firm Robson Rak Architecture and was shortlisted for the 2014 Australian Interior Design Awards and the 2014 Houses Awards.
Which five words best describe you? Passionate, creative, hardworking, hand-crafted, perfectionist.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? After graduating with a BA in Interior Design in 2000, I went on to work full-time for first Carr Design and then Chris Connell Design. Both Sue Carr and Chris Connell were very inspiring role models and I know these early five years after graduating had a huge influence in defining the type of interior designer I am today. In 2005 I finally started my own interior design practice Made By Cohen. My first project was a beautiful old red brick warehouse in Windsor that my partner and I had bought. I knew this would be the perfect residential project to launch my emerging design practice. Since then I have worked on an array of different projects – all of which are residential, as that’s what I love.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Never be told something can’t be done. If you want something that is bespoke or custom made, it often requires a lot of research and collaboration with craftsmen in their fields. Having like-minded builders from the very beginning of the project is key.
What’s your proudest career achievement? It would have to be in 2009, when Made By Cohen received the Commendation Award for Emerging Interior Design Practice at the Australian Interior Design Awards. To finally go off on my own as a designer and then be recognised for it was a very special thing.
What’s been your best decision? To have enough belief and confidence in my own ability to start my own interior design practice Made By Cohen. Working for myself I have been able to structure my business in a way that gets the best out of me. In the past, I’ve never loved working on six or more design projects at once, as the design process for me always became fragmented. Made By Cohen has allowed me to pare back and slow down, working on only two or three beautiful projects at one time. In taking on less work, I am able to give my clients a more fluid creative journey, and I personally find the design process richer and more layered as a result.
Who inspires you? I’m going to be cheeky and say “what” inspires me rather than “who”. Since having children I have learnt to slow down and live in the moment. In doing so, you have time to absorb and reflect on everything around you. I gravitate to beautiful objects, interiors and architecture that are honest in their materiality and extraordinary in their craftsmanship. I have a love of natural light, not to flood a space, but to be used as a tool to sculpt a space. I am also fascinated with the poetics of a space – a subconscious flow created through balance and detail.
What are you passionate about? Raw honest materials and beautifully handcrafted details, and I have a love of working with old buildings as I enjoy the rich narrative between old and new.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I think I would have to say the late amazing architect/industrial designer Achille Castiglioni – he is truly inspiring.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? Three years ago we bought a rambling old Italianate Victorian Home in desperate need of a lot of love. When you run your own design practice it’s very easy to keep taking on new work, putting your own home and family on hold. Next year I’m looking forward to giving myself some creative time to do these drawings so that I can finally realise my dream for my family and for this beautiful old building.
What are you reading? Right now I’m reading a fascinating little book a friend gave me call Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by author Leonard Koren.