Russell & George Inteview | Yellowtrace

Yellowtrace Interviews in Partnership with Laminex

 

I’m always so crazy excited to launch every single new interview we do here. But I have to admit – this one feels extra special for a number of reasons. You see, way back in 2010, when Yellowtrace was less than 2 months old and a very different version of what it is today (which now feels like a 372 years ago – I mean, it was in an era before Instagram – imagine that?!), I sheepishly reached out to Ryan Russell in hope of interviewing him. Having admired his work for a number of years (ever since he launched his practice in 2007, I believe), I was absolutely STOKED and in a bit of disbelief when he said yes. (Side note – you guys, I seriously lacked confidence back in the day, to the point I now find my ‘old self’ almost comical!). In parallel to this, I was trying to seek out Byron George, having visited a couple of his projects in Melbourne (namely the St Jude’s cellar – which is now permanently closed, but f*ck man – that was one seriously cool, fresh AF place when it first opened, right? Right!). Anyway, Byron was virtually impossible to track down, despite my seriously impressive online detective work, if I say so myself. As luck would have it, Ryan came back with the most generous interview answers, which in many ways set the tone for what would eventually become one of the most popular sections of this site – our Interview Series. And in his answers, he casually dropped Byron’s name, saying they were a couple, and were planning on merging their individual practices to form Russell & George. Get out! I seriously thought I’d struck gold, cause now I had Byron’s email address and a hot new lead for my next interview subject… Except, that interview took many, many months to get over the line, because – here’s the thing – Byron sucks.

Fast forward a few months later that year, I was attending interior design awards in Sydney at the Ivy (back in the day when Ivy was the shit). It was a massive industry event and I was just about getting ready to call it a night at a respectable time of 2 am. I grabbed my friend who I was sharing a cab home with, and quickly ran to the bar to return my glass (gosh, aren’t I are a good kid running to the bar to return a glass at 2 am – who does that?), and guess who I bump into? Indeed – Ryan Russell & Byron George. We had never met IRL until that very moment, and let’s just say the fact it was 2 am, and there’s a slight chance we were all mildly inebriated, we fast-tracked our getting-to-know-you conversation by skipping the small talk and cutting out the crap. Instead, we went deep, and I mean real deep, real quick. Hahahaha! I promise it wasn’t all pissed “I love yous!” – we covered some serious ground over several Martin Miller’s gins that followed, which the boys opened my eyes to that night. We parted ways at 4:30 am-ish and have remained friends ever since.

Anyway! Is this not the most ridiculous way to introduce our interviewees or what? I know, I AM SO RANDOM! And possibly slightly unprofessional, but who cares. I just love this story, and over the years of getting to know the boys, I’ve come to realise they are indeed both very special. As it turns out, their personal relationship didn’t last, but their professional one and their business have continued to evolve and develop. It’s important to point out that Ryan and Byron have always done things very much on their own terms. They don’t subscribe to the conventional way of doing pretty much anything, and they aren’t afraid to say what they think and tell it like it is, and I absolutely love that about them. Even if they (but mostly Byron) suck.

I think we’ve all heard more than enough from me by now. It’s time to make some noise for two very sharp minds, and two incredibly warm, generous and talented individuals who probably don’t receive enough recognition for their contribution to the Australian design community – mostly cause they suck at PR. And Instagram.

Take it away, boys! X

 

Previous interview with Ryan Russell on Yellowtrace.
Previous interview with Byron George on Yellowtrace.

 

Ishizuka Restaurant in Melbourne by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Ishizuka Restaurant in Melbourne by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Ishizuka Restaurant in Melbourne by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Ishizuka Restaurant in Melbourne (2018). Photography by Felix Forest.

 

+ Hello Ryan & Byron, welcome BACK to Yellowtrace! You are the first duo to have been previously interviewed on here individually, and now you’re back after several years under your belt in business together. Pretty cool, huh? Well, I think so! Perhaps you could give us a quick background on what path lead you to start Russell & George?

Expediency really, although that sounds kind of harsh if we look back at it all. At the time we were both working under the same roof on our separate businesses, doing two BAS’s every quarter, competing against each other (we were also in a relationship at the time – that’s another story). Merging it all kind of made sense, but took us a while because of the personal connection.

 

Space & Time in Melbourne by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Space & Time in Melbourne (2018). Photo by Paul Martin.

Space & Time in Melbourne by Russell & George with Laminex | Yellowtrace
At Space & Time, the central black table features Laminex AbsoluteMatte finish.

Space & Time in Melbourne by Russell & George with Laminex | Yellowtrace
At Space & Time, the central black table features Laminex AbsoluteMatte finish – fingerprint, heat, and scratch resistant surface, thank you very much.

Space & Time in Melbourne by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Ryan (left) and Byron (right), looking pretty bloody cute I reckon. Photo by Paul Martin.

 

+ What is your main priority when starting projects? Is there something that is fundamental to your philosophy and your process?

If there is one thing that is fundamental to our process is that nothing is fundamental. Every client is different and so is every project. We start every process with a bit of analysis into what that client is about, and try and end it with what they could be. This usually drives the process as much as the outcome.

One thing we try not to do is give our clients mood boards or images of other projects to communicate what we propose for them.

 

Russell-and-George-Temporary-Studio-Yellowtrace-04

Russell & George's Temporary Studio | Yellowtrace
Russell & George’s Temporary Studio (2016-2017) before it became Space & Time. Photography by Dianna Snape.

 

+ How do you go about initiating projects – do you do this together or separately? You must find that your amazing partnership enriches your output, but is there ever a time when you drive each other crazy, or when designing or working together can be challenging?

It really depends on the project and situation. Some projects we look at together and then it naturally gravitates to one person, others are fairly clear cut. We always have personal projects, and sometimes ideas are not for public consumption. But the friction is generally the thing that keeps it all going and has always been something that keeps the process fresh and interesting for us.

The thing that has developed over the years, is the understanding of where that tension comes from, and recognising in each other the difference that drives us and why we need it.

 

Aesop Doncaster Renewal by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Aesop Doncaster Renewal by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Aesop Doncaster, Melbourne (2015) – renewal of the original store designed in 2008 (see image below). Photography by Trevor Mein.

Aesop Doncaster Renewal by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Original Aesop Doncaster store in Melbourne (2008). Photography by Dianna Snape.

 

+ How is your studio structured? How many of you work in the studio, what types of skills do you have in-house? Is there anything you are outsourcing, and how many projects do you handle at any one time?

We have a thing where we don’t distinguish between architects, interior or industrial designers. Everyone in our office is a project professional and has something to contribute. This comes from an old school philosophy really, where all parts of a project should come from the same hand.

We have in house a graduate architect, architects, an industrial designer, interior designers and hospitality professionals. We’re all exposed to all parts of the process, and we find that this helps to make projects cohesive and makes it interesting for everyone involved.

We also have access to a workshop which is part of our office (most of the items in our new space were actually designed and manufactured on the premises). This allows us to prototype, quickly make decisions and resolve issues without having to outsource or rely on external contractors, speeding up the process.

We have a lot of projects on at one time – at the moment it’s sitting at around 50, with a team of 7-8.

 

Aesop Claremont by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Aesop Claremont by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Aesop Claremont by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Aesop Claremont store in Perth (2011). Photography by Stephen Nicholls.

 

+ How do you organise and manage the competing demands of modern business and life? Do you have any tip or tricks you could share with us that help you in your day to day?

This question could be a whole article on it’s own. The key thing here is being agile and keeping it simple. Project management software should streamline what you’re doing and get out of the way – a lot of the systems available on line require you to actively manage your data, or double handle it, taking up hours of time that is better spent working on projects (we’re currently using two systems – one does time, invoicing and basic project management really well, but is lousy at task and resource management on a day to day basis – the other does that but doesn’t connect in with our financial software or project drive).

We’re trying a lot of options at the moment, but have yet to find one that does everything we need – there is a potential of developing ourselves something independently that does what we need, but that’s in it’s early stages.

We do a lot of work interstate and overseas and travel a lot, so cloud based solutions are important. While they work for project management, cloud storage causes issues when it comes to managing large files for project work (internet in Australia is way too slow and unreliable to keep your project files on the cloud).

 

The Millipede for Grazia & Co by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

The Millipede for Grazia & Co by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
The Millipede sofa for Grazia & Co (2016). Photography by Lauren Bamford.

Crumpler Prahran by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Crumpler Prahran by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Crumpler Prahran in Melbourne (2012). Photography by Dianna Snape.

 

+ What do you feel is the most challenging part of being a designer/ architect today? And if you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Maintaining focus and sticking to what you believe in, in the world of Pinterest, mood boards, vignettes and trends. How spaces, interiors and buildings work changes people’s lives, not what they look like. A beautiful image is just a frame in a moment of time. A beautiful life is a framework for experimentation and sticking your neck out.

Changing one thing about the industry? We would probably say it’s too risk adverse. We don’t mean risk in terms of harm to people or property – we mean in terms of style and brand which is ultimately really boring.

 

Aesop Gardens by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Aesop Gardens by Russell & George | Yellowtrace


Aésop Gardens Store in Kuala Lumpur (2015). Photography by Iz Mady & Elaine Yuen / Funkydali.

 

+ What are some of your methods to stay motivated, focused and expressive? And your top 3 main sources of inspiration and references you are drawn to regularly?

We can’t really control that. It comes at random times and to be completely honest, sometimes it comes at 4am after 3 hours sleep and sometimes after a lazy weekend on the sofa (although neither of us can remember the last lazy weekend on the sofa).

Three things? Most of this comes down to personality we rub against. We both are drawn to people who have their own mind and are not afraid of hard work. There are a couple of things we both read/listen to that inspire (apart from each other, hahahahahaha). The Harvard Business Review – we subscribe to this – it gives you an insight into business and the world of work and it’s backed up with research from one of the world’s great universities. Hidden Brain – a podcast by Shankar Vedantam about “a conversation about life’s unseen patterns”. Invisibilia – a podcast by NPR about hidden things that make us do what we do.

We tend to find design publications are really showing things that have already happened – beautifully curated things, nonetheless – but work that is already in the sphere of influence. Not a great place to find inspiration for ideas.

 

Aesop Seoul IFC by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Aesop Seoul IFC by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Aesop Seoul IFC store in Seoul (2016). Photography by Jan Dee Kim.

Aesop KLCC by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Aesop KLCC by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Aesop KLCC store in Kuala Lumpur (2015). Photography by Iz Mady & Elaine Yuen/ Funkydali.

 

+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other designers, peers and creatives, in general, do you admire?

Generally those with no compromise – in a post Ayn Randian world that’s not very fashionable. Peter Zumthor, David Chipperfield, Alvar Aalto. No compromise in approach, but ultimately human spaces that make you feel alive.

I remember seeing a presentation of Zumthor at the Venice Biennale a few years ago – I couldn’t get over this video of him making a coffee in his kitchen. The joy and ritual of something as simple as making a great cup of coffee.

 

Koko Black Queenstown NZ by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Koko Black Queenstown NZ by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Koko Black Queenstown NZ by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Koko Black in Queenstown, New Zealand (2014). Photography by Fredrik Larsson.

 

+ What advice would you give to emerging designers who want to follow your path? What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practice?

First thing, don’t follow our path.

Second thing – get a great accountant and sort out your systems, finances and infrastructure.

Third thing – don’t let anyone tell you that your ideas are shit. Unless they are shit. In which case you should listen.

 

Stepped House by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Stepped House by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Stepped House by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Stepped House by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Stepped House in Melbourne (2011). Photography by Dianna Snape.

 

+ What would be your dream creative project or a collaboration?

We’re actually doing it. Our Space & Time project is also our office – we’re kind of putting our money where our mouths are. Beyond that? Perhaps a collaboration with a neuroscientist or aircraft manufacturer. How to stimulate the mind in the most efficient way possible.

 

White Box by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
White Box in Melbourne (2011). Photography by Dianna Snape.

The Doctor's Studio by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

The Doctor's Studio by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
The Doctor’s Studio in Melbourne (2015). Photography by Sarah Anderson.

 

+ What’s next – can you share with us your vision, some of your goals (and some of your current projects)?

We’ve got a lot on the books at the moment – unfortunately the big juicy ones also come with big juicy NDAs. There are three large jobs that we hope are transformative, but you never really know until they’re done.

Our next personal project is the design of Space & Time mark II, which includes a residential/hotel/accommodation component (that is actually none of those things). We’re looking for a site for this at the moment.

 

Green Factory Concept Melbourne by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Green Factory Concept Melbourne by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Green Factory Concept, Melbourne (2016).

Emporium Cafe Court by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Emporium Cafe Court by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Emporium Cafe Court in Melbourne (2014). Photography by Dianna Snape.

 

Let’s Get Real:

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made?

Working together.

+ Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Do what you say.

+ Your most treasured belonging?

Ryan: My health.
Byron: My dignity (hahahahaha, that doesn’t exist) my fancy coffee machine (aka I want to be Peter Zumthor).

+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

Ryan: I hate morning television.
Byron: I was the first Union member of Toys R Us in the early 90s and got a standing ovation at the SDA union meeting because of it (it was the first large retailer to do enterprise bargaining – I was 15).

+ It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Ryan: Going to bed at 7.30pm.
Byron: Air Crash Investigations (I said this in my last interview all those years ago – I bought them all on iTunes since then).

 

Bills by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Bills by Russell & George | Yellowtrace

Bills by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
Bill’s in Melbourne (2012). Photography by Dianna Snape.

St Judes Cellars by Russell & George | Yellowtrace
St Jude’s Cellars in Melbourne (2007). Photography by Dianna Snape.

 

Yellowtrace Interviews in Partnership with Laminex

 


[All images courtesy of Russell & George. Photography credits as noted.]

 

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Founder & Editor
Google+

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Design Strategy, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places & experiences.

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