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Interview with Byron George (Russell & George)

Updated: May 1

Next week we will be holding an exciting Masterclass with the talented duo Byron George and Ryan Russell of Russell & George. This highly awareded multi-disciplinary design firm are responsible for some of the most admired interior fit-outs throughout around Australia and internationally. Their work is bold and adventurous and they have an approach to the design process that challenges the norm. They are one of the few firms in the world who have been invited by Aesop to design, not just one, but a number of their iconic stores.

We met up with Byron recently and would like to share the conversation with you.

luxurious sitting room
"The Bride and Groom" residential project by Russell and George

TDC: Welcome to The Design Coach community Byron!  Many of our members would have experienced your designs through the incredible retail environments of the Aesop and Crumpler stores you have designed. However, we are particularly in awe of Space & Time: headquarters for your practice and the location for our upcoming Masterclass. What was the inspiration for the interior? Was it easy being your own clients?

BG: Space & Time, what it is and how it came about was really about us putting into practice some of the ideas that we wanted to explore spatially. The idea was about a totally flexible space that could be used by various parties at various times of the day for different things. It also was an idea for us to literally design everything and explore some of our ideas around the psychology how space affects people. As for being our own clients - it was great - we literally tested everything and made sure every component was measured on the original core idea - something you don’t often get to do when working for others.

beautiful interior
Image courtesy of Russell & George

TDC: We understand that you started out as competitors, how did you come together to form Russell and George?

BG: Ryan and I were actually partners prior to going into business together. We shared a studio and an apartment and, although we had very different clients and approaches, it made sense to come together. We won the same awards in successive years which was amusing at the time - the sense of competition was electric and one of the things that attracted us to each other. In the end the Tax office can take the credit - doing one BAS and company tax return seemed logical rather than doubling up on all of our administration. 

TDC: Can you talk us through how you work together and the benefits of working with two unique aesthetics?

BG: We’re both very different, and to be honest, the approach for each client is different depending on how they work and what they need. We learned early on that one of us had to be in charge from a design point of view on each project. The other person then offers (often harsh) criticism and opinion when asked, and often when not. We find this actually helps both of our design approaches as having someone to bat an idea around can often lead to unexpected outcomes. 

looking down on interior of building
Medibank Place Collaboration. Image courtesy of Russell & George.

TDC: You’ve been responsible for many stunning Aesop retail spaces for many years, having won awards dating back to 2009, here in Australia and overseas.  Last year our members had the opportunity to meet with Rowan Lodge, Head of Retail Design and Development for Aesop and learned so much about what drives this brand and aesthetic. What is it that is so special about the Aesop aesthetic that speaks to the consumer? And what are the most important design principles you use to achieve this?

BG: The thing we love the most about Aesop is actually that is is not just about the aesthetic. This is a brand that has a very strong and rigorous philosophy that applies to all parts of it. It means that despite the stores being different and in diverse locations around the world, they always have the same feeling to them, and you get exactly the same level of service and product knowledge. It helps that the product is beautiful too - I’m addicted to the Lucent product at the moment.

product on them
Aesop Doncaster. Image courtesy of Russell & George.

TDC: Your portfolio is quite diverse. How many projects are you working on at any one time and what type of project do you prefer?

BG: It really varies. At the moment we have about 40 projects on the books varying in scale from a small cooking utensil to the refit of a large shopping centre overseas. Our favourite projects are those where we have a client who knows what they are about but don’t necessarily know what the outcome will be. We particularly like it when a project challenges any preconceived ideas we may have had either culturally or otherwise. It doesn’t matter what field it’s in. 

TDC: We loved the Millipede piece produced in collaboration with Grazia & Co. What was the process like switching from architecture/interior design to product/industrial design? Are there any more collaborations in the pipeline?

BG: There are more coming up - although we can’t say what they are at this stage…

We loved working with Grazia on this piece - it really symbolises what good design process is - listening to people who are experts in their fields and creating something great together. We didn’t have the first idea of how to craft a cushion to get the right feel and the fabrication lessons Grazia brought to the table were a valuable lesson for us. Ergonomics of design are really important to us and they apply to the design of everything from a chair to a skyscraper.

interior stairwell
Image courtesy of Russell & George.

TDC: You’ve been quoted as saying that inspiration for your projects comes from many sources, but never from other people’s work.  Can you talk a little more about this?

BG: Our design process never starts with an idea of what the space is going to look like. It always starts with analysis of what the design problem presented to us means, or what our client wants or briefs and whether that is the right thing. From our point of view, if you start looking at other people’s work before having an understanding of what you are doing, you’re going to end up with something that is referencing that work, rather than being a thing in its own right. And that project may have had a very different brief to what you have. You can tell those projects that are designed by mood board rather than ideas - they tend to be style driven and not particularly clear - as a practice this doesn’t really interest us.

TDC: What advice would you give to our members with regards to finding their own aesthetic and avoiding the ‘fashion’ focus that is currently dogging the industry?

BG: Do your research - and don’t seek an aesthetic.

Time & Location


DATE: Thursday 5th September 2019

TIME: 6.00 - 8.00 pm

LOCATION: Space & Time, 18-24 Baillie Street, North Melbourne

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