Made by Cohen

June 16, 2011

A passion for honest materials and a sense of simplicity drive the work of Melbourne-based interior designer, Susie Cohen.

It’s easy to forget the inherent value of time, as we often ‘take it’ to realise a great project. Constraining us with tight schedules and deadlines, time often has its way with us. Yet the thing about time is that if you mind it too much, it just pushes you to achieve efficiency and little more. With the more bespoke projects, time rarely seems to be on our side. It’s almost important not to care in some cases. While some may rack their brains trying to beat the clock – for whatever we take that to mean – it’s fair to say a good designer knows how to embrace time as part of an essential list of elements, all of which are needed for an amazing project to take shape.

Susie Cohen understands this reality when it comes to achieving a truly successful result, and her use of time is most certainly an important part of the process. Her work wouldn’t be what it is otherwise. The recent homes of Made By Cohen are a good example of what some of us have been referring to as ‘slow design’.

“I am not negligent towards time in the design process, in fact it’s quite the opposite,” she says. “The notion of slow design and taking the time to create with care and with a more conscious effort seems to be a core value in the way I work these days. Every job I take on, I like to throw myself at 100 percent and, as a result, prefer to design just two or three amazing projects with wonderful briefs. I can really apply myself and enjoy the creative journey this way, as opposed to taking on every job that falls in my lap and feeling frustrated and torn. With each new job, the seed is planted and, if you’re excited about the project, it naturally becomes a part of your life and daily thought process. For me, ‘slow design’ is an approach to create a more fluid design process. It’s about taking on less in order to achieve more.”

For a designer who’s currently in the midst of mastering the art of home, those words come naturally to Cohen, and she delivers them with sincere conviction. The thought alone clearly illustrates a strong value for close relationships with her patrons. Engaging with her words, Cohen seems about ready to hit her prime. Her first real project to embody all the elemental ideals of a Made By Cohen design was her own family’s home. She took a 1920s warehouse (16 by 10 metres) in Prahran she had bought with her partner in 2006, and intelligently turned it into a modern family haven. Over a total of 16 months, what was once a traditional photo studio would ultimately turn into her family’s first domestic dwelling.

In the context of the project’s demands, Cohen didn’t make time irrelevant, but rather an essential component of the equation. However it was on her time. And she was bound to seriously convert their home into what she ideally wanted. The investment made sense, she says. “It enabled the home to reach its full potential. Thoughtful preparation and planning takes good time.”

Cohen expresses this appreciation for time, confessing that no matter what else a good project may take, investing in the details – such as exploratory structure analysis, or converting a layout completely – is a fair part of the investment. A designer that commits to a vision that develops with her client, when it’s time to execute, Cohen focuses completely on realising the grand scheme at hand.

With her priority on the quality of projects, and not so much on the quantity, Cohen has also come to terms with the fact that she’s not aiming to be a prolific young designer, but simply a great one, appreciated for what she does best in exposing the raw, elemental beauty of a structure – and creating the subtle details that accentuate all the potential of an interior space.

Making the most of a limited space within her family’s Prahran warehouse, Cohen tapped a few key sources of natural light. She did this carefully, making sure the space would receive what it needed, but mindful not to flood areas with unabated light. With the Prahran warehouse alone, a personal project perhaps most emblematic of Cohen’s work, she has proven early on to be an intuitive designer, making good use of an existing architectural framework while incorporating raw, natural elements wherever possible. She now keeps working on such renovations in the same way.

“Made By Cohen only works with builders who also command a high level of workmanship with a similar philosophy. Often they only work on one renovation at a time, which means they’re 100 percent focused on the job,” she says. “Made By Cohen also likes working with true craftsman in their field. This is key.”

When confronted by a brick wall in her Prahran home, Cohen broke open the roof in strategic areas, enough to give it new life and a fresh spirit. The lightness in the space not only keeps the backbone of the structure intact, but actually improves it tremendously, while still retaining its original integrity.

Taking out what was once a photography darkroom – true, however unbelievable it may sound – Cohen discovered through exploratory demolition that the entire backend of the home could receive a healthy amount of natural light, encouraging her to create an extension out of practically nothing. Tactics like this make almost obvious sense in the context of modern metropolitan renovations, but the reality is not all of us are implementing them yet. Then again, she has learned well.

The early half of Cohen’s experience in this industry was also time well-invested, working with two of Australia’s finest – Sue Carr and Chris Connell. Her choice of mentors alone may indicate a calibre of work that she’s grown used to developing. As Made By Cohen, however, Cohen noticed early on that she was focusing strongly on residential work because she enjoyed the process, and with good reason – she was having her first child when she went independent.

“My partner and children really helped clarify and solidify this direction for me, and I suppose that’s how the idea of home and comfort became such an important part of the design philosophy for Made By Cohen,” she says. “In the future, I look forward to expanding my practice, but only if these same core design principles can be applied – to maintain designing with a sense of simplicity, with great importance placed on beautifully executed details, the use of nature light, and working with honest materials which age gracefully over time.”


  • Susie Miles June 16th, 2011 7:49 am

    I really like the simplicity and clean lines in this project.
    As an interior designer working for myself, I am looking to collaborate with other like-minded designers on projects in the future !

Leave a Reply

Sign up to Australian Design Review's Newsletter

Receive the latest:

  • news, insights, opinions from the interior design and architecture community
  • coverage on latest projects, videos and new products updates
  • events and job listings.

Sign up now!

Sign up to the newsletter