We caught up with American multi-disciplinary talent Stephen Burks, who shares his design philosophy, unique artisanal approach and latest collaboration with DEDON exclusively available via Australia’s Cosh Living.
American creative Stephen Burks was already gaining momentum in the global design community when he was awarded the Wallpaper Outdoor Living Award for his now-iconic KIDA Hanging Lounger design. A multi-disciplinary at heart, Stephen is also the founding principal of Stephen Burks Man Made, a ‘hands-on, collaborative design studio invested in the transformative power of craft techniques that challenge the limits of new technologies within industrial production.’
With an impressive portfolio encompassing furniture design alongside installations, lighting, packaging, and product design for some of the world’s leading brands, Stephen’s dedication to preserving the future of artisans and handicrafts has influenced his design thinking and resulted in a compelling body of work, including three award-winning collections for DEDON. Available exclusively at Cosh Living in Australia, Stephen Burk’s Kida Hanging Chair and his other collections for DEDON are available to experience on the Cosh Living showroom floors in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.
Speaking with est from his New York-based studio, Stephen talks us through his design philosophy, processes and the inspiration behind his latest collaborations with DEDON.
In partnership with Cosh Living – the exclusive retailer of DEDON in Australia.
You are considered a leading talent in American design. Where did your passion for design stem from?
Stephen Burks: I’ve always been interested in things. Things, not objects, have a soul and are embedded with the experiences of our lives. They help define us, our ways of life, and our histories.
How did your foundational training in industrial design and architecture inform the creation of your collaborative studio, Stephen Burks Man Made?
Stephen Burks: I’ve always believed everyone is capable of design. The studio and our workshop-based practice are collaborative by nature. In a conscious effort to eschew the 20th-century notion of the designer as auteur, we focus on our relationships with the communities of artisans we work with to develop the work. If industrial design is defined as design for industry, then my education taught me what to resist in a sense. Industrial design lacks humanity to me. I’m interested in how industry can also be crafty to create objects that say more than the industry can say alone.
“DEDON has been instrumental in allowing me to develop and express my philosophy of design. DEDON was the first brand to invite me into the factory to collaborate directly with the research and development team and consequently, the master weavers.”
– Stephen Burks
Honouring timeless craft techniques, materials and culture all play equally important roles in many of your designs. Can you talk a little more about why these principles are influential to your pieces/collections?
Stephen Burks: The principles of technique, materiality, and culture define what design is for me. Outside of the Western notions of what design is, the rest of the world is more in touch with the connections between communities and what they produce. There is legibility of culture that fascinates me. The way a thing can tell you how it was made and by whom.
What do you often consider to be the most overlooked element in crafting a new product?
Stephen Burks: The body is probably the most overlooked aspect of a new product. Design is often made without considering its interaction with the body or the activities of the body. I try to remind myself to start with the body rather than with a material or material innovation. It’s the body and the hand that we attempt to express and that we hope to communicate.
You have a long-standing relationship with DEDON, which has led to several prolific collections. How did this collaboration initially arise?
Stephen Burks: Just after opening my solo exhibition Stephen Burks: Man Made at the Studio Museum in Harlem, I was at Salone del Mobile in Milan and shared my catalogue with DEDON’s art director. It was clear that there was a connection between DEDON’s “Tour de Monde” and my early Senegalese basket weaving.
DEDON is dedicated to exploring traditional crafts and artisanal textiles. Can you speak to the alignment between Dedon and your own philosophies?
Stephen Burks: DEDON has been instrumental in allowing me to develop and express my philosophy of design. DEDON was the first brand to invite me into the factory to collaborate directly with the research and development team and consequently, the master weavers. As a result, our DEDON collections have been developed collaboratively in Cebu and the Philippines – directly with the artisans there. Ahnda, Dala, Kida and The Others all began with just a sketch and came to life during hands-on workshops in the factory.
When developing the KIDA Hanging Lounger in collaboration with DEDON, what was the design process like working alongside their team?
Stephen Burk: Kida was initially intended to be completely woven, and it just didn’t work. The prototypes were just too dense. I wanted them to be lighter, so the master weavers and I cut away the weaving and began to resolve the idea of only wrapping them. We worked very closely over the course of the week to resolve all of the colours, details and intersections until it was beautiful. As with my first collection, Dala, the breakthrough was only possible in collaboration with the master weavers.
“The principles of technique, materiality, and culture define what design is for me. Outside of the Western notions of what design is, the rest of the world is more in touch with the connections between communities and what they produce.”
– Stephen Burks