written by:
March 11, 2014
We're thrilled to announce this year's keynote speaker for Dwell's annual design conference in June 2014: Meet irrepressible New York City-based industrial designer Stephen Burks.
Stephen Burks Manhattan Readymade Projects studio Dwell on Design
Stephen Burks in his Manhattan studio. Photo by Brian W. Ferry.
Courtesy of 
Brian W. Ferry
Stephen Burks Manhattan Readymade Projects studio Dwell on Design
Stephen Burks in his Manhattan studio. Photo by Brian W. Ferry.

Through his New York–based industrial design studio, Readymade Projects, Stephen Burks has developed products for brands like B&B Italia, Estée Lauder, and Missoni. Burks will serve as the keynote speaker at Dwell on Design 2014 in Los Angeles, where he will discuss that work as well as his efforts to bridge the worlds of ground-level craft and high-end design.

This work has reached its fullest expression in Burks’s Man Made collaboration and with Senegalese basket weavers and, more recently, his DALA line of outdoor furniture for Dedon. The lounge chairs, ottomans, and stools in this collection are made by weavers in a factory in the Philippines. Burks encourages the artisans to introduce subtle variations in the weaving, making each piece unique.

He sat down with Dwell to tell us more ahead of his appearance at the show. 

How did the “Man Made” series originate?

The name “Man Made” comes from a Studio Musuem exhibition in 2011, which was specifically about Senegalese basket weaving. That was the starting point: one country, one people, one craft. At first I tried to design the patterns, but it really is a collaboration; there is no way of controlling what the artisans are going to make. Until I arrived in that village outside of Dakar, they had never worked from a drawing before. The artisans weave not only the pattern and form but the color, all from memory. It's very improvised, and technically super difficult to do!

What about Dedon, for whom you created the Dala collection?

The collaboration with Dedon began because of Man Made. The creative director saw the Studio Museum show and saw that I grasped texture, craft, and color. Dedon produces 300 pieces of furniture a day by hand in the Philippines. I couldn’t believe the level of expertise. A brand like Dedon epitomizes the level of investment in technique—to make a product that is both unique and fully recognizable in the language of contemporary design. I insist upon going there and working hand in hand with artisans for a week [at a time]. I consider my practice workshop-based, instead of staying in my studio and sending drawings. The closer we get to making, the more influence we have as designers. The entire collection, including the breakthrough of weaving through an aluminum structure, happened in the field in tandem with the weavers and the R&D department.

How do you structure your design practice?

We are four people now; soon to be six. In the studio, we make prototypes and we explore things as much as we can. We're becoming more and more hands on. Everything happens in one room, in three parts: Readymade Projects design consultancy, which I incorporated ten years ago, is mostly for the luxury packaging world and some interior design projects. Then there’s just me, Stephen Burks, a designer working in a traditional way. I've got Man Made, too, whose image is starting to affect everything I do. Not that I want to get pigeonholed, but people see me now and expect a basket! It's a little bit scary, because when did that become my mandate? At the same time, it's cool to have a recognizable vocabulary.

What is your goal for your studio?

Ultimately, I'm trying to merge all of these into one project. Like for Harry Winston: I don't know how I convinced them to do a hand-carved stone jewelry box, but that's what I do! My dream client would be Hermès. That's my ideal, to get closer to how these master artisans in New York are working, and convince them it's not that much different than how a kid in South Africa is working. 

Hear Stephen Burks in conversation with Dwell Editor-in-Chief Amanda Dameron on Friday, June 20, at 6 p.m. at Dwell on Design.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016