Master Of The Handcrafted-Industrial Mix, Stephen Burks Talks Global Cultures And The Future Of Design


stephen burks

Stephen Burks, of Stephen Burks Man Made, reflects on the importance of authenticity in handmade products and keeping true to the culture of a product’s origin. As told to Jesse Bratter:

For decades, international design has almost exclusively referenced a European sensibility. But I’m interested in a more inclusive approach that considers other world cultures. In the early days of my career, I looked at travel as purely for inspiration. Once I began visiting the so-called more exotic regions of the world and creating with the people there, however, travel grew to be just as important an aspect of my designs as sketching. Going to places like Colombia, the Philippines and Senegal has become an inextricable part of my process and life.

My work with various artisan groups started when I was sought out by nonprofits like Aid To Artisans and Artesanías de Colombia to be a design consultant. But as I started to understand the role that commerce could play in benefitting these craftsmen, my manufacturing partners and I began to seek them out. I found my Senegalese basket-weaving artisans, for example, at a street fair in New York City’s West Village, and my long-term relationship with them has now included several collaborative trips to Africa to produce the Single and Triple Basket lamps and Material Composition 3 totem.

This desire to return to handmade objects is becoming more widespread, and I believe that luxury in the 21st century will be defined by more appropriate expressions of authentic craftsmanship. However, as luxury brands move into new markets, they’re increasingly introduced to new interpretations of what that means, and of technique and luxury itself. Authenticity shouldn’t be thought of as a marketing ingredient that can just be added to a production formula; it’s about being true to the culture of the product’s origin.

But there are always clever ways to combine the hand with industry; in fact, it’s the coming together of industrial manufacturing and handmade craftsmanship, two seemingly disparate modes of production, that is inherently contemporary and innovative. And with this new partnership, the role of designer is shifting, as he or she is becoming a collaborator for change. The designer of the future will be at the center of every discussion of new ideas and social progress.


This story originally appeared in the November/December 2015 national and regional issues of Luxe Interiors + Design.