Q&A: Stephen Burks

Stephen Burks | LonnyIndustrial designer and Chicago native Stephen Burks has recently become the first American to join the all-star roster of contemporary furniture maker, Roche Bobois. Last month I met Burks at the French brand's NYC showroom for the unveiling of his newest collection, The Traveler. Seated in an intriguing pair of armchairs (pictured below) Burks and I discussed the places and things that most inspire his work.

What was the starting point for creating these chairs?
The Traveler project was inspired by a fascination with "the other world". The wild, completely natural fantasy of a place we all dream of going to one day. Artist Thomas Struth captured this ideal perfectly in his Paradise series. Since every aspect of our modern lives is mediated by technology, we wanted to make a chair that could somehow allow you to switch off and transport you.  

Did you reference any specific destinations or landscapes?
As a traveler myself, I've worked in South Africa, Senegal, Rwanda, Kenya, Haiti, Peru, Ghana, Colombia, India, the Philippines, and Mexico to name a few! The Traveler project is about Roche Bobois having an inspirational dialogue with all of its markets; Europe, America and every place in between.
The Traveler by Stephen Burks for Roche Bobois | Lonny
(The Traveler by Stephen Burks for Roche Bobois)
You traveled quite a bit with Roche Bobois's creative director, Nicholas Roche, while developing this collection.  Tell us about your dining experiences!
Nicolas is an Italian food connoisseur! He spared no expense to share with me some of the best meals I've ever had outside of my girlfriend's home in Italy. All of our meals were amazing, but the most memorable was when Nicolas ordered an additional oven roasted whole branzino, just because I wanted to try it and by the time it had been de-boned at the table. We all joked that the waiter had sold the other half to another table!

What artists did you love, growing up?

Being from Chicago, modernist art & architecture have always been my greatest influences. Artists like Sol Lewitt, Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly have always been inspiring. I draw upon their rigorous sense of geometry, systems and color all the time.

What artists are you excited about right now?
These days I follow my friends' work, like Brad Kahlhamer (possibly the only contemporary Native-American painter working at the top of the art world), Lynnette Yiadom-Boakye (an exciting young conceptual painter), and Mike Meire (Germany's top creative director in design is also an artist and a friend).

Art by Brad Kahlhamer, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Mike Meire | Lonny
Artwork by Brad Kahlhamer, Lynnette Yiadom-Boakye, and Mike Meire
What was the last book that you read, or exhibit you saw?
I'm currently fascinated by Charlotte Perriand and have been reading a small monograph of her work. I recently saw her installation in Paris at Cassina in collaboration with Louis Vuitton and thought it was an amazing mix of design, fashion and art!  My only regret was not buying the book. It weighed 50lbs, but I'm sure it would've been worth the workout.

If you weren't designing furniture, what would you be doing?
I'd be an artist for sure. I dream of actually having the time to develop my artistic practice in painting, photography & sculpture, so I try to express those dreams through design. Am I succeeding?

Stephen Burks | Lonny
Roche and Burks seated in a prototype for The Traveler collection.
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