At home with Stephen Burks: inside the American designer’s Brooklyn duplex

A Chicago native, New York-based designer Stephen Burks, part of the Wallpaper* USA 300, talks about his home, favourite objects, upcoming shows, and ‘Dadding around’

Stephen Burks at home with
(Image credit: Courtesy Stephen Burks)

American designer Stephen Burks was born in Chicago and is now based in New York, where he leads design studio Stephen Burks Man Made. Working across design disciplines, Burks merges his industrial design practice with craft, while importantly advocating for diversity in design. The results of this approach include the popular ‘Kida’ hanging and swinging lounge chair for outdoor specialist Dedon (available at WallpaperStore*), and his collection created in collaboration with students of Kentucky’s Berea College, as part of the Student Craft initiative he leads at the school. 

Burks is featured in our Wallpaper* USA 300 – a guide to creative America – and to mark the occasion, he offers us a peek into his Brooklyn home, and talks about his favourite objects, books, music and more. 

Interview: at home with Stephen Burks

Stephen Burks at home with

'My portrait by Caroline Tompkins, fellow Wallpaper USA 300 alumna, featuring my Gehry “Wiggle” side chair, Dedon “Kida” swing, and Viviane Sassen photo in the foreground,' says Burks

(Image credit: Caroline Tompkins)

Wallpaper*: Where do you currently live?

Stephen Burks: I live in Brooklyn, NY, in a neighbourhood just south of downtown Brooklyn called Boerum Hill with my partner and my son. We jokingly call it Boredom Thrill because it’s quite safe and predictable, but every now and then we’ll see Ethan Hawke or Ewan MacGregor around the corner!

W*: How would you describe your home?

SB: Our home is an early 20th-century bakery converted into two loft-like apartments, a two-bedroom duplex with a small terrace (our place) and a one-bedroom above (our neighbour’s). My teenage son’s room is upstairs off the living room near the garden and the terrace, while my partner and I sleep downstairs off the library/family room.

W* What’s the story behind your favourite piece of furniture?

SB: Like many designers, I have so many favourite pieces of furniture that it’s hard to talk about just one. The more I live with my own things, the more I realise how much I enjoy groups of objects working in concert around a particular activity, or what is casually called decorating. For example, my Frank Gehry fluorescent orange ‘Wiggle’ chair next to my painted Indian elephant and Castiglioni ‘Toio’ lamp really hold down one corner of the living room. Or my little Mattias Selden David Bowie stool with my Noguchi ‘Akari’ floor lamp next to my West African Nimba is a kind of meeting of the spiritual minds.

Stephen Burks’ living room

'In the living room: my Roche Bobois ‘Planete’ sofa, large Paul Mpagi Sepuya photo, Grasso and Muecke block in the foreground, self-portrait by my son Anwar at the edge of the frame'

(Image credit: Courtesy Stephen Burks)

W*: How do you start your days?

SB: I love dreaming, sleeping, and waking up very slowly. Often, I’ll wander into the living room and check in with the day. Is Anwar awake? Did it rain? How are the plants doing? Just generally Dadding around. Most days the house feels calm and sunlight is streaming through the clerestory windows above the kitchen, which signals things are gonna be alright.

W*: What do you do to relax?

SB: I’m very sensitive to the overall energy at home. Having the lights dimly on in the daytime relaxes me. Or just hearing the sounds of nature outside. Oftentimes, I’ll open the terrace door regardless of the weather and let the breeze in and sometimes I’ll burn an incense.

Fish carving on red stool at Stephen Burks’ home

Ceramic Japanese fish atop David Bowie stool by Mattias Selden

(Image credit: Courtesy Stephen Burks)

W* Where and when do you find that you are most productive?

SB: I can be productive anywhere, but how I work varies. In the studio, I’m very focused. While at home, I love the inspiring distraction of too many things to look at and too many books to read.

W*: What are you reading at the moment?

SB: The beautiful new Gaetano Pesce tome The Complete Incoherence by my buddy Glenn Adamson, Seven Logics of Sculpture by Ernst van Alphen, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, and a mountain of magazines from all over the world.

Stephen Burks at home with

'My “Horizon” shelving system and some very important books'

(Image credit: Courtesy Stephen Burks)

W*: What’s on your playlist?

SB: The solo work of a guitarist named Jeff Parker from my hometown of Chicago, who also plays with Tortoise.

W*: What do you collect?

SB: Everything, especially the design objects of my peers. It’s great to live with other people’s work. But in a serious way, mostly contemporary photography.

W*: If Wallpaper* came for dinner, what would you cook?

SB: Pancakes! I never really learned to cook. I’m still at the breakfast stage of my education.

Sculptural shelving at Stephen Burks’ home

Burks’s Ancestors Prototype, 2023, with Luminator by Achille Castiglioni for Flos in the background

(Image credit: Courtesy Stephen Burks)

W*: What has been your most meaningful collaboration recently?

SB: Our solo exhibition, ‘Shelter in Place’ at the High Museum was life changing and truly helped define a new direction for our practice. It’s now traveling to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and will open on 18 November 2023.

Even sooner, though, we’re showing a new collection of handmade Spirit Houses in our first solo exhibition with Volume Gallery, opening on 8 September in Chicago.

W*: What’s the last object you bought? 

SB: An even more anthropomorphic funny little Mattias Sellden piece. In many ways, he’s a sculptor bringing life to wood in the world of design. 

furnture detail in Stephen Burks' home

Burks’s Grasso armchair and ottoman by BD Barcelona, 2018

(Image credit: Courtesy Stephen Burks)

W*: Where was a place you visited recently that inspired you?

SB: We were just at the 18th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, entitled the Laboratory of the Future. It was fascinating to see the world’s response to the first female African curator [Lesley Lokko] asking the question, ‘Why not Africa?’ in reference to how we think about who architecture is for, who participates, and what are the limits of its current Eurocentric definition.

W*: What advice would you give to the next generation of designers?

SB: Be free and collaborative!

Stephen Burks

'A photo by Caroline Tompkins for Shelter in Place, showing our Spirit House prototype and my family'

(Image credit: Caroline Tompkins)

Stephen Burks home

'My Frank Gehry fluorescent orange Wiggle chair next to my painted Indian elephant'

(Image credit: Courtesy Stephen Burks)

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.