“Everything you see has been designed.”

Interview with designer Stephen Kenn about vintage in a modern look.

Stephen Kenn, a designer from Los Angeles, is famous for it’s reduced, puristic designs. His philosophy is to combine authentic vintage materials with a modern language of shape. Especially the “Inheritance Collection” demonstrates impressively, how well he is able to reduce modest furniture to its essentials just to combine it stylistically confident with vintage materials. Stephen Kenn is convinced that great design should have the simplest and most functional shape possible and the used materials should convey the past into our time.

Stephen, did you ever want to become a designer?

I didn’t grow up with dreams of becoming a designer, but rather it was a slow process of acting upon the little ideas that would pop into my head. At first the ideas were for sewn and altered T-shirts, and then jeans, and then I began constructing bags and now I spend most of my time day dreaming about furniture. I love running around the city working with local contractors to bring these ideas to life. I hope to one day escalate these projects into something more architectural and art-driven.

What do you like most about your job?

I love design because I see it everywhere. Everything you see has been designed. I view the human interaction with products as a conversation that culture is having with the world. When someone creates a product or a piece of artwork it will remain long past that designer’s lifetime. What we make will tell future generations what we valued.

How do you get inspiration for your work?

I ask myself: How would I solve that problem? I don’t view problems as bad things but rather opportunities for creativity to manifest. I like revisiting basic every day problems. Right now I am working on an expandable dining table and I’m really excited to present it this May at the (New York) International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

Do you never fear that you might not be able to solve these problems?

My greatest contribution will come if I ignore the feelings of failure and take risks to make beautiful and functional objects. When I am designing I feel like anything is possible.

That sounds like freedom.

Freedom is a great word. It describes the feeling I get when I’m on a motorcycle. In my work and my life there are a few things that compare with that free feeling on a motorcycle.

Since when are you fascinated about motorcycles?

I was living in Los Angeles and met a girl from Portland, who is now my wife. She encouraged me to learn to ride and buy a bike: my 1975 Honda 360 café style.  After I began riding, I started to learn about the many little things that can break on old vintage bikes. After doing some repairs myself, and then finding people to help me fix the things I didn’t understand, was a great process that introduced me to a lot of people in Los Angeles who have become great friends. Which brings me to one of my favourite things about motorcycles: I love the community that forms around riding.

Do you have a special place you have been to?

This September my wife and I spent five days riding through the Highlands of Scotland on the BMW GS700. I have never experienced beauty so large in my life. I felt like I was on another planet.

And which place to you still want to see?

The next trip that we are interested in taking is in Australia this fall and we hope to ride BMW bikes for that trip as well. I’m from Canada and have driven through the Rocky Mountains a few times and have always dreamed of making that pass on a motorcycle.

What would a perfect day with the R nineT Scrambler look like?

Ideally, I would wake up really early and pack some food and hit the road heading up the coast, and cut inland into some of the canyons and find a great vantage point to eat and then just cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway by the water. I love that ride.

What does motorcycling mean to you?

Being able to both work and play at the same time.

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Stephen Kenn owns a studio in Los Angeles since 2011, together with his wife. There he mainly designs furniture and leather products. Driven by curiosity, he is experimenting with shapes and materials to reduce objects to their essentials. He gets his best inspirations while riding on his bike.

He understands each of his design projects as experiment. In the very beginning is always the search for new materials, shapes and processes. And the search for a significant story. This way functional objects with modern shapes and high quality materials get created – all “Made in Downtown L.A.”.

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