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Stephen Keen founder of SK Studio | Image: Dan Johnson

As consumers, we’re drawn to authenticity. We appreciate quality well-made pieces that become part of our lives; ageing and adapting along the way.

We aspire to fill our homes with objects that carry a meaning or tell a story over mass-produced items that are perfectly identical. We seek connection and perhaps subconsciously, we embrace simplicity.

SK Studio offers its consumers this and more. The small design team based in Los Angeles are known for crafting well-made pieces for home and travel. Here we share a conversation with Stephen Kenn, founder of SK Studio.

Can you share with our readers the story behind SK Studio?

I’m originally from Canada and moved to LA in 2004 to pursue a dream of starting a denim brand with my best friend. Almost immediately I fell in love with the city, and with designing and making products locally. The whole city felt like a treasure hunt to find good materials and talented craftsmen. The jean company lead me down a path of curiosity and I arrived at making bags out of vintage military canvas and leather. I did that for a few years and then in late 2011 my wife and I started the brand ‘Stephen Kenn’ together.

I started with a design I had for a sofa, which I had arrived at after ripping our personal sofa apart while my wife was at work (I probably should have asked), but that allowed me to rethink how it was made, what the basic structure was. My goal was to make it simpler and use materials that would wear well and visually tell an interesting and transparent story.

Stephen Keen founder of SK Studio | Image: Dan Johnson
Stephen Keen founder of SK Studio | Image: Dan Johnson

How would you describe SK Studio today?

Today, 6 years later I am still allowing my curiosity to lead the way. We are a small team of 6 and so everyone on our team wears multiple hats. Each person is deeply valuable in their own way, and we try to help each other as much as we can. We eat breakfast together every Monday and go over the week so everyone is on the same page. We place huge value on communication and community.

What is the SK design philosophy?

Years ago I told myself that “Good design should embody the simplest, most functional form and the materials used should wear well into the future.” I still believe this to be true but I’m allowing myself to embrace some more playful forms and experiment with new processes. I think in the beginning I was very safe and I’m trying to become a little more reckless with my ‘design philosophy’. I want to allow my design ideas to grow and change over the course of my life.

What is it about the WWII military fabrics that inspired you to use them to create something new as part of The Inheritance Collection?

A few years after moving to LA I discovered a very large military surplus warehouse. I wandered the skinny hallways and climbed up onto piles of vintage clothing, bags and fabric for hours at a time. The materials felt sacred and I felt a deep conviction to give them a second life. I’m not a fan of war by any means but found myself deeply impressed with the craftsmanship of the objects that were designed to withstand a lot of abuse. They were begging to be liberated from this dusty warehouse and be put on display for others to appreciate.

Your products all seem to tell a story and appear to get better with age, like a bottle of wine. Is that your intention?

In a very romantic sense yes, I love the idea of making things that people adopt into their lives and consider them being worthy of repair if they ever should need that. Although unlike a bottle of aged wine, time actually takes a toll on the bags and furniture that we make. It’s natural to see some wear. But by using materials that will handle that aging well I think the pieces morph and change into something new, something that needed the owner and his traveling to give it a good patina.

And in my romanticized version of this story, these objects are then passed along to the next generation and appreciated in a way that reminds them of the person who they inherited them from.

…In my romanticized version of this story, these objects are then passed along to the next generation and appreciated in a way that reminds them of the person who they inherited them from.

We love that you are well connected with the makers and suppliers of your products. Is that ingrained in SK Studio and how do you think that benefits you as a designer and us as consumers compared to the more mass marketed products?

Thank you. I love being connected with such talented people. The culture that I’m working to create within our studio is definitely an appreciation for the craftsmen as well as a transparency for our consumers. When I started out I respectfully asked everyone we work with if we could document the process of working with them. Over the years who we work with has changed, and so there are different levels of comfort with documentation and transparency. We have the upmost respect for everyone we work with but don’t want to exploit what they do to sell a product. In fact, one of the most vulnerable things we do as a studio is open up our home twice a month for public events like our coffee clubs and cocktail clubs. This is designed for customers, fans and friends to all mix together and learn from one another in hopes of this big city feeling a little smaller.

Can you describe “BDCC” and the idea behind the concept?

Back Door Coffee Club… or BDCC for short. When we first started the brand a clear goal was that we wanted our furniture to be used for conversations and the best way we found to do that was to open up the roll-up garage door at the back of our loft and invite people in to join us for either coffee or cocktails. There have been a few different seasons of this. Originally we served coffee every morning and then we hosted once a week for coffee and once a week for cocktails and now we open the doors twice a month and for the occasional special event. It’s the best way that we have found to build an authentic and organic community in LA.