You never know when inspiration might strike. It could even happen while doing something as mundane as looking for a laundromat… In 2011, LA-based designer Stephen Kenn was out doing just that: driving around east LA looking for a place to do his laundry. He turned into a parking lot simply to make a U-turn, when something caught his eye. “I saw all of this military stuff spilling out of a big garage door,” Stephen recalls. And that was all it took to pique his curiosity and beckon him closer to explore. “I poked my head in through this black little door and this guy off to the left was like, ‘Can I help you?’” After 10 minutes of chit chat the man said, “Well, what are you waiting for? Just go look around!”
It was love at first forage. “It felt like the truest form of a museum,” Stephen says, “because you could just pick anything up and look at it.” Tents, bags, boots, ration kits, all shoved into a huge double story warehouse and all right at his fingertips.
“I started going on Saturdays and spending hours and hours and hours there, and just looking for specific things that kind of spoke to me.” He’d then take his haul to someone up front who’d count it out and ask for a measly 20 or 30 bucks in return.
Stephen originally moved to LA from Canada as an eager 20-year-old to start a jean company called Iron Army. But once he quite literally stumbled across the military supply warehouse, he felt pulled in another direction. He thought to himself, “You know, this could be really interesting for upholstery.” So what did he do next? He dismantled his wife’s favorite reading chair.
“I wanted to learn how this chair was made, so I took your chair apart!” he told his wife, Beks, when she came home from work that night. What might not have been the most chivalrous move on his part ended up becoming a pivotal moment in Stephen’s design process–and Beks has learned to forgive him.
“When I ripped it apart, I fell in love with the wooden structure that was hidden, and then the springs that were now exposed and all the internal guts,” Stephen says like the design nerd that he proudly is. “I thought, this would be really interesting to kind of simplify the form, show the mechanics of how it’s made, but then also use materials that are just very exposed and open.”
Cut to: the present day, and the Stephen Kenn Studio is a thriving design company in downtown Los Angeles that crafts unique pieces for the home and travel, mostly out of recycled military materials. The couple are co-founders who run the show together, with Stephen as the Designer and Creative Director, and Beks as the Brand Director. Their work remains true to Stephen’s initial affinity toward stripping away frivolous design elements and maintaining the transparency of how something is constructed.
“I’m really interested in atypical upholstery materials,” says Stephen, and it doesn’t get much more atypical than old tents from World War I and II salvaged from a warehouse. Stephen describes his infatuation with the military material as “an attraction to the obvious history and the significance of this fabric.” He found that seeing it in the context of a dusty, dark warehouse hidden from the outside world was such a shame. And while the positive environmental impact of using recycled materials is an added bonus, that isn’t his main purpose for using it. “This material is actually a more interesting material than a canvas that’s brand new,” he says. “I was more attracted to the idea of the story that it told.”
The love Stephen has for the materials he works with shows, and people from all over the world are eager to have a piece of his in their home, business, or hotel. That’s how we discovered him! As luck would have it, a Stephen Kenn sofa appeared in one of our boutique homes, The Spronken House in Les Useres, Spain. Right away, we knew we had to uncover the stunning sofa’s story and talk to artist behind it.
Stephen credits much of his growth as a designer to the travel his work has allowed him. “It’s really expanded my mind in terms of how design is done on a global level,” he says. “From visiting different design fairs in Milan, or going to Japan, and just seeing things that I think have really informed what we do now and why we do what we do.” He also attributes much of his inspiration to Scandinavian design, citing visits to Amsterdam, Sweden, and Copenhagen.
Stephen and Beks have built a worldwide creative community with the people they’ve met through their travels. “When you do start to travel and you do make an object,” Stephen says, “it connects you with people you would have otherwise never really had a foot in the door with. And we can’t wait to host people too!”
This urge has led to their latest ambitious project of creating an experiential showroom in the loft next to their studio. “It’s a direct result of going to this trade show in Milan, and seeing design being presented on the best scale, and feeling like we need to bring this home to LA,” says Stephen. He felt compelled to not only elevate the level of his own work, but to inspire other young designers in LA to do the same. They project a February 2019 opening for the loft, which will be available for rent through us at BoutiqueHomes!
We now proudly sell Stephen Kenn Studio designs on our BoutiqueHomes Marketplace, and their throw pillows, travel bags, and sofas are available for view and purchase at our BoutiqueHomes showroom in Topanga Canyon.