Treasure & Bond Stories | Stephen Kenn Builds Furniture & Community
When furniture designer Stephen Kenn and his wife Beks moved into their industrial loft on McGarry Street in downtown Los Angeles, the roll-up garage door—a holdover from the space’s furniture factory days—came with an unexpected perk. When it was up, says Stephen, “it made it really easy for people to walk in off the street and have coffee or hang out.”
And so Backdoor Coffee and Cocktail Club was born. One morning every month, Stephen opens the door and pours coffee for anyone happening by in the mood for a cup and a chat. And one Friday night a month, the door rolls open for artisan cocktails. But it isn’t just the free beverages that draw the crowds; people come for the conversations and connections.
We were drawn in, too. The authenticity and attitude of the space (and its owner) made it the ideal scene for the spring 2018 Treasure & Bond campaign photo shoot. Plus, it came with a dreamy rooftop, gorgeous interiors and great conversation.
Twice a month you treat your neighborhood to coffee or cocktails. How’d that happen?
Originally we were going to use that loft to make furniture in. It was going to be our live-work studio. It had a big roll-up garage door that opened up to this back alley. The idea was to bring materials in and out through that door. We quickly realized that we didn’t want to actually manufacture where we lived, so we created a wall separating this front area with the little coffee bar, and started throwing daily coffee mornings for anybody who wanted to come in. We would get into these great conversations. It was a lot of fun, until it got so busy that I had to tailor it back to Monday morning coffees. And then we started doing cocktails on Friday nights. Now we do a monthly coffee and a monthly cocktail party.
And anyone can come?
Yeah. Ultimately, we’re trying to figure out ways to bridge the gap between people staying inside and going out to restaurants and clubs. It’s a middle ground that’s not a coffee shop—we call it a coffee club because we say everybody in here is fair game. Like, you can walk up to anybody and say “hey.” At a coffee shop there is an unspoken rule to mind your own business, you know? It’s a bit like an extrovert dream space, but we get a lot of people who are introverted that say “this is so healthy for me,” and “I need this, even if it’s only for a couple of hours of my month.”
Have you seen any relationships or collaborations come to life at these things?
Oh my gosh, yes, so many. I’ve met a ton of interior designers, architects and clients who have come through the door. But my favorite thing is, hands-down, seeing two people walk in, and I know both of them but they don’t know each other. And I say “so-and-so, you need to meet so-and-so.” Then months later they’re working together and I’ll say, “how did you guys meet?” And they’re like, “are you kidding me, we met here!” So that’s really fun—seeing other people get to know each other.
You seem to have a thing for open doors. I read somewhere that you stop into places randomly, like garages and workshops, just to see what’s going on. True?
Yeah, as soon as I started designing furniture, I started visiting furniture factories, to see how it’s made. And then from having an understanding of how it was made, I think “how do we reverse engineer this and break all the rules, to an extent. I’ve been mapping all of Los Angeles in terms of what warehouses do. And when they don’t have signs, I always park and poke my head in and just ask questions, like, “oh, you guys are an aluminum foundry. Would you ever work on a project for a chair frame?” And you know, they’re not on Google. They’re not even in the Yellow Pages. You would never find these people.
Would you say that sometimes collaboration is as much the goal as the furniture?
Yeah. I would. I would say as well that it’s really important for products to help facilitate community, and I think that that happens oftentimes when people use them. The reason I love furniture is because if it were never used, it would be completely worthless. But as soon as people sit down on it and have a conversation, if they’re comfortable, the conversation’s gonna go well and last a little bit longer.
Thanks for having us for the Treasure & Bond shoot, by the way. What’s it like to watch a crew be creative in your creative space?
Yeah, it’s interesting. All of a sudden the spaces that I would consider to be really sacred and thoughtful become a blank canvas. The team puts up big poster boards and inspiration. All the chairs get reconfigured. They put a plant over here and a bed over there, and you’re like “whoa, weird, you know.” And then they break it down and move on to the next thing. Somebody is scouting the location where you’re gonna ride motorcycles. The other person is looking for fire escapes to have the models lean off of, and then somebody’s like, “hey, can we get a rooftop?” I really love seeing a production team move because they move so fast. They all know what to do next without mentioning it.
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