I came across Stephen Sheffield’s work when one of my favourite photographer’s Adam Hollier introduced me to it following a shoot. Resurface Designs breathes new life into old furniture and creates one-off designs for contemporary interiors. Steve and I talked model-making, alien space ships and the lure of azure…
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
I suppose that I have been quite lucky to have had such variety in my working background. I have had the good fortune to design and make items for museums and also to use museum archives on a daily basis to direct what I make. I’ve repaired robots on alien spaceships, and made bombs for Steven Spielberg and there can’t be many people who can say that. As a commercial & industrial model-maker I have been exposed to many different materials and manufacturing processes. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with some amazingly gifted people. I’d like to think that some of this has infused into what I’m doing today with Resurface Designs.
What inspires you? Where do the bold graphics and bright colours come from?
Nature mostly. I love the fact that on the surface most natural forms look chaotic and random, but if you scratch the surface, there seems to be order and design to everything. There’s geometry and technical detail all around us, and I like the thought that if you look close enough at anything you can find inspiration. Natural colours also inspire me. I’ve never seen a painting or representation of a flower or plant which has faithfully captured the depth of its colour.
Talk me through your design process – how do you get from that initial spark of inspiration to a final product?
I try to visualise the spark as fully as possible. I sketch and do the development with the piece of furniture in front of me. I think around the idea, and explore a lot of dead ends before the solution starts to firm up, and only when I’ve got the concept pretty much worked through do I get the computer out. From there I like to build a 3D digital model so that I can fully explore different colours, textures and finishes. Working like this, I can achieve a highly realistic visualisation from any angle and I can use this to evaluate the finished item before it’s even been built.
What is it about upcycling vintage furniture that appeals to you? What was the first thing you ever upcycled?
I’m more used to making things from scratch, so upcycling is a bit of a departure for me, but a happy one. It’s not so much a green issue, but more of a common sense issue. There is plenty of perfectly good, well made furniture out there which is just forgotten about and allowed to decay in favour of mass produced contemporary design. This just seems wrong to me. Western culture seems to have arrived at a point where we are happy to discard the perfectly fit and start over again. You’ve only got to go to your local tip on a Saturday morning to see people queuing up to throw things away, but I’m very much a believer that objects have an intrinsic value and sometimes you just need to look at things in a different light. Equally, I may just be a hoarder!
Tell me about a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Stephen Sheffield?
I’m a big fan of lists… I find that they help focus my day’s work into what’s important and what’s critical. I have been known to be forgetful on occasion and a good list for me can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. I’m involved in every aspect of every piece of furniture that goes out of the door, so every day has different design tasks, processes and purchases to stay on top of. On a good day I strike everything off my list and maybe even have time to upload images of what I’ve been up to onto social media. I’m very reluctant to leave a bad day as a bad day, and will often put in extra hours to try to rectify things if it’s something physical that I can resolve with more time. However, this isn’t ideal with a young family, and is probably a hang up from my model-making years – one which I hope to kick.
What are you most proud of?
Professionally, probably a series of museum grade replica sewing machines I was involved in making a few years ago. These were for Brother Industries in Nagoya, Japan. I was part of a company called The Glue Factory and we made scientific exhibits & props for museums & films. There were so many different materials and techniques used here that they had become a kind of hybrid of artisan craftwork with modern production and chemical processes. We were well aware that this kind of mix of treatments could quite easily be the project’s undoing but because we had a very good grasp of what we were trying to achieve, they looked fantastic and became a great advert for the diverse range of processes and materials we understood.
What advice would you give to an aspiring furniture designer?
Keep going – listen to others and yourself.
What defines good design?
The phrase, ‘Why hasn’t someone done that before?’ – keeping it simple and relevant
Who are your design heroes?
Many and varied but they definitely include: Thomas Heatherwick, Charles & Ray Eames, Syd Mead, James Dyson and Saul Bass.
And finally, what’s your favourite colour?!
Further reading for the especially geeky:
Product photography by Adam Hollier.
Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.
See more of Katie's Posts