The Art of Biophilic Design with Stephen Antonson
Nest Studio Collaborator Stephen Antonson.
Stephen Antonson’s journey to becoming one of the world’s most innovative furniture and lighting designers took lots of vision and a pinch of luck. The celebrated plaster artisan studied painting and sculpture at Carnegie Mellon but never formally trained in decorative arts. While working early in his career, exhibiting at galleries and summer jobs for antique dealers, he began forming opinions on what he liked and decided to try his hand at creating pieces for his enjoyment.
“When I wanted a chandelier for my apartment, and I didn’t have any money, I would make one. I had this little studio in Brooklyn, and a woman saw one of the lamps I made and asked, ‘What’s that?’ And I said oh, it’s just this thing I made; I don’t think it’s very good. And she said, ‘No, it’s really good, I like it!’ I felt like that permitted me to keep going.”
Today, he works in his Brooklyn atelier, Stephen Antonson by Hand, where he crafts plaster chandeliers, sconces, mirrors, tables, and other objects with his hands and paintbrushes using his signature sculpting method. In 2020, he continued to break new ground by collaborating with Nest Studio to create the exclusive Pinch hardware collection, consisting of six different pieces modeled on his plaster designs and available in a range of sizes and finishes.
Stephen Antonson in his Brooklyn studio.
Many of Antonson’s works embody biophilic design principles, which Nest Studio founder Jessica Davis recently identified as one of the most important hardware design trends of 2023. Biophilic design draws connections between the built environment and nature, creating a sense of harmony between the home and the outside world.
Antonson strives to take cues from nature without directly emulating it. This is evident in some of his chandelier designs, which have scallop-like ribbed patterns but are not scallop shells, or lamp bodies that have sucker-shaped appendages but are not octopus tentacles.
“I don’t want you to think, ‘Oh, he’s looking at a shell or a leaf. The trick is translating that energy into organic qualities – the lines, the shape, the form,” he said. “How do you translate something from nature to man that doesn’t look heavily derivative?”
Stephen Antonson’s Design Process.
His artistic influences are many and varied. He mentions luminaries like Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder, and Robert Rauschenberg as major inspirations. Still, he is fascinated by artists and makers whose work he discovers on Instagram.
As Antonson spoke with us, he was excitedly finishing up work on his latest project, an oversize chandelier he’s creating for a buyer who wanted something special for a huge room with high ceilings. It is a biophilic-inspired piece he described as looking “cellular, like something tied to molecular biology.” It was a dream assignment for a creator like Antonson – a challenge to tuly break the mold.
“The client said, ‘I want something wild. I want something that looks like it came from the bottom of the ocean,’” Antonson said. “I love it. It’s not someone saying, ‘Do that thing you did before somewhere else.’ Instead, it’s, ‘I want something new and outside of the box.’”
To create his signature Pinch hardware collection with Nest Studio, Antonson pinched pie tins and coated them with plaster to form their shapes. The pieces were then cast in brass from molds and finished in Polished Nickel, Matte White, Blackened Bronze, or Unlacquered Polished Brass.
'These pieces are so unique in the hardware category,” Jessica Davis said. “They perfectly represent Stephen’s aesthetic and deliver a handmade, personal feeling with complete functionality.”
Nest Studio x Stephen Antonson Pinch Collection.
Designing Pinch didn’t come easy to Antonson. Being his first foray into sculpting hardware, he initially found himself following a conventional route, trying to make shapes that fulfilled others’ expectations of what beautiful hardware should look like. But at one point, Antonson and his assistant stopped and agreed, “This is not who we are.” They returned to the drawing board, determined to go a totally new direction that felt right to them, even if it risked being “a little unorthodox.”
Nest Studio's Pinch Collection Design Process.
When he first presented the work to Davis, he recalled thinking, “I don’t know if they’re going to go for these, but I feel really good about them. The fact that Jessica’s response was, ‘I love them, they’re great, and they’re not like anything else,’ was really important to me.”
Antonson has found working on hardware to be a big departure from his other projects in that three parties are all legitimate contributors to the creative process. There’s Antonson hand-crafting the plaster shapes, Nest Studio and its foundries interpreting the designs and casting the pieces, and the designers or homeowners making the final creative decisions on how they’re used in their spaces. He loves to peruse the install images of the Pinch collection and is inspired by the creativity, ‘People are mixing and matching finishes, or installing pieces in unexpected places and ways, which inspires me to look at things differently.’
Pinch-10 and Pinch-02 in Unlacquered Polished Brass.
Antonson continuously strives to create unique and innovative pieces that bring a sense of the natural world into the home. While Antonson is undoubtedly a master of his craft, he is always inspired by doing the unexpected. Nest Studio is thrilled to count Antonson as one of its exclusive artisan partners. Shop the groundbreaking Pinch collection today.