Local designer Tom Stephen creates amazing lights and fixtures. Finding inspiration in local materials coupled with a background in fine arts, he produces collectible bespoke pieces. Focus sat down with the artist over a pint to get an insight into his work.
Where are you based on the Coffs Coast, and what do you like about the area?
I am based just outside of Bellingen, in Gleniffer, on a small property. We have been living here for around 10 years and moved here from Sydney. The area is great on a number of levels. Growing up in a metropolis, we wanted to give our kids a different perspective – a slower, more physically adventurous, less tech connected upbringing.
That said, we are not luddites or hippies. The Coffs airport enables us to connect back to our families, to Sydney, to the wider world. Coffs/Bellingen itself is big enough to provide us with pretty much most of our needs. Personally, I love to surf, and this area has great uncrowded beaches. Around us are some of the most pristine rivers, rain forests – up the escarpment and again you’re in another world, so I guess it’s a really diverse area geographically. I like that. There is always something going down in Bellingen, so pretty much I love the area and can’t see myself being anywhere else.
Can you briefly describe your designs and what it is that you produce?
We design stuff for the home, made mainly out of locally sourced and absolute top quality plywood and concrete. The Bakermiller design ethos grew out of producing things for my own place and for friends.
How did you begin on this path?
I come from a fine arts background and kind of just drifted into making stuff. I had some really important mentors along the way (chiefly my concrete and design guru, Andrew Murray) who opened my eyes to great architecture and design and helped me technically, gave me the desire to produce really high quality stuff, not just aesthetically but in terms of materials, finish, craftsmanship.
Where did the name Bakermiller come from?
The name Bakermiller comes from a colour I was very interested in. It is a rather sickly pink that allegedly has mind calming qualities. I used to produce extreme artworks in this colour in order to see how people would react to the juxtaposition of the calming qualities of Bakermiller pink and confronting imagery. Not very well, it turned out!
Can you briefly describe the design and production process?
All the stuff we sell can be found in our own house, so the process has been, we need something for our place, I make whatever that might be, and then someone will see it and say, “Hey, I’d like one of them!” And then I work out a way to produce the hand crafted original article into something I can sell. At this point it all gets way more complicated: costs, reproducibility, regulations, longevity etc.
I make all this stuff locally. I have a local guy, Trevor Oliver-King, who cuts the shapes on a computer controlled cutting machine, and then I take them to my little “factory” and do the rest.
Why lamps and lighting?
We only have lights up for sale on the website, but there are many other objects on the brink of coming out: chairs, tables, door handles, stools, sinks, kitchenwares.
Do you build them as custom orders, or are there different models to choose from?
We do custom items. I am always happy to give something a go; there always seems to be stuff coming up, so it’s a mix of selling stuff I have already sorted out and doing new bespoke items.
What other artists have do you admire and draw influence from?
Greatest influences in design and the world would be Carlos Scarpa, Grant Featherstone, The Eames, Andrew and Clinton Murray, Tony Parker, Fler, Frank Gehry, Le corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rothko, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Hemmingway, the guy down the road doing something interesting … There are so many giants out there and such a lot of mind melding stuff, I don’t know where to start or finish. The world of man is a wonderful place; go look around.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking up design either as a profession or a hobby?
I don’t think I can really give out any advice; I am still trying to work it out myself.
What are your plans for the future? Will you continue with lighting, or do you have other irons in the fire?
The future for Bakermiller is less lighting, more other stuff that requires less regulation. There are a number of lights that I have produced that will never make it to the public because of the regulatory costs; it is very frustrating to see your babies disappear under a mountain of red tape.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
We can be found at bakermiller.com.au or alternatively go to the Bellingen Brewery to see some lights, sinks and taps.