Stéphane Hubert designs and creates free-standing furniture and accessories from reclaimed, repurposed and sustainably sourced materials. Whether it’s a lamp made from salvaged Hemlock wood dating back to the 1890s from a warehouse owned by Edison in New Jersey. Or a stool made from reclaimed Redwood sourced from the iconic water towers that sit on rooftops around New York city. Each object takes on a new life and is designed to be simple, functional and proportional.
Born in France, Stéphane Hubert now lives in Manhattan and works in Brooklyn with wife Jaime. He spent his formative years in the South of France where he was surrounded by sublime landscape and the works of great artists like Matisse, Cézanne, Chagall and Miro, to name a few. For Stéphane creating something new from old objects with a history comes naturally. As a child, he learned to take his toys apart and rebuild them to learn how things worked. And, as a trained architect, he understands the form and function of his pieces in context of the space they inhabit. Stéphane redefines the life of living materials through juxtaposition – by turning the old into new and by combining the traditional with the modern.
I grew up in France, outside of Paris and in the South, and a part of my childhood was spent on the Island of Martinique in the French Antilles. Many artists ended up in the south of France inspired by the light. Without realizing it at the time we were surrounded by the works of Matisse, Chagall, Cézanne, Picasso, who all lived in that part of the country at one point or another. Their work was everywhere. During summer holidays, I worked at the Fondation Maeght, a modern art museum in Saint-Paul de Vence, and I was tremendously influenced by the work of the artists in their collection, such as Braque, Chagall, Giacometti, Pol Bury, and Miro etc.
I was always around people who were “handy” – what we say in French – Les Bricoleurs. Bricolage is the art and science of fixing things up, tinkering with them, repairing objects, tools, machines, our bicycles, anything and everything by ourselves – and customizing them.
My childhood in Martinique influenced my work enormously as we were always playing with found objects and fashioning them into toys. We didn’t have very much, but we didn’t realize it, it wasn’t part of the consciousness. It also wasn’t fashionable, the way up-cycling or recycling is now. We were just using what we had access to. When things broke, we were trying to fix them, and got an even better sense of how they were made.
As a teenager and young adult I went to art school in Nice, Villa Thiole, and then Architecture school in Paris; that was a more formal education. I started making small prototype furniture at home for fun during that time. It was more like a hobby. I was frustrated working for architects later on, and it motivated me to fabricate more.
I started to design and create furniture for friends and family, which led to commissions by their friends and colleagues, all the while I was still working at an architecture company as a 3D renderer. But, the need to make furniture became clear. Just designing wasn’t enough, the whole process became very important to me.
The streets of New York City fuel my work, as does nature – although, the two are very different sources of inspirations, they work in tandem. I am also very inspired by ancient culture and modern technology. Again, one can’t exist with the other.
Moving to New York has changed what I’m making as I started again from zero. I began by apprenticing with a high-end furniture maker. I had to readjust to inches and feet, which was extremely challenging. It was there that I realized I wanted to make the furniture that was being placed in those spaces - the freestanding pieces, as opposed to the built-ins and custom cabinetry etc.
Discovering New York has shaped my work, you can see the influences from all over the world when you are here. You feel the old world – Europe – and how that evolved; and the potential for new ways of creating with that as its foundation.
I like the entire process – to go from the sketch to the finished product and then to see the client's interaction with the final piece. My creative process starts with the idea and the visualization of that idea. Then I make the first sketch, followed by the drafts. Sometimes, I go direct to the 3D Modeling on the computer where the visualization begins. And, then comes the realization of the object with the materials. Sometimes, I find the material first, and that starts the whole process. I’m inspired by the found object or material and I imagine what it could be.
Wood, because it's a traditional noble living material. It's even better when reclaimed from a structure with history i.e. a water tank, a boardwalk or a factory floor; its history then becomes a part of the product's story and it continues to evolve. And it is a warm material.
Also cotton, a natural material and one with its own constraints especially as the cottons we choose are often remnants and in limited quantity. The selection is often the hardest part as we are searching in factories with significant stock. We search for the diamonds in the rough so to speak, for ones whose colors and textures complement the wood and metal components of the furniture.
Ceramic is another great ancestral material with infinite design possibilities.
And finally, metal which is cold, rigid and strong. Metal works in tandem with wood as a structural component. It often complements the wood in texture and color. It also adds an industrial element which balances the natural emotion evoked by the wood.
Work in a way that limits waste as much as possible and improve upon the simplicity of my design. I'm inspired by the Bauhaus philosophy of "less is more."
When I'm not working, I enjoy time at home with my love, Jaime. I get inspired by nature and like to leave the city. We go to the beach or upstate, and when we’re in France we go into the mountains. I ride my bike, go to our little cafes and restaurants. And, I like to walk around New York and see other people's work.
I would say don’t think about it, just do it. Or, at least try. You never know what will happen. Be ready to make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. Consider traditional knowledge, use it and adapt it.
California, maybe? It feels open and sunny, but it also feels less structured. I also want to just continue growing and learning.
It involves a little bit of everything. Some cutting, sanding, assembly, and in between, perhaps, steps to finish other pieces. It’s like working in stations.
I design and make furniture and accessories mostly from salvaged materials. They come from a lot of different sources. I find them on the streets, woodworkers’ scraps, nature, and local vendors – preferably those who sell local and reclaimed materials that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.
It has been an enriching journey. Like a roller-coaster, there have been a lot of ups, downs and turns. I wasn’t on a direct path. I learned a lot of skills along the way, which remain components in every object I create – the 3D rendering, the bricolage, studying fine art and working with architects, project managers and skilled carpenters – all of my experiences have brought me to where I am today. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the way people have received my work.
Photographs by Christine Han. Words by Nadia Rasul.