Making with meaning: Monmouth Glass Studios
Story: Marie Knowles|
Photos: Tom Powell
March 15, 2019
Handmade, high-quality, functional. You could say it’s a mantra for Stephen Bradbourne and Isaac Katzoff, co-owners of Monmouth Glass Studios. The bespoke glass-makers imbue their work and life with meaningful everyday connections between people and things. We caught up with them at their Grey Lynn studio in Auckland, New Zealand, for a lesson in things that last.
You create lighting that is handmade, beautiful and stands the test of time. What motivates you personally to do this?
Isaac Katzoff: For me it’s about making things that people will use. We want what we make to be useful and have value in its function. We don’t want to make dust collectors. We want to make things that are functional, things that people use every day, that will become part of their daily routine.
How does lighting come into that?
Stephen Bradbourne: When we started working together we didn’t really have the Monmouth vision. But we started delving into a bit of lighting for a couple of private clients and then it just grew from there. In the early days we had a request from an architecture firm – they wanted us to create a large-scale lighting installation. And that’s when the lightbulb went off [laughs] and it was like, yeah, we can actually do something really cool with this that transcends traditional blown glass. And it turned into more of an architectural feature.
Describe the aesthetic of your work.
IK: We both have a similar aesthetic. In glass blowing there is a strong tradition of forms to draw on. We want to make things that are simple: single colors; simple forms. There’s something beautiful about that simplicity; not over-complicating what it is.
SB: Initially we were taking cues from mid-century design aesthetics. And Scandinavian design; timeless design. We wanted to make pieces that weren’t going to date, that will look good in 10 years, 20 years.
Is that reflected in your personal aesthetic as well?
SB: I think my fashion sense has evolved quite a bit over the last two decades. These days I wear a lot of denim; good-quality Red Wing boots in the winter. So I guess, yeah, classic design; materials and designs that have a longevity to them.
IK: That idea definitely follows through. The quality. Things that have value in what they’re made from and where they come from and that will last. My aesthetic is simple. I’m pretty much a T-shirt and jeans kinda guy.
Is there a bespoke glass-making community? Is it a supportive one?
IK: Yeah, it is a small community. It’s definitely a bit competitive but we do on the whole work together and help each other out and talk to each other regularly. SB: In terms of bespoke lighting makers there’s a few other people that have a go at it but I think we’re the only studio locally that’s pushed it to this level. Working in the creative area that we do, over the last couple of decades, we’ve met and made really good connections with a bunch of other people working in other disciplines. It’s really nice to be able to work together and support each other and we do a lot of trading of items back and forth within the community.
IK: Trading’s the best way. We were able to fill our kitchens with all sorts of handmade items by trading with the things that we make because other makers appreciate the things that we do and we appreciate what they do.
What other handmade objects do you use in your daily life?
SB: You’ve really got to come and have a look at my kitchen – it’s full of bespoke… A lot of handmade ceramics, glass obviously; we’ve got quite a large collection of handmade wooden spoons. In the kitchen, it’s pretty much 100% handmade.
IK: Same. Lots of ceramics. Glass, obviously. Wooden items. We’re quite into zero waste at the moment. And we have a pretty decent garden that’s growing – we try to produce as much as we can at home.
What sources do you draw creative inspiration from?
SB: On a daily basis, I draw a lot of inspiration from scanning social – Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook – but also online research, catching up with what other people are doing, scanning the magazines. Just trying to keep a handle on what’s happening internationally as well as locally.
IK: As far as Monmouth is concerned, I get a lot of inspiration from 20th-century glass manufacturers like Bernini, Kosta Boda glass; I think there was something they were doing back then that stopped happening for a long time. A lot of what we do brings back that simplicity and that manufacturing aspect of glass, rather than just ‘art glass’.
How do you recharge your batteries?
IK: Every time we take a break I head over to Great Barrier Island. We’re building a little cabin out in the woods and it’s really remote. It’s a plane ride, a car ride, a boat ride and then a 20-minute hike to get there. Once we’re out there we’re totally free from the busy-ness of the city. It’s a great place to go and unwind.
SB: I grew up in the Waitakeres in West Auckland, so whenever I need to recharge I’ll always head west – go to the bush, go to the coast. Or whenever there’s time, we’ve got a little place in the Coromandel. We’ll escape down there and just spend time on the beach or just chilling to recharge. It’s definitely one of our favorite places in the whole country.