All Work and All Play

Stephen Burks designs a desk-and-shelving system that mixes business with pleasure.

Sometimes a good design idea can inspire an even better one. That’s what happened for New York–based designer Stephen Burks. He first exhibited a table-system prototype at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 1998. While working on it, he tried to find a way to integrate varying functions into the table and came up with a number of repositionable accessories for the tabletop. Burks had also been creating office systems for Herman Miller Red before the division folded. When an opportunity to collaborate with Japanese design company E+Y ( arose, Burks continued to develop his table-system concept to incorporate shelving. Metropolis spoke to Burks about the resulting design, Workstation, from his studio.


The system is shipped in a flat pack and can be assembled easily in about 15 minutes.

It’s called Workstation because it’s not just shelving; it’s a complete office in one unit. I played around with names like Options Office and Elements, but Workstation stuck.

The system can be free-floating instead of flat against the wall. All of the accessories are double-sided so you can put them on one side or the other.

The uprights are made of steel tubing, the accessories are powder-coated steel, and the white shelves and desktops are laminated plywood. The accessories are available in three different colors: white, orange, and navy.

Because you’re mounting accessories on the underside of the shelf, having each avoid the structure was a big challenge. Another issue was creating the appropriate pattern of inserts on the underside of the shelf to give people optimum flexibility. To solve this, all the accessories have a laser-cut slot in the top so they fit over the structural frame and don’t get in the way of one another. This was unlike the initial prototype, where we tried to offset the structure from the center of the piece using a cross-tension cable to stabilize it.

The Japanese steel fabricating and engineering factory Iwasaki, in Osaka, is really great at forming steel tubing. They were able to reinforce the frame underneath the shelves. Ultimately the two end-pieces of the tubular frame get structurally welded together, and then the frame is attached to the shelf.

Today we use shelving for just about everything; and in small spaces, you want to go vertical with things. In designing a typical shelf, you don’t have the opportunity to use the surface because you want to put different kinds of things there, like books and magazines. I had the idea of mounting the accessories to the underside of the shelf, so the system includes bookends, a CD rack, a small appliance rack for stereo or hi-fi, and a wine rack.

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