Stephen Pikus creates functional art with a conscience. His story is a proudly South African labour of love that transforms recycled, re-purposed and renewable materials into custom handcrafted lighting while uplifting people through the process.
I first saw Stephen Pikus Design at a design expo where his designs stood out to me. I was mesmerised by the ethereal beauty of his FIRE + ICE luminaires that literally defied gravity. I was further intrigued to discover that they were made from recycled glass. The FIRE + ICE luminaires may appear delicate to the eye but they’re surprisingly robust and can tolerate a fair amount of manhandling.
Stephen Pikus Design creates an indelible impression on the beholder. All of his ranges make a stylish statement.
Each range can also be customised to create something unique and personal for your home or business. Stephen Pikus Design is instantly recognisable – and covetable!
While Stephen turns trash into treasure, I like to scratch beyond the veneer, so I visited Stephen at his showroom to learn more about his work.
JoziStyle: How did Stephen Pikus Design begin?
Stephen Pikus: In a nutshell, I worked for an NGO that was based on a farm in Tzaneen for the better part of 2 decades as part of an art department. I worked with some incredibly talented artists and we had various projects that were financed through the funds that were raised. I started to trawl scrap yards and rubbish dumps to find items to upcycle as we often didn’t have much of a budget and it was in these places where I fell in love with the process of ‘turning trash to treasure’ – I very soon fell in love with lighting and organically that’s was always my first inspiration when finding new waste items.
Jump forward 16 years and My wife and 2 small girls knew it was time to move on and moved back to Joburg after I entered a lighting design competition and miraculously won at the end of October 2014. We arrived with no money, no credit rating as we had been off the grid for 16 years and lived on R2,000 p/m. The money I won from the competition (R45,000) gave us the money we needed to start a new life at 44 years old. I loved what I did then and started in a friends garage and somehow, for the first time in my life, realised that I could actually make a living out of my passion and have never looked back.
– Stephen Pikus Design is instantly recognisable. What is your creative process when designing new products?
My wife has often said that I am a hoarder although I am a hoarder with a purpose. Most times when I find a new waste material, I collect it and will often clean an item up and put it in a place where I will walk past and see it as I go about my day. Often I will have the Eureka moment when I find another waste item and when the two are in my mind and sight then somehow it starts to take form. From there on usually I start to think about the practicalities of putting it all together – how to construct it and do the lamping, figure out how and if there are possibilities of different applications ie can it be used as a hanging pendant lights as well as a wall sconce or table lamp and if so, how and what is needed to make that happen.
– Were there any hits and misses or learning curves towards your success?
I don’t think a day goes by where there are no hits, misses or learning curves – for me they are an ongoing part of this journey. I think the biggest lessons have been about dealing with people as people are such an integral part of what we do. Everything is handmade and all the hands belong to people – all the hands that are encouraging and supporting us by investing in our work belong to people. I believe in kindness and compassion – sometimes it clouds my judgement when it’s time to be assertive. Other times I am too strong in my opinions when it is time to have compassion – we are around 20 people in our workshop and studio and for me dealing with people in the right way does not come naturally but I strive daily to be better.
– Your work highlights the possibilities of recycling trash in treasure. Can we do more of this as individuals and as a society?
I believe as humans we have a very wasteful and entitled way of thinking – this attitude of ingratitude is our downfall. We can all take small steps by actively changing this – start recycling, if something can be repaired or restored, do that. Buy items from makers and manufacturers that you know have a conscience and actually give a shit – we need to do our homework.
– Do you have stats on how much waste you’ve recycled?
We are about to start doing a stocktake of the waste we have in our stores – items such as used truck air and oil filters and discarded plastic cooling fans and have estimated that in the last two years (at least 6 months of that was in lockdown) it has been somewhere in the region of 10 tons – if we include glass it can be 3 to 4 times that.
– Tell us more about the employment opportunities you’ve created for recyclers and interns…
In the beginning, we collected glass bottles solely from the micro recyclers that push the trolleys in the streets. We then worked with a group that rehabilitated people recovering from substance abuse in a part of the manufacturing process. After a year we had the opportunity to be involved in learnership and internship programs and that is where we still find ourselves today. When lockdown hit last year we had 30 young people one month away from finishing a year-long apprenticeship, a sizeable portion of those are now part of our permanent team – to date around 80% of our team are made up of young people that have passed through various of the learnership and internship programs that we have been involved in.
– You’ve been commissioned by some prestigious brands to create installations for them. What are some of your favourites?
That is probably the most difficult question out all of these – there are so many!
If I have to pick one residential project it would be the 6.5m long glass chandelier that dropped down 3 storeys for an incredible client’s home in Steyn City, Jhb. We also installed two other fixtures in that space – all very different applications of the same recycled glass. As far as commercial projects go, there have been so many that it is impossible to choose – the client we have done the most work with is a property developer called Legaro Properties – what amazing clients and also the owners of the home in Steyn City that I mentioned above. Some of the more well-known corporates where we have worked include SAB, Volvo Trucks, The Saxon Spa, Bridgestone and Tsogo Sun – with incredible restaurants like Forti’s Bar and Grill in Pretoria and Olives and Plates in Hyde Park. We are currently also finishing off an amazing off the grid game Lodge in Namibia – we are so excited to see this installed soon!
– In addition to creating employment and being a respected designer, what are some of your proudest moments?
On a personal level, I am most proud when I see the look on our team’s faces once we have done an amazing installation and outcome the phones for selfies. The pride in so many of the team’s faces never fails to blow me away!
On a business level, we were recently commissioned by Volvo Trucks World Head Office in Sweden to supply all of the decorative light fixtures for their revamp, including an installation in the CEO’s office.
– What percentage of your business is corporate or retail? How did they evolve?
I estimate our business to be split 60% residential 40% commercial although that figure seems to be levelling out to 50/50. I believe we were fortunate in that we were commissioned to do some sizeable projects very early when we started. We managed to complete them (sometimes I think how did that happen?!) and this allowed us to gain some credibility – at least enough for the next commercial client to work with us.
A fortunate aspect is that we did all of our own installations so this allowed us to have images (even if not the best) of our work which in turn helped us gain momentum in an industry I knew ZERO about. Around 6 months after I got back to Joburg we were commissioned by the legendary Stephen Falcke to design and make 9 huge chandeliers from recycled glass and Himalayan salt for The Saxon Spa – I was fresh off the farm in Tzaneen and had never heard of either Stephen Falcke or The Saxon – I was clueless!
– Who buys Stephen Pikus? Tell us about your customer.
Our main clients are interior designers, architects and developers – we also have many clients that love design and know what they want to invest in for their homes.
– How many awards / competitions that you’ve won?
I won the initial lighting design award that Eskom used to run every 2 years which was actually the start to me being on this trajectory – other than that there was a DIY competition that Black and Decker were running also in the very beginning – oh yes we were shortlisted for a lighting installation for Restaurant and Bar Design awards in London a few tears ago. In the next few years we will enter a few more international ones as it is a great way to introduce our work to an international market.