Designer Michael Aram studied fine art and lived as an artist in New York in the late 1980s. During that period he traveled to India, where he discovered the indigenous traditions of metalworking. Inspired to work with craftsmen whose skills he felt were greatly untapped, Aram turned his creative energies towards craft-based design, setting up a home and workshop in New Delhi. Today, his line ranges from tableware to furniture. Much of the work is instantly recognizable by its twisting vines and leaves in burnished metal. For this edition of Where I Work, Aram provides a glimpse into his offices and habits.
What is your typical work style?
My partner says I work all the time! It’s true that when you love what you do it is hard to shut off. My India studio is working while I sleep, so essentially we are working around the clock. I am a grossly disorganized person. I like to call it a creative mess, but honestly, I do my best work with the help of those around me who keep me focused and organized.
What’s on your desk right now?
My desk is a mess of things, papers, and supplies. It should have safety barriers around it.
What’s your studio environment like?
I like to work with quiet—not a huge fan of music playing, but, it’s not at all a zen environment. My NYC design studio is right above our flagship store. In fact, if you stand across the street from the store, you can see my office and desk through the second floor windows. There is an atrium in the front of the store with glass windows from above so actually, my office space is part of the store. I can even hear conversations below. It’s funny being the designer and eavesdropping on customers’ reactions to my work. I have a nursery next to my office where my two-year-old twins come and frolic occasionally. They love climbing onto my lap and ask to push the buttons on my computer keyboard. Yesterday they did drawings while on my lap at the desk, and those drawings are still on my desk.
How is your office organized?
It is a fantastic, giant space with only a few of us. We keep a huge design library here of samples as well as inspiration pieces. The library is very well organized. We don’t really have doors, but there is a poor excuse for a sliding door on my office, which I rarely shut. We have a giant, tall table in the main room under the skylight where we review product, and a large conference table for meetings, where we also have a video conferencing set up for meetings with the India team and our other offices at 41 Madison and in North Bergen, NJ.
How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?
I’ve had this space for seven years. It is a 19th century carriage house that we bought, restored, and turned into a retail store with studio above. I love it. I can walk to work from my home in the Village. Before that, I was mostly working in the workshop in India, where I also have a design studio, and while I was here in the U.S., I had an office at our New Jersey facility that I used to go to.
If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?
I always love the idea that we would ALL work under one roof, like one big family. It makes me sad that we have to have separate office spaces for the sales, marketing, visual merchandising, and administrative teams.
Is there an office pet?
No longer, but our CEO used to have his two dogs, Homer and Clem, in the office every day, which was fun.
How do you record ideas?
I like to pin things to the wall. I don’t trust them not to get lost on my desk. Otherwise, I like journals and notebooks, and enjoy filling pages with thoughts and drawings.
Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?
Currently, we have furniture drawings and drawings for spring 2014 up on the wall. We also are building a mood board for another collection we are in the process of imagining.
What kind of design objects are scattered around the space?
I’m a big flea market and junk shop hound. I pick up random things for no apparent reason, but somehow the ideas germinate and rear their face in one way or another. I collect some weird things and one way or another they feed my creative process. I have stopped fighting myself when I’m pulled towards something, even if at the moment I buy something I have no idea why I like it, or what on earth it will ever inspire.
Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?
Not really. I have an engraving tool for signing pieces, colored pencils, and carving tools.
What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?
Pencils and paper.
Let’s talk about how you’re wired.
I am a complete technophobe. I adore the technology that I do use, and am eager to learn more, but I am horrified by devices like the television remote control. I also do not enjoy designing on the computer; I feel it has a sterile quality.
Do you have a favorite piece or collection that you’ve designed?
|’m currently really fond of the Gotham collection, which I designed last season. I like mixing it with the Cast Iron porcelain dinnerware. There is something masculine and raw about it, which is not typical of my more nature-based organic work.
When did you feel like you “made it”?
I always used to joke that when the time came that I saw my things for sale in the auction houses that it would be time for me to quit. Years ago, Sotheby’s auctioned off a set of my BONEWARE cutlery, and it sold for far more than the original retail price. I think in a way it was a validation of my older work, and gave me a sense that I was creating work that would have a legacy beyond me.
Tell us about a current project you’re working and its inspiration.
I’m currently doing a site specific sculptural piece for the Las Vegas World Market building. It is a monumental bird’s nest in bronze with gigantic gold clad eggs inside. The inspiration was the notion of nesting and creating home and family. Since the eggs are un-hatched, the piece for me symbolizes a sense of promise and renewal.
Do you use any of your pieces in your own home?
Yes, I have a lot of my stuff at home, even though I don’t consciously take it there. I enjoy making things specifically for my living spaces, so at the moment, there are chandeliers and a wall screen that I custom designed for my space. Of course, the kitchen cabinets are full of my dishes and serveware, and the cutlery drawers are like a joke—filled with ARAM pieces from over the years.