Michael Aram has always loved working with his hands—an experience he describes as "very intimate."
As a child, the American-born artist passed his time cooped up in his basement fashioning doll-sized structures, repairing old clocks, and refinishing antique furniture (such as his parents’ grand piano). Once, he even took apart the family’s clothes dryer, only to piece it back together again.
Soon after graduating from college in the late 1980s, the American-born artist ventured to India to visit his sister—a casual trip that would ultimately morph into a life-changing excursion, as it introduced him to the fascinating metalworking practices of the culturally rich land.
Newly inspired by the country's unique hand-wrought aesthetic and techniques, Aram decided to channel his creativity towards craft design, aiming to shed light on the brilliant—yet severely under-tapped—talents and techniques of the skillful craftsmen he encountered. Resolved to create a luxuriant brand of products unlike any other, the budding metal-molder set up a permanent home and workshop in New Delhi. The rest of the story, as the saying goes, is history.
“Aram”—which means “gently, with peace, love and care” in Hindi—is a fitting moniker for the designer, who asserts that each piece he creates “comes from the heart.” Incredibly, every item produced by the home decor guru’s eponymous company—from tableware to furniture—is painstakingly handmade from start to finish.
According to Aram, who splits his time between New York and New Delhi, each individual product is a direct reflection of the skilled craftsman who created it. He reasons the connection between a work and its creator is “critical,” in the sense that it allows simple objects to morph into meaningful, prized heirlooms that can be treasured for a lifetime.
We chatted with the designer and father of twins about his chief source of inspiration, what sets his brand apart, and what to expect next from his ever-growing range.
Most of your work appears to be organic and inspired by nature. Is there a sentimental reason behind that?
I grew up spending much time outdoors, so I am sure my fascination with nature must have come from that—I have always been intrigued by the cycle of life, death and regeneration, the idea of transformation. Also, I am a firm believer that the imperfect is perfect, as it reflects our individuality and humanity. Nature is my greatest muse and never fails to surprise or delight. There is a wonderful quote by Georgia O'Keefe on the subject of a flower as a microcosm for the universe: "When you hold a flower in your hand and really look at it, it is your world for that moment.” Taking something as fragile as a natural element and rendering it in metal forces you to examine it anew.
2014 marks the 25th year of our brand. Over that time I have enjoyed, every day, waking up and going into my design studios in New York and New Delhi with the intent to create something beautiful and meaningful. Most of our products are made by hand in our workshop in India, by myself and artisans that care deeply about their craft. We are not only the designers, but also the manufacturers, and you can see the care, quality and thought we put into our pieces.
How do you manage to make products that are durable and made of metal, yet are surprisingly lightweight?
Rivets, molten drops, butterflies and other elements of our motifs are brought to life by the artisans constructing them. If you look carefully at each piece, no two are ever exactly the same. You can literally see the specific hand, unique to each artisan, through the bends, folds and curves of the metal. We work very hard to use the highest quality metals that are pliable yet resilient. I work with materials that are beautiful, durable and will stand the test of time.
Are there any items you make that look simple on the outside, yet are actually quite difficult to manufacture? How about any items that appear intricate, yet in reality are relatively easy to make?
Most of our pieces appear deceptively easy. They all have several processes which are layered together to create the final result. One of our most time-intensive collections is “Molten.” It seems simple in appearance, but each metal drop has to be hand dropped in its liquid metal state, balanced on the thin edge of the rim of the piece and cooled before the next drop is set. In the end, it’s worth the time because the Molten drops create a beautiful texture that add dimension to the collection.
Describe the overall theme of your upcoming Fall 2014 line, and how it is different from your past collections.
Fall 2014 is an exciting moment for our brand. We are introducing a new tabletop collection which harkens back to my first trip to India 25 years ago, when I witnessed talented craftsmen making simple tools and objects using age-old techniques. The collection is called “Rivet” as it is a fusion of hand-hammered stainless steel with actual rivets that hold the pieces together [the Rivet pitcher is pictured on the left]. It’s very utilitarian but elegant and functional. I have also designed 12 table lamps inspired by new and existing motifs. I wanted the lighting to reflect my love of sculpture and exude beauty from every angle. I worked very hard to offer the market something new and fresh, an opportunity to bring the outdoors, in, illuminating any room of the home.
Are there any particular pieces in the collection that you would like to highlight (possibly ones whose designs deviate from what you are known for, or ones that you are especially proud of)?
My “Rock” collection was released just this spring and people have been responding very well to it. It’s a departure for me on some level, as I’ve incorporated more architectural and art references into the motif than usual. It is still a nature-inspired line as we focused on the rock as a form and object in nature. I think it all came together just beautifully.
Can you give us a small sneak peek into your spring 2015 collection?
Spring 2015 will be exciting, as we are unveiling an entirely new collection inspired by great structures and palaces from across the globe. It’s very architectural and solid but also maintains a level of softness and elegance. We will also be focusing on more gifts for men with bar extensions.