Designer Michael Aram and the secrets to keeping summer party guests happy
For more than 20 years, Michael Aram has brought the natural world to the table in the form of sand-cast and hand-forged metal accessories. His workshop in India, which employs 170 craftsmen, also has created the Skeleton chair, a solid aluminum seat that resembles a human spine, and the Enchanted Forest line of tree-inspired tables and lamps. But Aram, pictured above, is best known for serving and cocktail pieces that incorporate the forms of coral, leaves, flowers, fruit and vegetables.
None is more striking -- or downright amusing -- than his recently launched Golden Corn collection. The inspiration, Aram says, was "this very tacky plastic corn set I bought on EBay. It was very cheap; I probably spent more on the shipping. And then I thought, how can I make this beautiful?"
The answer: an enameled serving platter ($99), and a matching set set of four dishes ($99), plus gold-plated salt and pepper shakers ($79), and a set of eight cob picks ($79), below, sold at Bloomingdale's and the Michael Aram website.
On a swing through Southern California, Aram answered questions about design and summer entertaining, including the obvious one:
Why a gold-plated corn cob?
You have to shake people up a little bit. I like to make even the smallest things look iconic, or in this case, i-corn-ic. I design products that speak of a moment, like let's barbecue and have a picnic -- moments that create a sense of nostalgia. And because so many of my designs are given as gifts, I loved the idea of someone going to a friend's house for the weekend and bringing the corn set.
Remind me to invite you to my next barbecue. What could I do to earn your respect as a host?
Whether it's the table decorations, the food or the music, a good host thinks of things specifically for guests. When people feel that they've been considered, it's a lovely thing, so even though it's a little formal, I like place cards. And I love individual salt and pepper shakers and a small vase of flowers for each person.
What makes a table memorable?
Creativity. Thinking outside the box and mixing elements and things that have meaning for you. I love to see beautiful new things and family heirlooms. I never mind things that are scratched or chopped or dented, things that speak of use and history.
What's a buzz kill?
I hate to say it, but paper napkins. I can't handle that. I'm sorry. That's awful, but no, no, no. Even at home, my partner makes fun of me for always putting out linen napkins.
What about flowers?
If I am doing a floral arrangement, I like things that are a little savage. Sometimes I will take some of my bronze pieces -- like branches or fruit -- and mix them with the real thing. I love the idea of the sculpture and the natural object together in a vase. Or I'd go out and find a branch or dried up blooms and mix them with tulips from the corner market.
Any other advice for hosts?
Sweating is not good. There should be an ease to everything. You should have an open heart, an open door and a smile on your face. If you are uptight, no matter how much time you have to prepare, it'll never work. The best dinner can be a toaster on the table and two pieces of bread as long as you are having fun.
How do you entertain?
I have a very cool home in New Delhi, and when I am there a good dinner party is outdoors with candlelight everywhere. I have a raised part of the garden where I put out rugs and low Moroccan tables so people can spread out. In India, there is not a tradition of sitting at a dining table. Being Armenian, I grew up with the same sense of hospitality that I find in India. There's a natural graciousness there, and it's not unusual for friends to just stop by. They keep it casual. You don't have to call up.
Tell me more about your home in India.
It's a two-bedroom designed by the English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and one of the first apartment complexes in the city. It was built in 1945 for English gentlemen at the end of the British Colonial period, and it has huge entertaining spaces, backyards, Art Deco-styled screens and terrazzo floors. My New York apartment is totally minimal, and the Indian apartment has become a repository of objects, antiques, textiles, carpets and tribal arts. It's very big, so it doesn't feel like a Victorian funeral parlor.
What else do you collect?
Religious objects, antique cutlery, little botanical cast brass catch-all dishes from Virginia Metalcrafters that I buy on EBay. I have a major pebble collection -- any thing from the beach can be a fetish object -- and I have been known to stop on the side of the road in California and pick up palm fronds and grape leaves.
What are you working on now?
Figs, pears, pomegranates and olives inspired by the Napa Valley cuisine and lifestyle, which I think is the first time that California has been such an influence in my work. I have a loyal Armenian following, and pieces like pomegranates and figs [pictured at right] really resonate with that audience. I am also designing a collection called Tendril that is Art Nouveau with a more gutsy and minimalist interpretation. I have also created a luggage collection for Hartmann, and I am looking at doing a furniture collection mixing iron and bronze and upholstered pieces with cast-metal feet and arms.
Is there anything you wouldn't touch, like, say, bronze baby shoes?
No, I would do baby shoes. Sometimes someone will come into the office and say what if you design a snow globe? I say, "Snow globe? Never." There are all kinds of things I say I will never do. And then I do them.
-- David A. Keeps
Corrected: An earlier version of this post misspelled Edwin Lutyens as Luytens.
Photos from Michael Aram