After a rush to get Cameron out the door and off to preschool and getting the gardener to stop using the loud leaf blower (at least for a while), I sat with a cup of coffee in hand and waited for the designer Michael Aram to call moi. I didn’t have to wait very long. At exactly 10 a.m. my telephone rang. I answered with a high-pitched Peppa Pig like voice saying “hello!” knowing very well who was going to be on the other end. He sounded exactly as I had imagined him: warm, friendly and as his name implies; soft spoken. He spoke with me from a ferryboat, with his children playing in the background. I assumed he was taking a ferry ride along the Hudson River and was admiring Lady Liberty up close, as I had done with my son when I was in New York City. It didn’t occur to me, to ask.What I learned about the man, renowned for his beautiful metal serving objects, is that there’s a level of integrity in his life and work. A trip he made to India when he was in his early 20s changed everything. He was so impressed by the craftsmanship he saw there, that he decided to create a handful of metal objects, mostly for his own pleasure and returned home with the hope that others may like them too. The rest is history. His creations are now available across the globe, with a flagship store in NYC. He’s forged together the worlds of art and business seamlessly. Aram’s creations are often my go to items when I’m shopping for a hostess gift. Even though his creations translate as the perfect gifts for the home, I know that the most important kind of generosity is not just about the items we buy or give but it’s the generosity of spirit. It’s what we share of ourselves, with others that counts. And he was both generous, with his answers and his time.
Here’s what we chatted about while I sipped, my re-heated, morning cup of coffee:
SA: Tell me about your family life:MA: Well, we have the most incredible four and half year old twins. They are girl/boy twins (Anabel and Thadeus) they’re certainly the light of our lives. My partner and I, Aret, we’re both Armenian, and we’ve been together for 8 years now. The kids have changed everything for me. As much, as I love my work and as much as I love what I do, it’s all for them now. And they certainly come first in our lives.SA: Are you aware that Iranians consider you as one of their own? MA: I’m aware of it and I’m so grateful for it. It’s always so sweet when I’m at personal appearances and people come up to me asking if I’m Persian. I tell them, I’m actually Armenian, but we are neighbors and linguistically and culturally there’s so much similarity. I love my connection with the culture, language and food. I’m glad they feel a connection to my work, and to me, and they assimilate me into their lives the way they do.SA: Did you know your (middle name) Aram means gentle? And is that a characteristic you think you possess? MA: Yes, because of all the Moghul influences in the Hindi language, Aram means the same thing in Hindi. It’s something we always tell our craftsmen in India, we tell them in Hindi, “do it with Aram,” meaning create it, with peace. There’s definitely a sense of peacefulness in my work. It’s like slow cooking; when you do things that are handmade, there’s always a vibration and you only get that through each hammer mark and each file mark. You do get the sense of something being a labor of love. In my own personality, I’m a peaceful guy and I think that might have translated into my work.
|Michael in his workshop in India with a few craftsmen and the makings of the Orchid Collection.
SA: What are your golden rules when it comes to entertaining?MA: I believe that there’s a sacredness when it comes to hospitality and your guests are your blessings. When I entertain I use the saying, “open heart, open door.” I’m not someone who gets uptight when I entertain, I think the gift of having someone in your home is just to be hospitable to them, no matter what. I think it’s important to let go, a little. When you decide that you’re going to have fun, then “the more, the merrier,” it’s never going to be a strain. And you’ll open your last bottle of wine, if you have to.SA: If you had to choose between paper plates and plastic cutlery what would it be?MA: (Chuckles) You’re putting me on the spot. I don’t know whether you know this, but we make plastic cutlery and paper plates. SA: No, I had no idea.MA: If you’re by your computer type in MADHOUSE by Michael Aram and you will see the most incredible paper plates, paper napkins and plastic cutlery. I’m very proud of the work. We try and execute things at the highest level of design and the highest level of materials for the category. They’re just exquisite. We’ve interpreted our twig cutlery, into clear plastic and we’ve created sculpted melamine plates that look like porcelain. We use them everyday with the kids. SA: The best dinner guest is…. fill in the blank for me:MA: I like guests that feel absolutely at home and relaxed in my home and they treat my house like it’s theirs. I have so many friends that make me feel at home when I am their guest, and so I like guests that get up and pitch in, then it feels like they’re family.SA: What’s the most recent meal you’ve cooked?MA: I made Eech, it’s an Armenian cold salad, made with bulgur wheat, fresh mint and parsley. It’s like a tabbouleh but it’s made with bulgur grain. That’s the last thing I made and we’re eating it today, on the ferry ride with the kids.SA: What are you reading right now?MA: I’m proud to say, I’m reading a variety of children’s books for my kids. That’s what I read every evening.SA: What’s your favorite children’s book?MA: Anything by British author Julia Donaldson. She has written books like The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom which is charming. We own everything she has ever written. The stories have this British sense of humor which I really appreciate, they’re also poetic and there’s a little dark side to them, so there are things that boys and girls like. SA: You’ve lived in India on and off, over the last 25 years, do you have the hang of the Indian head shake, with its multitude of meanings?MA: (He laughs) Yes, I’ve even mastered it! My Indian friends don’t consider me non-Indian, after all these years, I’m one of the few foreigners and there’s only a handful of us in New Delhi, who are really committed to building a company, building a home and having a life there. We are not just in and out of the Embassy or the company but we’ve established ourselves there. I feel very much part of the landscape and I feel very much at home there.SA: You have a home in New York and one in New Delhi, do you travel with your partner and kids to India?MA: My partner has been there several times with me. The kids haven’t been there yet. We feel they’re still a little young for the trip. I really look forward to the day they travel there. My son, Thadeus, (named after, the patron saint of the Armenian church) looks like a Punjabi boy, he has dark olive skin with long eyelashes. He looks like all the boys in North India and I keep thinking when he finally gets to go to India he is going to feel, so at home.SA: When you go to India what do you miss about Amercia?MA: I miss things that are not nice to say. What I love about America is there is great commonality with everyone. We can look, at each other in the eye. There’s something that’s easy here socially, and you can interact with everyone in every spectrum of society and across genders. In India there are, all these layers of behavior. There is little in the sense of class and no sense of caste here, but that still exists in India. I live in a home in India, that was built in 1945 and even the architecture of the home shows signs of the caste system. The bathrooms, all exit directly into the garden, because the person cleaning your bathroom could not enter the rest of your house.SA: Have you seen any improvement over the years?MA: Yes, it’s certainly getting better. My friends tell me that even from the time of their parents’ generation, things have changed a lot.SA: When you come here what do you miss about India the most?MA: I miss the fact that my friends are very integrated in my life in India. They use this expression “land up,” they land, up at your door. Usually, even before I arrive, my friends would have called my house, the week before, and asked my cook “when is Michael saab coming?” When I arrive my phone is already ringing and my friends are asking when are we going to get together. There is such a bond between us there. There’s not a sense of formality. I often joke and say that in India nobody needs a shrink since we talk to our friends. In India “lets meet” means let’s meet and talk. We all depend on one another there.SA: What’s your favorite gift to take with you when you visit someone’s home?MA: My favorite gifts are more like combination gifts. Sometimes I feel a bit shy about just taking my own work, because people will assume that I’m not making any effort. If I take a cake stand I will usually take a home baked cake with it. If I don’t have time, then it’s a bottle of wine and some coasters. I like this idea that there should be something to celebrate and something to leave behind, as a reminder of the beautiful evening you’ve had.
|The Palm Collection (Fall 2015) inspired by the beauty of the windswept palm tree and the perfectly imperfect shapes of woven palm leaves and fallen fronds.
SA: What’s the best hostess gift you’ve ever received?MA: Great question. I love this question, because it’s really makes me think… I remember when I had my first apartment in New York, my mom and dad came to visit me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in a vase that belonged to my grandmother. I love objects that have a meaning, they’re heirloom pieces. You treasure them in a way that you could never treasure anything else.SA: I love your mermaid bowl. It’s on my lust list. Tell me a little about it:MA: I made that piece probably about 18 years ago and we brought it back as part of our commemorative collection, at that time all my items were just individual pieces, nothing was a collection. I love it for a variety of reasons; you can fill it with ice and place Champagne bottles in it and use it as a beautiful party ice bucket. We’ve arranged flowers in it, you can use it as a punch bowl or a centerpiece bowl and since it’s stainless steel, you can serve food it in too.
|The whimsical stainless steel Mermaid Bowl is part of the 25th Anniversary Commemorative Collection, $895.
SA: Your objects are decorative yet functional and many of them are inspired by the elements in nature, tell me about that: MA: I like to show the different phases of life and even decay. I believe there is beauty to be seen in imperfections. I’m fascinated with the idea of how we fit into this world, with all its phases of life and decay.
|The Joshua Tree collection, for Fall 2015, is inspired by a trip Michael made to Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.
SA: What’s your favorite item of clothing?MA: All I ever wear, and I mean this; are blue jeans and checkered shirts. SA: Do you have a favorite pair of blue jeans?MA: I wear Gap jeans. I’m not super fancy. But I do like nice shirts. I love wearing pocket squares. It’s really rare to see me in a tie, so it might make up for that. My kids love to pull out my pocket squares, every morning, before I go to work. SA: What’s the most challenging part of parenthood?MA: (Laughs) Right now my daughter’s tugging at me, while I’m on the telephone.SA: What’s the best thing about being a father?MA: Getting a sense of unconditional love from them and feeling the unconditional love for them. SA: You have a furniture line, jewelry collection, candles, porcelain and even stemware. What’s next for Michael Aram?MA: One area that we are looking into is textiles and perhaps rugs. I also really enjoy creating one of a kind art sculptures.
…The Michael Aram collection is available at Neiman Marcus Fashion Island and at www.michaelaram.com. Michael Aram be at Neiman Marcus on Wednesday, October 28th, from 1- 4pm. RSVP to 949-467-3327.