1. How did your dad’s career as a carpenter influence your interest in design?
Everything about our life out on our family farm has been about working with our hands! If we wanted something, we made it. Everything from our house that was built to all of our furniture was hand-made. My parents taught me the value of craftsmanship. Measure twice, cut once, and makes things that will last for generations to come.
2. Tell us about the experience of being commissioned to build a custom dining table for President Bill Clinton.
It was such a joy to work with them [the Clintons]! They were so happy with the table I made, that they had me do a few other pieces. I was 23 and just two years out of seminary when I was commissioned to do this project. Ive always felt that the dining table is the most important piece of furniture in a home, it really is the altar of the family. It was such an honor to create the center of their home for their family and friends to gather, share a meal and make memories.
To make their table, I chose very rare yew log that had a unusual reddish minerals streaks in it which coordinated perfectly with the other fabrics in their dining room.
3. What’s your process for collaborating with designers to create unique pieces for each client?
The most important thing about the style is comfort. I always tell my clients to ask themselves, “What is the purpose of this dining table?” The dining table is what I like to call “the altar of the room.” This is where the meeting of the minds happen. Finding out the size of the room, the shape of the room, and the number of people you want to seat that determines the size and shape of the table. People will always want to seat more people generally than what it can handle. That’s where I come in. Dining table tops are 29.5” – 30 inches tall, standard. Depends on the size of the people and height of the chairs should be taken into consideration. Fun fact: a lap is 18 inches. You need to be able to get 18 inches under that table. Comfort is the ultimate luxury. Clients should never be afraid to use their furniture. A dining table should be comfortable to sit at and people should also be comfortable with using their table. I tell my clients don’t worry we can fix anything relax and have fun enjoy your table.
4. Why the decision to create your own communal artisan space in Indiana?
My family grew in the shadows of the Benedictine monastery at Saint Meinrad. I loved how the brothers, lived, work, and prayed together. I discerned that my calling was to create beautiful furniture and help other artisans make a living doing what they love. There are currently about 25 people in my company and six of us live together, we have made a home inside the old jasper cabinet factory. A priest friend of mine in Manhattan says that I am the Abbot of my own community but our faith is making divine furniture and altars for families.
5. How would you define your specific aesthetic and style?
Bespoke. Everything I do is about the relationship I have with my client and finding out their needs. I’ve found my pieces to be found in the homes of families, or communities, that desire to connect with one another. Be it traditional or more contemporary the dialogue continues for everyone.
6. Which artists, architects, designers, etc. have influenced you most in your career?
I love classical notions of beauty as they flow through federal furniture through art deco into contemporary furniture. When I think of classical beauty, I think of the work of Abraham Lincoln‘s father, Thomas Lincoln. Few people know that Abraham Lincoln descended from a line of fine furniture makers that started out in Rhode Island moved to Virginia then Kentucky then southern Indiana and then Illinois. Thomas Lincoln made exquisitely inlaid federal furniture in southern Indiana in the 1820s just a few miles from my current furniture studio. I love classical curves and exotic materials that Karl Springer employed. He is the biggest inspiration to me of all of the designers of the past 30 years.
7. How do you define “California style”?
Authentic surfaces, sun faded woods, sand weathered drift wood finishes, a comfortable casual elegance. In my opinion, Michael Smith today embodies California style.
8. Describe your ideal vacation.
My ideal vacation is packing my sprinter van full of furniture and driving out West to make deliveries. I always bring a friend or two along with me for the journey. I make sure that I take the time every day to stop for a soak in natural Hot Springs out in Colorado and Utah, in Nyland California near salvation mountain or to go for a swim in the ocean near San Diego or Laguna Beach. I never get tired of the drive from Colorado to California the landscaping is magical. Of course the highlight of the trip is making sure that every piece arrives in perfect condition. I know to many people this doesn’t sound like much of a vacation but when you’re doing what you love every day is a vacation
9. Sweet or savory?
10. Sand or snow?
Sand between my toes.
11. Netflix or night out?
Night out with friends gathered around a dining table.
12. Coffee or tea?
Neither I don’t drink any caffeine just water.
13. Hip hop or hard rock?
Neither—’80s first wave. My favorite song is “Suedehead” by Morrissey. Half of the video is filmed in Fairmont, Indiana—home of James Dean—and the other half of the music video is filmed in London.