For Portland designer Michael Arras, his early experience with art gave no indication that he’d eventually decide to design furniture. “In school, I took art classes with everyone else,” he says. “But I didn’t have a real interest then. Mostly I doodled.”
After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in English, Arras, a native of Prineville, Ore., began working in an office in Portland. “As a response to having an office job, I got work as a bike messenger,” he says. “I’d visit a lot of galleries, and I always had my camera with me, so I’d take pictures of things that caught my eye. On the side, I got interested in making guitars and began to think about building things, so eventually I decided to go back to school.”
He enrolled in the Oregon College of Art and Craft, where he received a B.F.A. with a concentration in wood. “The classes were taught with a focus on furniture,” he says. “To learn about woodworking techniques and traditional joinery, we made furniture.”
The inspiration for the Circles Table (below) was a pattern in a trail he saw while he was out walking his dog. “On some of the roads around my house, the pebbles are packed into interesting patterns,” he says. “When I see something like that, I wonder how I can translate it into wood.”
His tables, which he makes in his basement woodshop, are constructed from birch plywood that’s dyed with a wood stain. “I cut a bunch of discs of various sizes, and then come up with an idea of how to put them together,” he says. “The discs are attached to each other with mortise-and-tenon joints, and the table top is attached to the legs with threaded inserts and metal brackets, which makes a very strong connection.”
For Arras, one of the best things about working with wood is seeing how his design sensibility continues to change. “What I really like is how my process is evolving,” he says. “I get to see how I like to work, and as that evolves, my designs change—and I end up someplace completely unexpected.” The Circles Table, which is 15 inches tall and 21 inches on each side, is $500. Arras notes that he accepts commissions to make the Circles Table in any size.