Designer and Maker, Oakland, CA
Melanie Abrantes Designs is a Bay Area-based producer of handcrafted, heirloom objects. Founder Melanie Abrantes believes that in order to create something beautiful, you have to get your hands dirty. She founded her company in 2013 when she realized there was a growing American market for handmade goods. Working with a variety of unique materials, Melanie strives to create products of the highest quality that are equally beautiful and functional.
Q: How did you begin working with the lathe and did you know from the first time you used one that it would be your tool of choice?
A: I first began working with a woodturning lathe back in school at Otis College of Art and Design. We were taught how to use every tool in the woodshop, but it’s true, once I used the lathe, it felt very fluid with how my mind works in creating an object. I was ambitious and made my first bowl 12" for a project I was working on out of mahogany and haven’t stopped turning since.
Q: You use lot of cork in your work, which is a material best known to the general public as what wine corks are made of. How did you start working with cork and why do you continue to use it?
A: I attended a special workshop in France at the Domaine de Boisbuchet, this location was the first time I had access to cork and really loved how easy it was to turn. Growing up doing visits to see my grandfather in Portugal, I always saw and knew that there was more than one application for cork. This said it wasn’t until I got my hands on cork that I found out about all of the amazing properties that I continue to use it for today. It is hypoallergenic, recyclable, light, durable and sustainable, just to name a few of its magical qualities.
Q: Most of your work up this point has focused on tabletop items and other various accessories. Do you have any plans to go bigger or do you like staying at a scale that allows for more frequent ideation and exploration?
A: Yeah, I tend to go towards products that are on the smaller side. It’s easier to handle products at this scale and I tend to design a lot for myself and my home before I add it to my line... it’s a great way to experiment. However, I am directly effected by the environment I work in. Since I continue to do the production in house, I can only go as big as the equipment I own will allow. This said, as I grow I also want to expand my business into other areas of the home. I am in the process of beginning to outsource some pieces to a local manufacturer in San Francisco. I hope to be able to use this as an opportunity to start designing at a larger scale so I can expand my line.
"The longer I teach, the more accomplished my students become, and it’s mostly because I'm learning a better way of explaining and showing them how to use the tools and understand wood."
Q: In addition to running your company you also teach spoon-carving classes across California. Does having the opportunity to teach inform your own learning process?
A: Yes, when you teach you are really able to understand how you made an object. You have to dissect exactly how you were able to finish the spoon, including naming all of the tools and small details required make it. The longer I teach, the more accomplished my students become, and it’s mostly because I'm learning a better way of explaining and showing them how to use the tools and understand wood. It’s a great way to see and learn from them, the Japanese tools I use are very intuitive but I say that knowing I have had formal experience in a woodshop. My students sometimes have never had a class in woodworking or with basic hand tools, so it is inspiring to see how they take to working with their hands, even if it is for the short period of the class. They make me think about how I can use and make my own work differently.
Q: What are your plans for the next year and what are you most excited about?
A: I have about 4 different collaborations I am working on for Fall 2015. I think I have become a little addicted to them! It is so much fun to work with someone else and see their perspective on how they design. They are able to give me access to different materials I wouldn’t be able to use otherwise. I am super stoked on a new product I made with the design studio, Avandi. It’s a stacking jewelry box that uses copper, maple hardwood and natural cork. We went through many concepts and iterations, trying to think of how we store our own jewelry and what aesthetic the modern woman would wants for her jewelry box. Instead of a traditional rectangular box we designed a minimalist bowl that had different sections for different products, using cork so that your most precious metals wouldn’t be scratched.