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INTERVIEW: Artisan Michael Yates

TROPHYOLOGY awards and plaques are made with love in Austin, Texas, and it’s our pleasure to introduce you to the people who help bring them to life. Today, we’re featuring Michael Yates.

This gifted woodworker is one of our key collaborators. In fact, he’s been sharing his talents with TROPHYOLOGY since our earliest days. Founder and Creative Director Eva Schone knew about Michael’s work through a mutual friend and approached him to prototype the first TROPHYOLOGY award designs. It was a very exciting moment for Eva and Michael was the perfect partner in crime.

“It’s a compelling thing that she’s doing,” Michael says, “the kind of thing where you wonder why no one was doing it before.”

Michael fabricated the award models in the first TROPHYOLOGY collection, including Arris, Fulgeo and Portico, which is one of his favorites because of its allusions to modern architecture. Michael has also helped on the production runs of some TROPHYOLOGY custom awards and on the prototyping of desktop gifts.

Woodworking roots

Michael’s interest in woodworking began when he was an engineering student at Texas A&M. He discovered that there was a workshop for students on campus and decided to take a woodworking course, “I had never done anything like it before, and I loved it,” Michael says. “It was very satisfying, and a stark contrast to what I was doing at the time.” Engineering is theoretical, while woodworking is tactical. In his first few years as an engineer, he did woodworking projects on the side. Eventually, he left engineering to focus full time on woodworking. He’s drawn to wood because every piece is unique. Walnut is his favorite wood to work with as a craftsman. “It just looks great on its own,” he says. “It doesn’t need much finish.

Furniture design

Over the last few years, Michael has made a name for himself as a talented furniture designer and maker. His current projects include continuing to build a catalog of furniture pieces that he will offer along with his custom pieces. His goal is to create a house’s worth of furniture for the catalog. Michael is also starting to add more commercial work to his slate. For Chavez, the new restaurant from Parkside’s Shawn Cirkiel, he created both large community dining tables and smaller lounge tables. In addition, he’s working on  barstools for a coffeeshop remodel. One of our favorite projects Michael undertook recently is featured in this enticing short film – it captures Michael’s thoughtfulness beautifully.

Inspiration

The influences on his work include Japanese and Scandinavian design. He’s also inspired by “what the material wants to do and what it will let me do.” His past work provides its own kind of motivation. “Sometimes I want to have a second go at a design — refining details that I’ve done in the past.”

Michael’s pieces are informed by the work of other craftspeople, especially those with whom he collaborates. “Other people’s skills are an inspiration to me,” he says. “I’m inspired by other people’s control of other materials and seeing how we can integrate our work smartly.”

Michael’s creative process includes plenty of design planning before he starts working with wood. Planning is important because setting up his tools and materials can take longer than doing the work itself. “And wood can be very unforgiving if you don’t have a plan, “he says. “If you cut a piece wrong, it can be impossible to recover.” If he’s working on a personal project, though, he may allow more coincidental freedom.

Recognition

Michael values the validation that’s come from the professional honors he’s received. “It’s confirmation that there are people out there that objectively felt like your work is valid,” he says. “That’s really encouraging.” Those honors include recognition from the Core77 Design Awards last year. Michael’s Giacomo Rockerwas one of four winners in the Furniture/LIghting category. When it comes to displaying awards, “my website is my mantle,” Michael says. Noting his honors there can help build trust with potential clients.

One of his favorite ways of recognizing others who do great work is helping them build their own reputation through his recommendation. “I do my best to promote them and help their business grow,”  he says. “I can say firsthand that their work is great, so I make sure to say that whenever I can.”

We’ve relished this chance to talk about Michael’s great work, and we’re truly inspired by our collaboration with him. Thank you, Michael, for being part of Team TROPHYOLOGY.

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Phone: 512.788.4558
Email: eva(at)trophyology.com