Interview: A Conversation with Melanie Abrantes

Melanie Abrantes is an Oakland-based product designer + maker. 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. Through the technique of lathing, she turns simple pieces of solid wood and cork into one-of-a-kind bowls, plates, cups and stands. Her passion for woodworking originates from the simple fact that every piece is unique as the material it is made from. Time in the studio is dedicated to researching, testing and adapting the product to its user, resulting in a simple, yet unique object of the highest quality.

How did you decide to begin using wood and cork to create products?

I knew that cork wasn't being seen as a designer product that often. Mostly people see it as a bulletin board or wine corks in the US. I wanted to change the way people saw cork, so I thought designing it with wood would be a good material to elevate it. I did some tests and really like the product I came up with. I wanted there to be a relationship with American wood and Portuguese cork, which is why I chose American Walnut as its compliment. 

What's your creative process like? How do you come up with your ideas for new items?

I am lucky enough to be able to not only design my objects but make them as well! So whenever I come up with an idea for a product I normally do a quick sketch to get it on paper and then create it on the lathe. I have a bunch of things I thought would look good in theory but when it came out was not the right size or shape. I make sure to do different variations to get exactly what I want!

What should students expect to learn in your workshop?

They will learn the basic 101 of wood whittling. I will be teaching them how to carve the wood and also sand and finish it. Its a super fun class and its great for the students because they get to leave with a finished object they can use! 

What's a typical day like at your studio?

I come into my studio around 8am, I try to arrive early so that I avoid traffic on the bay bridge! I take my first couple hours in the morning to read up on emails that people have sent over and respond to any inquiries. Depending on the orders I have for the week, I schedule it out to make sure that I am finishing everything on time and can get them shipped out by the end of the week. I normally spend the rest of the day on the lathe, woodturning or prepping the items for the next day. Although if I have a meeting with anyone I also get coffee! I normally choose to go to the Blue Bottle down the street to meet up, they are local and have the most amazing new orleans style iced coffee! I leave my studio around 7 or 8pm ( also to avoid traffic on the bridge going into the city!) and make dinner together with my boyfriend! 

What advice do you have for aspiring designers?

My advice for an aspiring designer would be to build a great community around you to inspire you to work and your designs! It will be much easier to get someones opinion on a new design and encourage you to keep moving foreword. Also to always be grateful of the opportunities that come to you. You have to start from the bottom to get to the top! Being grounded and knowing who you are will always be helpful when you're facing a problem!