Where Art and Furniture Intersect: Michael Beaster

The cut out of the trees in Michael Beaster’s newer works illustrate his attention to detail, as well as an influence from Door County’s natural surrounding. Photo by Dan Eggert.

His provocative designs are anything but ordinary; Michael Beaster turns normal upside down and invents a new way of looking at the world, all embodied in a piece of furniture.

Walking into PKJ Designs & Michael Beaster Functional Art Furniture in Ephraim, where Beaster shows his work alongside jewelry maker Pamela Jeffcoat, his pieces immediately catch the eye, drawing attention to form and design.

“In general, it’s geometric design and clean lines that I am focused on,” Beaster said. Most of his pieces have interesting angles and daring contours, in addition to a variety of hardwoods used to create color, texture and movement.

“I glue together different woods to give them a kind of pizzazz so that they influence each other and they work well together,” Beaster said. Today, he works with many types of wood and has added to his stock over the years as people recommend new varieties.

“I started out working more with Ash – all hardwoods, pretty much, rarely soft woods,” Beaster said. “There’s some that I don’t like to work with, but I love what they look like. Purple Heart is one – it’s beautiful, but an extremely hard wood.”

Beaster’s love of wood began in vocational school in Madison, and when he moved to Door County he saw more distinctly how his artistic vision fit with furniture making. Since 1987, when Beaster settled in Door County, his work has grown and evolved. His attention to intricate details has increased, and his repertoire includes everything from an industrial looking coffee table with hundreds of springs under the glass top, to furniture with neon lights and stained glass.

“Sweep” a recent piece in Beaster’s body of work, shows off his focus on geometric design and clean lines.

Beaster said, “I realized furniture making was a whole art form, really, and a fun combination: I can put lights inside, embed marbles into the front, put neon lights in and things like that.” His work has some influence from the Art Deco Movement and was featured in the Hardy Gallery’s 3-D exhibit, “Dimension in Door County: Form Transcending Function,” last fall.

“I would describe my style as contemporary, whimsical, funky, fun and happy furniture. It’s been quoted as dancing furniture…it comes alive,” Beaster said.

“It’s fascinating to me how he can think things up and bring them to life,” said Pamela Jeffcoat. “I call him an artistic engineer. He’s very imaginative and creative.” Each piece is a unique work, a decorative contribution to a home, and a conversation piece.

An example of this is Beaster’s piece “Embrace” – a tall, twisting structure with 26 drawers on display in the gallery. People find the bends in the piece intriguing and are always pulling out the drawers to peer inside.

“Everyday people come in and comment on it,” Beaster said. “It’s a conversation piece and it reminds me that what I’m doing is right.”

When winter comes and it’s time to hunker down and design a new season of furniture, Beaster takes time to review those comments and suggestions from clientele – and to look at all his past work for inspiration.

The industrial mix of metal and wood in some of Beaster’s past pieces juxtaposed against the curves and innovative designs of his current pieces make for an almost surrealist body of work, reminiscent of Salvador Dali.

Michael Beaster jumps off one of his pieces, exemplifying his whimsical artistic style and attitude.

At PKJ Designs & Michael Beaster Functional Art Furniture, the jewelry and furniture fit well together, complement and balance one another. Beaster and Jeffcoat’s work inspires and gives life to the other. Jeffcoat has been incorporating trees into her jewelry for many years, and lately, Beaster finds a tendency towards natural world imagery in his furniture, too.

“I’ve been getting into trees,” said Beaster. “The pieces I’m working on now are mirrors. Organic, I guess, trying to keep Door County in mind as well, so there’s a sense of where it was made.”

Jeffcoat added, “We’re both people who like to make things that are one of a kind, and neither of us likes to repeat things. We help each other, and inspire and encourage each other to do things that are different.”

The change in the economy and people’s inclination to downsize has influenced the furniture world as well. Beaster has made some smaller pieces for the gallery, and he adds that it’s really about finding the right person for a piece, making sure they connect with the work.

“More and more, people are appreciating wood and natural things,” he said. “They’re tired of the plastic everything, knockdown furniture.” When each piece requires months of work and a vision, “You’re hoping that your piece will be handed down to someone else. My pieces are built to last forever.”

Beaster added, “It’s so rewarding, looking at your own furniture. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. Even looking at my photos. I think, ‘God, I can’t believe I did that!’”