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Respect the Plate

PhilosophyMade in AmericanaComment

"How fast can you take your time, kid?"

— William S. Burroughs, "The Discipline of D.E."


In the act of making — making of any sort — there looms the question of Form and Function. It's often cast as a problem of priority, as a balancing act, or as some awful conflict: one following the other, harmonies sought, concessions made this way or that, and so on…

One must always be careful with metaphors. That said, though, let us offer one that guides our shop philosophy:

A good design is a good meal.

There's a lot that goes in to any meal. But a real lick-your-fingers-clean delicacy has a simple unity to it. Flavors set each other off, textures swirl together, palates are excited and cleansed… A good meal considers everything but tacks on nothing. Every bit of it — the ingredients, the preparation, the cooking, the presentation, the final forkful — blooms together. A good meal respects the plate.

A real smart-to-the-hand, smart-to-the-eye object has this same unity. A good design respects the object: Form, Function, and Fabrication alike. Every component should answer to all three Fs in concert. Accept no substitute. Excuse no placeholder.


Consider Japanese Honshu farmer's coats in this example taken from Yanagi Soetsu's essay on pattern:


"They are made usually of two layers of indigo dyed cotton material, hemmed and bound together by stitching in very thick thread. This needlework looks like added decoration but it is nothing of the sort. Its charm is in its appropriateness to use and the strength of the stitching. The delightful patterning is incidental and utterly suitable. There is no concept of decor for its own sake. From this it should be clear that the origins of pattern are inextricably sewn into the fabric of use."

— Yanagi Soetsu, "Pattern," The Unknown Craftsman


Good design is this appropriate charm. It's the incidental aesthetic. Good design is neither balancing act nor tug-of-war. It's synchronicity. A three-handed punch. Good design, no matter how rich the end result, is simple. "Do easy," as William S. Burroughs wrote. "The easier you do it, the less you have to do." But simple ain't easy — it takes a certain mindfulness.


The Classic Barstool is the result of years of prototype. Stool after stool teased out and tested, each one raising new questions. What's it missing? What won't be missed? Each answer was aimed at the intersection of Form, Function, and Fabrication. The final product is a collection of lessons learned from landing bullseyes in the Venn diagram.

The weight, how it pulls up to a bar. The swiveling feet, how it balances on two legs. The buttoned top, the glue between its layers of ply. The foot rest, its turned plug inserts. 


Respect the whole plate. Choices made for any less are opportunities lost and baggage gained. And so this ideal etches out our shop standards — if not into stone, then into our fingers:


MIA Standards of Creation

Make it of simple, clean, colorful, and purposeful form.

Make it be strong against the elements, gravity, and time.

Make it to be used, complementing its user and its space.

Make it with quality and of quality.

Keep it simple — and simple ain't easy.