Artifacts of the Machine Age. Jules Verne’s futuristic Victorian contraptions. Hoover Dam. Such feats of engineering, real or imagined, inspire Michael McEwen’s contemporary lighting designs. From a young age, the third-generation Californian—a Pasadena native—was drawn to all things mechanical, from his skillful finagling of erector-set gizmos to dismantling and resurrecting bicycles and cars to modifying amplifiers (the latter a byproduct of his glory days as a garage-band guitar player).
The artistry inherent in these early innovative pursuits incited Michael’s subsequent creative endeavors: he performed classical ballet in the late ’70s and early ’80s (his lean frame seemed preordained for such activity); later, in his post-dance retirement, he studied textile design at UC Davis. As part of a fateful screenprinting assignment, Michael embarked on a field trip to photograph masses of tangled scrap metal at a junkyard. The fortuitous excursion re-triggered Michael’s captivation with the intricacies of machinery.
A few years later, after further studies in jewelrymaking, silversmithing, and sculpture, the industrial designer assembled his first found-object lamps and chandeliers, featuring such forgotten cast-offs as optical lenses, aircraft fuel filters, and cast iron furnace elements, each integrated artfully—and seamlessly—into the fixtures. Michael established McEwen Lighting Studio in 1990, initially creating custom pieces available through art galleries and private commissions. Eventually, the constraints of found objects gave way to the freedom of fabricating in metals, blown and kiln-formed glass, and hard woods. While MLS’s current custom pieces and readymade “editions”—the first MLS line of standard fixtures was introduced at New York’s prestigious International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 2003—are decidedly more modern, emphasizing cleaner silhouettes than their neoclassical antecedents, Michael preserves their soulfulness through his dedication to exacting craftsmanship and the use of authentic materials. MLS designs can be found illuminating private residences across the country; shedding light on such entertainment-industry HQ’s as Pixar, Interscope Records, and Dreamworks Records; and shining up acclaimed Bay Area food and wine destinations like Chaya Braserrie, Tra Vigne Restaurant, and Silver Oak Cellars.