Driving down from Little Rock to Lake Village, the sky is gray. Clouds droop heavily over the fields like water balloons about to burst. Rain is a welcomed occurrence in late summer in south Arkansas, and the crops all look like they could use it. But we can’t be delayed by this pop-up shower. We are determined to get to our destination: Paul Michael has something to show us: he has started painting.
We arrive at his office on Main Street a little late, but it doesn’t faze him. He is happy to see us and ready to show us what he’s been up to. As you might expect, his office is unconventional. Vintage circus posters, petrol signs and a collection of antlers hang on the walls. There’s a fireplace and a brick oven, designed by Paul himself, for another one of his passions: baking bread, which is quite the process: The night before, Paul prepares a half-dozen starters. He wakes up at dawn to begin baking. By 2 p.m., there are 140 loaves, still warm from the oven, for the biggest charcuterie board you’ve ever seen with lots of butter, olive oil, meats, cheeses, fruit and wine, to be shared with 30 of his closest friends and family. To be around this table, breaking bread, is one of the more special experiences to be had (and one worth mentioning here), because the man builds, bakes and now he paints.
Paul leads us through his office and into an adjacent warehouse space. Previously designated for online order fulfillment, it is apparent that art has taken over. Drop-cloths line the floor. Canvases in various sizes and stages of completion lean against every table.
Picasso famously said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” How inspiration found Paul: he and his wife Debbie (and partner in the Paul Michael Company), were on a work trip in New York in April. They went to all the major art museums and galleries and bought a few paintings. Gaining influence from this trip, Paul says he began thinking of art in his subconscious – something he’d never thought of or dabbled in before.
Celebrating 25 years of business, Paul, Debbie and their staff have continued to do things that separate the Paul Michael Company from others in the industry, including their line of Paul Michael Exclusives, 100% American-made pieces constructed from architectural salvage and reclaimed wood. Works of art in their own ways, these pieces are made by a team of designers and craftsmen at a woodshop in Dermott, Arkansas, open six days a week for designing, developing and manufacturing these original pieces of furniture.
“Being surrounded by all sorts of art has a profound influence on everyone in the shop,” Paul says.
An example of this is a console piece standing against the back wall of his office. Its doors have been replaced with canvases painted by artist Kellee Mayfield.
“There is no limit to creativity. Sometimes you mess up, but you can’t be afraid of it,” Paul says. “In this day and time, art is the source of original creativity. There’s so much knowledge available about the products we sell. It’s difficult to define original art. You can’t Google art. You can Google an artist, but you can’t Google what he’s going to do next,” he says.
“This is the world in which I want to exist. I aspire to be an artist. It allows me to think in a third dimension. ”
Among Paul’s original pieces is an abstract piece in a tweed style pattern. On the canvas are pins strung with twine (“to keep my lines straight”). The lines overlap one another, creating a woven effect.
“What you do is pick a color,” Paul says, reaching for a paintbrush. “It’s soothing, but I only have the attention span for three lines.”
When Paul’s attention turns back to furniture making, he mentions a few new pieces he’d like to show us. Soon, we are on our way to the woodshop in Dermott, about 20 miles away. We make one stop to eat lunch at Paul’s favorite sandwich stand, an Amish store stocked with jams and jellies, fresh baked bread, Georgia peaches and Arkansas tomatoes. After a quick bite, we’re back on the road to Dermott. The clouds have lifted; the sun has come out.
Pulling up to the shop, it’s a very large, impressive operation. There are stacks and stacks of lumber piled high, an entire wall of nails and screws, various tables, chairs, cabinets, lighting fixtures and collections of found objects.
Among these items are several never-before-seen Paul Michael Exclusives coming to Market Hill. These pieces are also works of art. The way he and his team incorporate natural elements into furniture design is part of the creative process.
Paul leads us over to a long, low-slung object with a white drop-cloth over it. He lifts the cloth to reveal a beautiful table made from a slab of centuries-old cypress recovered from the bottom of Bayou Bartholomew in south Arkansas that now sits atop two pieces of Lucite. Paul describes the technology required in order to make such precise and technical cuts in the wood.
It’s all part of the art of the Paul Michael Company, seeing potential that others cannot and crafting it into a unique vision. Another example of this is a 19th-century floor-length window cornice from France that has been turned into a bookcase, maintaining its original features and flourishes.
These are just a few of the many new designs at the shop being prepared to be shipped to Market Hill.
In addition to the new products arriving this fall, Paul says he’s most excited about what the vendors are bringing.
“I feel fortunate to be a part of this group of people. We will have the best offering of merchandise ever, because of them. We will always strive for the best.”
As for what the future holds and where he sees Market Hill down the road, he says, “We are in the business of something that’s not so easy to understand. We have to foster creativity. We have to create products you can’t get from Amazon, not just unique … original.”