Cork walls, lighting fixtures with cutesy sayings, repurposed mason-jar everything—these are design treatments that started at the top but have now trickled down to the mainstream. Available everywhere from Target to Wal-Mart and seen in the decor of recently revamped chain restaurants, those elements have been done and will soon be replaced by the next big thing. Being trendy is what Aaron Miller, perfectionist and owner of freeform, an art, design and fabrication shop, wants to avoid.
“I think that small business owners come up with the best ideas for how to decorate their shops. More than likely, it’s our small budgets that force us to,” he says.
Some of his local inspirations are found inside Chow, The Writer’s Block, Exile on Main Street boutique and the back patio of Le Thai. Miller’s own designs are appearing in mom-and-pop shops around Downtown as well, such as the eye-catching motorcycle table and custom sign found at Makeshift Union Salon, and he is currently constructing furnishings and a bar top for the new Cornish Pasty Co. restaurant. On the Strip, you can find his work at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut in The Palazzo.
He builds out of a large, organized garage in Downtown’s industrial corridor (2123 Western Ave.). Multiple welders sit next to giant metal-table workstations and a custom work-in-progress motorcycle as Motown music plays in the background. His dedication to detail and quality are unmistakable in his minimalistic, sleek designs that are both organic and geometric. Most of the products are made out of various metals and wood, and it is the materials themselves that are the un-sparkling stars of the show. “I don’t like shiny, chrome all over.” Instead, he leaves metal patinaed or etched with different acids, and the woods are only lightly stained. He makes artwork using these etching and staining techniques with handmade stencils of Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and Uncle Sam.
It’s Miller’s very Vegas work history that taught him the trade. He spent time in various fabrication shops, building props for showgirl performances and magic shows, as well as decor for major resorts. He also toured South and Central America with an illusion/tiger show and worked as a part-time prop technician for Cirque du Soleil’s KÀ. These clients help him pay the bills while he builds custom items for restaurants, shows and exhibits, such as a collaboration with Modus Art on a Thor hammer display that is being sent to Singapore for an Avengers exhibit. He is creating another one now for the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at Treasure Island.
Miller finds daily motivation by following other fabricators and contemporary artists on Instagram, including one of his favorites, large-scale sculptor Jonathan Prince. But he does not want to reproduce what he sees. “The most challenging part by far is coming up with a new, original design,” he says. “I try to be different. I try to get inspiration from nature, like a bug leg for a light or a piece of furniture.” This rebel attitude is represented in the shop’s name, which means not conforming to a regular or formal structure or shape.
Design fads, like most fads, explode before fizzling out, and sometimes all you’re left with is broken Edison bulbs and a splintering stack of overpriced barn wood. Miller says people ask him all the time to replicate some other product they found online. He instead tries to persuade them into letting him build something unique and to his standard of quality. “I’m willing to build anything,” he says, “as long as it’s not copying someone else’s work.”
See more of Miller’s work at freeformlv.com.