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Furniture

Wood Works of Art

Laguna Beach resident Micha von Doring sculpts mahogany, maple or Brazilian cocobolo into fine furniture of a higher level.

March 10, 2001|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fine wood can inspire devotion in some, especially those who craft it. The colors, the patterns, the scent. In the temple of the timber, no goodness is left unspoken.

Micha von Doring is a disciple. When talking about the upscale furniture he makes in his Laguna Beach studio, it usually comes back to the beauty of the Honduran mahogany or native maple or Brazilian cocobolo he works with.

"There's something spiritual about wood, how ancient it is and how it evokes powerful feelings in me," Doring said. "It goes way back to when I was a kid playing in the forest in Germany, climbing tree after tree and just being fascinated with them."

Doring turned that fascination into a career when he became a woodworking apprentice at 15 near his hometown of Friedberg, not far from Frankfurt. After studying with European masters for a few years, Doring eventually settled in Laguna Beach.

Now, at 34, Doring runs Zeitgeist Furniture on Laguna Canyon Road, where he creates "sacred contemporary" furniture. His latest is the Temple Collection, which he said "is more than just furniture, more than just functional. I want [the pieces] to have an heirloom quality and [be a part] of your overall spiritual experience."

He's most proud of a cabinet called "Sacred Space." It's about 60 inches tall and made from Honduran mahogany, with doors that open to reveal shelves and inner drawers for personal or family items. There are also small shelves on the doors that Doring said can foster a "meditative mood" when holding lit votive candles.

Ideally, the cabinet would be placed in a room where one could go to reflect, perhaps practice yoga or pray. "Really, I see people rejuvenating there," Doring explained. "I want you to celebrate who you are and your life around you."

Beyond the symbolic, "Sacred Space" has been honored for its design, winning the 1999 Laguna Beach Architecture Guild contest. It was the first time furniture had received the top award. Doring said it takes him about a month to finish a cabinet, which sells for $8,200.

Doring also makes a highly polished, low-slung table he calls "The Gift," and a tray fashioned out of cocobolo dubbed "The Offering." His newer "Midosim" line (Mido comes from the first two letters in his first and last names) features "more abstract, more avant-garde designs that are still functional," he said.

He lists several sculptors, architects and artists as influences (especially craftsman George Nakashima and sculptor Isamu Noguchi) on his work. But his primary inspiration is nature--and the free-flowing vibe that comes from Laguna Beach's arts community.

Doring said it's the ideal place for him. He realized that within minutes of visiting Laguna Beach in 1989 during an impulsive drive down PCH while vacationing in Los Angeles.

"I was just amazed at the beauty, the whole visual experience was so liberating for me," he recalled. "I really felt like a contemporary Columbus discovering something for the first time. Seeing the waves and the art and everything, it just did something to me.

"It was rough in the beginning [because] I was leaving a secure life in Germany. I still worked [as a woodcrafter] with one of Europe's masters and was comfortable. But I knew I had to be here. I didn't think about the obstacles, I just had to make it happen."

That meant leaving family and friends in Germany and rethinking his plans to become an architect. It just felt right to continue his woodcrafting in Laguna Beach, while learning English and how to navigate Southern California culture. Doring took on odd jobs--including pizza deliveryman--and became involved in the Laguna Beach and Los Angeles art scenes.

"I wanted to observe and see how it would influence" his psyche and his craft, Doring said. "I went to clubs and became active in the underground. Really, it all had a great impact on the way I saw life and eventually, my furniture."

Slowly, he made contacts and people heard about his studio. Besides the individual pieces, Doring said he's regularly asked to create living spaces in homes or redesign offices and reception areas and build the wood elements in them.

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And there are a few clients who request perhaps Doring's most ambitious and favorite project, what he calls "the prayer room." Doring uses his architectural background to build a space that "facilitates your ritual of meditation and prayer, your chance to calm down and find yourself."

That means redoing a study or bedroom completely, from the floors to the furniture. A prayer room isn't cheap (usually anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000), but Doring said one of the reasons is that he only builds with the best materials. Sometimes that means exotic woods, which he realizes might disturb ecologists trying to protect South American rain forests.

Doring, however, insists that he only buys from suppliers who don't harm the environment.

"I research the dealers and I can give the history [of the woods he uses] to my clients," Doring said, then added, "I prefer to think that I give new life to the woods when I make something out of them."

Zeitgeist Furniture is at 2139 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. (949) 376-6062; http://www.ZeitgeistFurniture.com.

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