Michael Yurkovic's studio has all the trappings of a typical craftsman's workshop—soldering irons, exacto knives, a lathe, strips of wood veneer, and swaths of leather. But there's one big difference: The pieces he produces all fit in the palm of your hand.
Yurkovic is a miniatures artisan and makes remarkably lifelike replicas of furniture and objects at a 1/12th scale, meaning one inch for every foot—or smaller. Think Saarinen Tulip chairs, Eames storage units, and Philco Predicta televisions that were zapped by Wayne Szalinzki's Shrinking Machine.
An industrial designer by trade, Yurkovic has had a lifelong love affair with making models that began when he was a kid. "I always kept that alive, no matter what I was doing," he says. During a stint as a toy inventor, he needed to make lifelike prototypes to sell his ideas, and frequently made physical mockups when he worked in the consumer electronics and home health care products industries. He also tinkered with models as a hobby.
About three years ago, he went to a miniatures convention. A die-hard midcentury modern fan, he noticed that there was a dearth of the style he adored. (Victorian and traditional furniture was more prevalent and popular.) He thought he could fill the niche with his own work and decided to turn miniature making into his full-time gig. "It was random and crazy, but I dove headfirst into miniatures." Today his clients come to him for both custom architectural models, shadow boxes, and midcentury modern designs.
"Michael has that rare talent that combines creative artistry with highly technical and engineering skills, perfectly matched to construct miniatures that have not been seen before in this category," says gallerist Darren Scala, the owner of D. Thomas Fine Miniatures, which represents Yurkovic. "His intricate, 1/12th-scale midcentury modern furniture and decorative objects, inspired by the greats, are unmatched, making him one of the most sought-after miniaturists in the field today."
When Yurkovic makes a new piece, it's not a papier-mâché approximation of a piece of furniture; it's a highly intricate, detailed affair with a high degree of fidelity to the original full-scale piece that inspired it. "I start from raw material: planks of wood, sheets of brass—nothing is premade," he says. "
To fabricate a shell chair, Yurkovic looked to his industrial design experience with vacuum forming, a process that's often used to mold plastics. He sculpted a master form of the chair, then heated a piece of plastic until it was malleable, then turned on his shop vac to shrink the plastic around the form. As it cools, it takes on the master form's shape. For the wire base, which in reality is composed of metals with different diameters, he took brass wire and re-created the thickness to be proportional to the original. "I’m really keyed into knowing those details," he says. Since he owns many of the chairs and pieces that he makes miniatures of, he could constantly refer to the original to ensure that every detail was spot on. The finishing touch? 3D-printed plastic gliders at the bottom of each leg.
Yurkovic is currently working on a wood base for the chairs. It took him six days just to study the original dowels and learn how to carve them to just the right silhouette. "Miniatures demand that all the details are right," he says. "Midcentury design was all about simplicity. The details are few, but they can be marvelous and they have to be executed to the nines."
While staying faithful to the exact proportions of original designs is typically a rule of thumb, he takes some artistic license. Charles and Ray Eames used molded plywood on the doors of their Storage Unit, which is adorned with slightly recessed circles. When Yurkovic tried to replicate that molding process in miniature, he noticed the detail was lost, so he opted to render in in relief instead.
"You have to bring in your creative sense of style and judgment, weight, and balance," he says. "A lot of it is intangible—you just know when it looks right. It's constant tweaking, just pushing to keep going and drive the design to perfection."
One of Yurkovic's chairs typically fetches about $250, which is in the ballpark of some of the "official" midcentury modern miniatures produced by Vitra. (A Vitra Eames rocker miniature is $225, and it is larger than what Yurkovic makes.) While these pieces certainly aren't cheap, they tap into the desire for design fans to own some of their favorite classics, pint-sized.
"Being able to replicate reality and create your own reality drives a lot of collectors," Yurkovic says. "You can pick and choose from different artisans and put together these room vignettes. Maybe it’s a fantasy vacation retreat, or a dream home, or inspired by something they see in a design magazine."
Though Yurkovic has perfected a handful of objects, he's eager to expand his craft to become more narrative-focused. Recently, he produced a scale model of a Mindy Project set in tandem with Scala. "Even people who aren't into miniatures can appreciate that this TV stage has been re-created down to the last detail," he says.
Yurkovic is also keen on pushing miniatures beyond their status as quirky collectibles. "A lot of us who do this professionally are actively working on elevating this to a higher art form," he says. "It’s more than just the arts and crafts side."
[All Photos: courtesy Michael Yurkovic]