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Inside the Design Mind of Kiel Arto

Kiel Arto Design is a new company repurposing automotive steel into designer, one-of-a-kind tables. I’m intrigued by the artistic process that uncovers a rich patina by removing layers of paint and coating. Let’s go inside the design mind of Kiel Arto and meet their muse and makers.

Kiel Arto Coffee Table
Kiel Arto Coffee Table

What inspired you to focus your craft on creating designer tables from reclaimed steel?

One of our partners, Peter Kalnins, wanted to try something different. Everyone knows that old cars get scrapped, crushed and re-melted. This uses a lot of energy. Having always admired clever ways of reusing materials, Peter realized that painted auto body steel had a hidden beauty and potential. Automobile roof panels, which are rusting away in scrap yards, have numerous layers of color that can be exposed to reveal something beautiful. The layers consist of bare steel, rust protective coating, primer, paint, clear coat. By gradually exposing these layers a painting can be made on the steel, and this then becomes a functional, practical piece of art – a table (or a wall tile, counter top, a decorative panel).

Kiel Arto Dining Table on view at ICFF, photo credit: The Design Tourist
Kiel Arto Dining Table on view at ICFF, photo credit: The Design Tourist

Introduce us to your muse?

The car roof really gives the artist his inspiration. Once the roof is removed, he looks for dents and scratches as a starting point. This urban patina is part of the history and story of the car. He gradually removes the layers of paint, follows the color patterns and combinations to create the design that eventually appears.


How do you envision your pieces used in a living space?

We envision our tables being used by people who appreciate functional art and are sensitive to the environment. There is much art that is viewed from a distance, our tables are art that should be used, touched, and be part of your daily routine. The three different lines and varied functions of our tables (coffee, end, bar-height) offer a broad range of use in homes in offices. Our wall tiles, wall panels and counter-tops take the idea a step further in the interior environment. Art comes in many forms but these are truly functional in nature.

Kiel Arto Coffee Table
Kiel Arto Coffee Table


Share the brief back story of your design studio and how it came to be?

Peter Kalnins, one of the partners, had three beliefs that were the basis for making the tables and establishing the company: 1) Materials must be honest and have integrity. Automotive body panels are not plastic pretending to be wood – this is factory painted steel that deserves a second life.

Kiel Arto Table collection
Kiel Arto Table collection

Saving this material from the crusher is good for the environment. Working to protect the environment is what responsible humans should be doing. 2) Tables need to be sturdy and truly functional. Everyone knows a coffee table that has a “shimmy and shake” problem. You can’t put a coffee mug on it, because 2-year-old Johnny will bump the table and the coffee will spill. Tables must be rock solid and should not dictate how you use them. 3) Art can be not only something you look at, but also something you can use, touch and enjoy in everyday life.  As his background is engineering and architecture, Peter approached his friend and artist Kristaps Gulbis about creating art from reclaimed automotive steel to set into tables. Together they designed the tables and worked out the technical aspects of these table lines.

Kiel Arto Dining Table on view at ICFF. Photo Credit, The Design Tourist
Kiel Arto Dining Table on view at ICFF. Photo Credit, The Design Tourist

What’s new and next for you?

Within the last 12 months, we have launched the company and designed three lines of tables. We are going to Dwell on Design in LA at the end of June and ICFF in Miami in October. We have our tables in 3 galleries already two in Chicago and one in Riga. We hope to find more like-minded galleries interested in carrying our products. We hope to find our way into homes, offices and hotels in the US.

For the latest design finds and trends, subscribe to The Design Tourist Channel so you don’t miss a single episode of my design travels and as always, subscribe to the blog for interviews with tastemakers and trendsetters in art, architecture and design. For more luxury design finds, read the related blog post below:

ICFF Luxury Design Finds & Trends

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist ( that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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