Sean O'Harra's furniture might be newly constructed, but there's nothing "new" about it.
Walking through his workshop, a cavernous warehouse space on Reisterstown Road, O'Harra points to an enormous piece of wood, a cross-section of a maple tree trunk.
"That is a tabletop," he explains. "It came out of a yard in Mount Washington and migrated to me." The wood is rich brown, with prominent grain and an intricate, almost lacy, edge.
It made its way to O'Harra via friends and friends of friends who knew he would appreciate it. He'll pair the wood with a metal base, balancing the maple's organic beauty with the cool modernity of metal.
A piece of wood inspiring a piece of furniture is the tale behind many of O'Harra's works. And that juxtaposition — nature-meets-industrial — is his signature aesthetic.
That look has drawn the eye of tastemakers around Baltimore and beyond. Ben Homola, who owns the eclectic boutique Trohv with his, wife Carmen Brock, sells O'Harra's tables, benches and sculptural metal bowls at the shop's Hampden and Takoma Park locations.
"I like that he's local and uses reclaimed wood," says Homola. "I think there's something really natural about his aesthetic. He's an amazing metalworker. He uses reclaimed materials that are often pretty rugged and rustic-looking, but with the tables he does a good job of incorporating an early modern, clean aesthetic."
A table in Trohv's Takoma Park location caught the eye of Kelly Gotthardt, the merchandise manager outfitting a new shop at the National Archives building in Washington.
She was scouting pieces for the new 4,000-square-foot store, which is scehduled to open within the next month. "We decided we wanted to have a section featuring American artisans," she explains. "It's in keeping with our records from the WPA. We wanted local artisan-made tables."
At Trohv, she spotted some of O'Harra's reclaimed wood-and-metal pieces, deciding they would be a great fit for the shop. They didn't fit the size specifications, so O'Harra created two custom tables, for merchandise display, and one bench.
"We're thrilled to bits," Gotthardt says. "Sean's tables have this warm feeling of salvaged wood, but they're also contemporary. It's a nice mix."
O'Harra comes by his appreciation for building (and reusing materials) naturally. As a child in Bethesda, his next-door neighbor painted cars for a living. When O'Harra was about 15, his mother got him a Ford Mustang. Drawing on the advice of his neighbor, O'Harra restored the car himself, giving him his "first taste" of working with metal and older materials.
After high school, O'Harra moved to Baltimore to study sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. At MICA, he frequented places like the Loading Dock, foraging for salvaged items to use in his work. O'Harra still searches the city's salvage shops and old buildings for interesting materials.
O'Harra turns to reclaimed materials for aesthetic reasons, but he also values the "green" aspect of reuse. "Most of the stuff I do uses recycled materials," he says. "And most of my machinery is recycled." That includes a 100-year-old band saw he found online.
"I have a truck that runs on vegetable oil, and I deliver a lot of stuff, so there's not much of a footprint on this furniture. Everything's local."
Homola appreciates that environmental consciousness: "He uses the reclaimed, vintage, repurposed industrial materials — that's as green as you can get. And he makes really durable goods from those materials."
O'Harra's roots as a sculptor are immediately noticeable in his work, especially in his graceful metal bowls and the bases he creates for tables and benches. Those bases vary from angular and architectural to curvy and organic.
"I goT into making furniture with sculpture in mind," O'Harra says. "When I first started, I was more interested in the shapes than the function. But my work has become more functional over the years," explaining that though his pieces play a practical role in the home, they're also pieces of art.
After graduating from MICA in 1992, O'Harra moved to Richmond to study furniture design at Virginia Commonwealth University. Then he packed up and moved across the country to work in the film industry in Los Angeles, as a set dresser, in special effects and as a grip.
About 11 years ago, O'Harra moved back to Baltimore, after a brief interlude in upstate New York. Here, he continues his work in film — he has worked on movies like "Wedding Crashers" and "Body of Lies." But in the future, he hopes to spend more time in his workshop.
Kin Ellentuck, a production designer O'Harra met while working on an episode of "West Wing," describes his process: "Sean is very tactile. When you see him working, there's a lot of respect for the way things feel, the way he can mold them, the way he can honor the material."
She praises O'Harra's understanding of the materials he uses to create. "If it's an old being — if it came from an old building and has a history — he tries to maintain that history and the provenance of the material, but also make it his own sculpture," she says. "He doesn't erase the history."
Background: Sean O'Harra, a Bethesda native who has lived in Baltimore for over a decade, works with reclaimed wood and metal to create furniture and home accessories.
Education: O'Harra studied sculpture at Maryland Institute College of Art and furniture design at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Inspiration: O'Harra's pieces combine the organic feel of natural wood with the industrial edge of metal. "My inspiration comes a lot from nature," he says. "But all my pieces are different. Some are architectural, some a little organic."
Where to buy: In Baltimore, O'Harra's pieces are available at Trohv in Hampden (921 W. 36th Street; 410-366-3456). His work is also available at Trohv in Takoma Park (232 Carroll St. 202-829-2941) and will be displayed in the new shop at the National Archives (800 Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington; 202-357-5271). O'Harra also creates custom pieces and sells directly to customers or to the trade.
How to contact: Visit mossunltd.com or email Sean O'Harra at email@example.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun