Made in Sarasota

By staff May 1, 2007

Woodworker Shawn O’Malley is like a kid in a candy store. He gets to indulge his love for fine-aged architectural materials every day by working at Architectural Salvage, a warehouse on downtown’s Central Avenue that overflows with old windows, doors, bricks, iron gates, plinth blocks and other paraphernalia rescued from the wrecking ball.

Then O’Malley feeds his creative spirit by creating charming benches and hall trees out of many of these odds and ends. For the ebullient furniture maker, the satisfaction comes both from recycling old materials and from imagining the stories hidden within them.

“My grandfather was a woodworker,” says O’Malley with great feeling. “He inspired me to not only appreciate the piece but the materials that went into it—[and] the energy it carries with it. We have a bench in our house that’s made from the center of a barn in Pine Knot, Ky., where Union soldiers slept during the Civil War. I like to think about what family sat around that.”

O’Malley grew up in Sarasota, graduated from the Booker High School VPA program in 1992 and married his elementary school sweetheart. While they attended Florida State University together in Tallahassee, he started working at The Body Shop, the British-based, environmentally friendly cosmetic company whose founders are known for their social activism. “It was my first foray into environmentalism,” he says. “It’s where I learned that you could do well and do good at the same time.”

He does his woodworking in his late grandfather’s home workshop, near his own home in the Arlington Park area. “It’s a workshop that’s been in use for over 50 years,” he says. O’Malley works in the evenings after his two sons go to bed, and early in the morning before work. (“I have a T-shirt that reads, ‘I love the smell of sawdust in the morning.’”) Now he’s teaching his eight-year-old son some basic woodworking techniques. “It’s a great bonding experience,” says O’Malley, “and he’s loving it.”

Among his recently completed projects on display at Architectural Salvage are wine stoppers he fashioned out of old doorknobs and ceramic faucet handles, priced at $19; a 53-inch-long bench made from a four-panel door salvaged from an old house in the Payne Park area, priced at $225; and a hall tree made from two four-panel doors from a remodeled home on Osprey Avenue. His next project will be for his wife: a wine and liquor cabinet made from six-panel double-hung windows.

Architectural Salvage is packed with hand-me-down treasures. O’Malley pulls out a piece of pecky cypress flooring that came from the  Earth Spa on Lemon Street, which was recently torn down to make way for Pineapple Square. “That building had originally been part of the train station,” he says, “and when they pulled up the heart pine floor, this was underneath. Think of the history behind it.”

Down another aisle, he sorts through a rack of salvaged interior doors until he comes to an old white one with a square window inset into it and the words “Media Center” in black paint in the center. It was salvaged from Anna Maria Elementary School when they tore it down, he explains. “My mother-in-law is the librarian at a local elementary school; she wants a hall tree from it.”

O’Malley picks up a heavy piece of wood and turns it in his hands. It’s a piece of Sarasota High School’s old gym floor, which came into Architectural Salvage’s hands when the floor was replaced a few years ago. “It’s full one-inch maple with the basketball lines still on it,” he says admiringly. He has his eye on it for a coffee table.

O’Malley welcomes commissions, and says the commissioning client can pick out the door or windows from the racks of them on display in the store. For more information, contact him at Architectural Salvage, 362-0803.

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