Jason Koharik is a junk-pile alchemist. In his hands, paint stirrers and broken tape measures become art supplies, salvaged metal tubing and brackets are transformed into Modernist lamps, and discarded patio furniture dazzles the eye with refined additions of gold leaf, brass plating, hand-shaped hardwoods and leather upholstery.
“Why buy new chairs when there’s a million of them out there that could be great?” Koharik asks.
The Echo Park furniture maker, lighting designer, painter and sculptor proves his point by showing 15 years’ worth of work in “CollectedBy,” a showcase on display through Nov. 14 in a rented warehouse space at 1745 Glendale Blvd. Staged in vignettes that could put some high-end furniture showrooms to shame, the pop-up gallery shows off Koharik’s collecting, trash-picking and inventive tweaking.
The son of an Ohio cabinetmaker who regularly took his sons on “junk walks” to find parts for building toys, Koharik has been employed as a house painter, construction worker and production assistant on commercials. Now he works full time producing his own designs as well as renovating and decorating homes.
“My twin brother, Johnny, calls me the Octopus,” Koharik says with a laugh. “I have so many arms doing so many things.”
Since 2008, Koharik has sold more than 100 of his “Target” series paintings done on abandoned tabletops and other found objects at Lawson Fenning, which also stocks his handcrafted “CollectedBy” lighting. The store has a waiting list for some of the pieces, says co-owner Glenn Lawson, thanks to recent exposure in Echo Park’s Brite Spot restaurant and the THR Design Hollywood at the Century decorator show house. Trip Haenisch, one of the show house designers, used brass and white-powder-coated Koharik designs in his show bedroom.
“Jason is very knowledgeable about 20th century furniture and his passion is reflected in beautifully executed designs with great attention to detail,” Haenisch says.
Koharik’s lamps have the beautiful curves of Art Nouveau, the sinuous and almost insect-like forms of Midcentury designers Serge Mouille and Greta Grossman. In the “CollectedBy” show, Koharik’s prototypes are displayed along with mixed-media paintings and sculptures, such as a leather-clad wooden anvil and a 1950s Colonial American-style globe with hand-applied gilt continents. (“The Cayman Islands and several other archipelagoes are missing,” Koharik admits.)
The standout pieces are imaginatively reinterpreted seating, including his tweaks on designer pieces from California, Italy and Scandinavia (a 1990s Ikea loveseat has been redone in tuck-and-roll and tufted leather), as well as variations on mass-produced iron-framed chairs. Koharik, an unabashed fan of Kelly Wearstler’s recent designs in brass, also cites midcentury designer Jacques Adnet’s leather-wrapped metal furniture and his accessories for Hermès as an influence.
“Koharik utilizes a timeless color palette and materials of leather and brass that work with many different styles — from classic traditional to avant-garde décor,” says designer David John Dick, co-owner of Disc Interiors. “We recently used his brass sconces in a Spanish house to add a dose of decadence and understated refinement to an all-white and marble powder room.”
His work also has a playful side. Koharik’s Poker Table has inlaid leather and gilt metal coasters as well as a leather gun holster under the tabletop in case anyone has thoughts of cheating. Many pieces also have elaborate back stories, tales of how he tracked down a misidentified design classic on Craigslist and added a flourish inspired by childhood memories.
“I am drawn to objects that have had a life,” Koharik says. “My idea of a beautiful desk is one with pen marks on it.”
The designer is fond of encasing common industrial school chairs and midcentury museum pieces in rustic saddle leather.
“His thick hand-stitched Verner Panton S Chair from the 1960s leaves me speechless,” Dick says. “When you look at his method for reworking this iconic chair with hand-stained leather emphasizing the form, it really sums up his artistic practice, this wabi-sabi tradition, this notion of transient, imperfect beauty.”
It’s a philosophy that Koharik takes to heart.
“People often see my work and ask how do you know how to do this?” he says. “And the answer is, I didn’t the first five times I tried. If you start making something and want it to be perfect you will spend your whole life just doing that. I love the mistakes and the flaws, that’s how you can tell something was made by hand.”