Tastemakers: Sean Alan

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, Sean Alan, Canadian born craftsman currently based in Brooklyn, New York City, is finally working on a debut collection that will formally introduce him to the world as a furniture designer. We recently had the opportunity to visit Sean at his Bushwick based studio and discussed his craftwork, influences, and his projection for his personal brand.

Genteel Flair: What roads have led up to where you are at the moment?

Sean Alan: In my earlier years, I worked in a restaurant, took up acting and even modeled for some time before I made a conscious decision to explore other viable options. When I had some down time, away from modeling, my friend and I decided to collaborate and take on the endeavor of opening up a small cafe. The concept of the cafe was to build it out of materials found in the neighborhood at the time. What began as an off-the-cuff idea quickly morphed into a six month long project. When the cafe finally opened, I was working around the clock, doing everything from preparing the food to cleaning the dishes. The whole thing eventually wore me down, and when I could no longer devote myself to it, I moved on. When people try to warn you about the degree of difficulty involved in opening and maintaining a restaurant, they weren’t kidding. To my surprise, a customer who owned his own restaurant in Manhattan expressed that he wished his space looked like mine. I quickly jumped at the opportunity and told him I’d build a similar experience for him. That’s how everything started and it’s progressed into what it is now.

GF: How did you discover your passion for design?

SA: I discovered my passion for design while I was designing the cafe. So much of the process (the floor paneling, for example, was made from reclaimed shipping pallets, which was then tongued and grooved into a floor pattern that almost took on the rhythmic form of musical notes) was more-so focused on the design aspect rather than the logistics of the day-to-day operations of the cafe. I enjoyed designing and building the space more than I did working to keep it open.

GF: Why did you relegate your initial pursuits (modeling, theatre, etc.) for a career in furniture design? Was that an easy decision?

SA: Honestly, I think it just got to a point where I could no longer see myself doing either profession for a stretched period of time. Taking up woodwork really afforded me the ability to control every aspect of my craft and time, it’s truly a solo piece. When it comes to acting and modeling, someone writes the script or you’re always given directions with respect to what to do and how. As a furniture designer, I have creative freedom to express and execute my ideas than I do in those other fields of interest. And that’s what’s most important to me.

GF: It’s remarkable that an idea to develop a restaurant led up to you figuring out how to build furnishings for the space. Did you have any experience or formal education in design before delving into furniture design?

SA: I’ve always been somewhat artistic based on my background. I went to acting school and I was always building crafts, doing a bit of pottery, etc. There’s something about furniture design… every piece feels like a sculpture, so every piece is a way of expressing my true creative nature. There’s a fulfillment involved with woodworking that I haven’t gotten anywhere else. Everything is self taught, but when I do have questions, I’ll usually ask guys that I know who have been around a long time.

GF: How has New York City influenced your craft?

SA: I wouldn’t say the city has necessarily influenced my craft. But I get pretty inspired by seeing other creative people in their world. It’s really inspiring to see that and where they pull their information from.

My main inspiration, though, is nature. I always travel to places upstate, to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, etc. just to get out of the city. And that’s where I pull most of my inspiration from. And I’m not so conventional as far as taking an idea I have in mind and rendering it first on paper before proceeding to build. I like to build accordingly with my vision in mind, that way, I’m in for a surprise and there’s that chance of ending up with something more magical than I thought it would be. And of course, sometimes it’s frustrating and doesn’t quite end up exactly how I envision it.

GF: Tell us about the inspiration behind the pieces you’re currently working on for your debut collection.

SA: So for my first collection, I’m basically focusing on a living room set, so everything will be a rendition of pieces you’d typically find in a living room — coffee table, side table, a sofa, chair, bookcase, and a TV stand.

GF: What is a typical day in Sean Alan’s life like, nowadays?

SA: Nowadays, I normally wake up around 6:30 in the morning. I make my coffee, have a little light breakfast, go for a jog then come back home to work on the computer for 2-3 hours. Then I’ll head over to the shop until about 6 – 7 pm. I don’t like to stay in the shop too long into the night because it’s unhealthy (and at times, costly) when you start making mistakes. And there’s also the dangerous environment to account for, with all the machinery involved. Once I’m out of the shop, I’ll usually do another hour or two on the computer (building clientele, replying to emails, maintaining inventory etc.), if it’s necessary.

GF: What are your plans for Sean Alan Designs in the coming years?

SA: I’d like to have established my own wood shop somewhere upstate, be represented by a select number of showrooms, and for people to really enjoy the pieces I continue to create.

See more of Sean Alan’s work at Seanalandesigns.com.