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Martha is a cozy, eclectic new bar in the Kensington neighborhood of North Philly. Located at the corner of East York and Martha Street, the pub has been described as a “chill bar with snacks and a retro den feel.” Martha’s atmosphere is more like an artist’s residence than a bar. Utilizing NextFab’s wood and metal shops, member Mike Harpring fabricated fixtures and furnishings to accent the unique space.

Mike Harpring fabricated fixtures and furnishings at Martha's Bar

Detailing the extensive work that was done at NextFab, Harpring explains, “All of the custom finish work I did at Martha utilized Nextfab in one way or another: the mezzanine handrail, the firewood storage box, the bar chairs and bar stools, the Tetris shelves, the banquette seating, the concrete forms, and the walk-in keg rack.”

While Harpring worked out the details of fabrication and finish, local designer/builder Mike Parsell spearheaded the project.

Parsell’s enthusiasm is immediately evident, “Martha was a labor of love for me because it was the first commercial project where I was at the helm as far as the interior design and choices of finishes etc. We used a lot of salvaged materials for the build out, without it looking too much like “reclaimed wood”. The bar itself is made from beams in the old ceiling and we milled it on site, it never left the building. We tried to make the building as environmentally friendly as we could under our budget which included a high degree of insulation, an efficient radiant floor heating system, and LED light bulbs where possible. Mike Harpring’s use of NextFab was super helpful during the build out.”

Mike Harpring furniture at Martha's Bar
Custom bar stools and repurposed wooden bar top

The concrete forms, used for countertops, are another wonderful example of material re-use at Martha. Harpring cut the forms from rigid foam on the ShopBot. This made for lightweight, easy to use forms and the flexibility to make any shape that they wanted. After the concrete was cast, the foam was reused as insulation.

Table made at NextFab
Concrete radius cast in a rigid foam form

Harpring utilized the metal shop at NextFab to fabricate a keg rack, firewood boxes and railings for a second floor mezzanine. “The balcony handrail – a simple but sleek design – was the most ambitious of these projects in the amount of materials and time it took to make. Special attention was given to its strength and rigidity for safety,” says Harpring.

Handrail made at NextFab
Second floor mezzanine handrail

“One of the inside corners follows a curve which necessitated use of the plasma torch to make curved bottom and top plates. I cut templates out of plywood on the ShopBot and followed the templates with the handheld plasma, cutting the shapes out of sheet steel,” continues Harpring.

Handrail base close up
Handrail base detail

The largest individual project for Harpring was building 22 counter height bar chairs. The chairs frames are welded from 3/4″ box steel with “scooped” form-fitting seats and back rests.

Bar chair seats and backs cut on the ShopBot at NextFab makerspace
Bar chair seats and backs cut on the ShopBot, wooden bar top made from repurposed on-site lumber

The scooped seats were carved from Douglass fir on the ShopBot, a time intensive process followed by more time spent sanding the wood smooth. Harpring then sealed the chair frames with a coat of lacquer finish and the wood in the spray booth with a waterborne varnish.

Bar stool legs and frames welded in the NextFab metal shop
Bar stool legs and frames were welded in the metal shop at NextFab’s Washington Avenue location

“I laid out the chair in Rhino, which made it easier to design and cut plywood jigs to hold all the steel frame pieces in place as I tack-welded each chair together,” explains Harpring.

Bar stools made at the NextFab makerspace
Bar stools at the center counter

Rhino was also used to design and lay out the “Tetris” shelves, a complex set of interlocking forms that sit in the frosted front window. By modeling the entire unit in rhino, Harpring was able to cut each piece to match the drawing, and then lay out the hole pattern in the acrylic window that mounted to the back of the shelves. The window reinforces the shelves and keeps them square. The shelves were then trimmed in a patchwork of exotic woods.

Tetris shelves made at NextFab
“Tetris” shelves against the acrylic front window

Along the long wall of the space is a banquette. The banquette has a gentle sloped back and a radius in two corners, requiring a compound angle and curve. Harpring started with a dozen or so vertical profile pieces that make up the supporting structure. These pieces were cut on the ShopBot, a huge time saver.

Harpring explains, “A major challenge of the banquette was figuring out how to run the lateral wood slats of the back rest around the inside corner at an angle. I created a 3d model of the curved corner section in Rhino, and used the UnrollSrf command to lay the curved back slats flat onto the plane, which looked like a series of boomerang shapes; I then used the shopbot to cut these vector curves out of bending plywood. Installation was a breeze – each level of plywood work itself into its exact curved shape and the end result was stunning!”

Banquette compound corner bench made at NextFab
Banquette compound corner

Harpring concludes, “I received help and encouragement from a number of staff as well as members at Nextfab. Even though I’ve been building and making things for over 15 years, I feel like I’m still constantly learning new techniques and crafts, and I’m fortunate to be able to work in a space with such patient and talented teachers.”