My work as an upholsterer weaves together many threads of my past: an education in art history, fine art, and printmaking; a passion for patterns in wallpaper and fabric; and some years working for an interior designer. Those experiences help me with my objective — to transform treasured but unusable furniture into unique and beautiful home furnishings.
Upholstery is the art of covering a furniture frame with the appropriate materials to form the shape, contour, and design of the piece. It is an act of sculpting.
I am always in search of furniture in distress. Finding a piece of furniture worth reupholstering is not always easy. Look for a well-made frame built with kiln-dried hardwood, the proverbial “good bones.” You can find potential pieces at the swap shop, a consignment store, an estate sale, Grandma’s attic, or the side of the road. But be careful. Look (or smell) for dust, mold, or unwanted pests.
Lately I have had my eye out for contemporary midsize chairs. My most recent acquisition belonged to my brother’s neighbor, who was getting ready to downsize. The chair didn’t make the cut — it was in need of TLC. But it had a unique, sturdy hardwood frame with a tight seat and back.
The chair had originally been upholstered in leather. I decided it needed a kilim-style design for the new fabric. I picked up some hand-printed throw rugs made in Jaipur, India, that seemed appropriate.
It’s important to select sturdy fabrics; look for the term “rub count” –– it should be 50,000 or higher. From silk to cotton, linens to polyester, there are many choices, so consider your life style. If you have kids or pets, choose a more durable fabric and look for stain-resistant finishes. Unfortunately, no fabric is impervious to cats’ claws.
A diligent and skilled upholsterer will remove all fabric and old materials from the piece and replace with new webbing, burlap, cotton batting, horse hair, and foam. In some scenarios it might be necessary to retie the springs. An upholsterer will discuss the process and the scope of the work or bring attention to unexpected repairs that may be hidden inside.
The hand-crafting and materials can make upholstery expensive, but the finished piece is one of a kind. A good chair becomes a collaborative effort. It tells a story that sits in your living room.
Maggie Akers is the proprietor of Stuff It Upholstery in Eastham.