Imagine for a moment…an autumnal afternoon is drawing to a close; dusk is gently falling and the skies are changing from a clear blue to a soft grey. Outside you can hear the chatter of children as they head back home after an afternoon of sport or playing in the park, soaking in the last rays of warm sunshine before the winter sets in. You make a steaming mug of tea and sink into your favourite old, comfortable, overstuffed armchair. Maybe you pull a throw around you as you settle into down-filled cushions. The chair enfolds you. Peace permeates your soul. This is your small space of comfort and restoration.
Many of us have a favourite chair. When we are invited into a friend’s home, we may well ask where we should sit, conscious that some chairs may be inhabited by particular family members. We may have childhood memories of curling up in a specific chair, reading, listening to stories or sitting on a parent’s knee. Or we may have memories of rocking or cuddling our babies or small children in a special chair. We might welcome a new foster or adopted child into our family by placing a small chair in their bedroom, a safe space that is just for them. At the other end of life’s rich spectrum, Granny and Grandad will almost always have their chair, complete with an ideally sized cushion and a small table at hand on which to place drinks, books, a crossword or whatever else will minimise the amount of walking required. Most of us will have fond memories of grandparents in their chairs. Whatever our own stories, chairs will often be woven into our history.
Upholstery in our modern era can be traced back to Elizabethan times when wealthier families began to have cushions stuffed with natural products such as hay or feathers which were laid upon a wooden chair and roughly tacked into place. It wasn’t until the seventeenth century that stitched edging appeared. This paved the way for the beginning of upholstery as we know it today with some elaborate and ornate designs, maybe as a reaction to the Protestant Reformation. Since then, we have followed a continuous and fascinating thread of fashion in furniture and upholstery design.
Much more recently, the concept of upcycling has become popular; not only making use of and recycling otherwise obsolete items but also increasing their value. The skillful craft of upholstery lends itself particularly well to upcycling and it’s an area where the concept is not new. Over the last couple of decades, as we have become more aware of our responsibility to walk more lightly on our beautiful earth, upcycling upholstery has seen a resurgence in popularity. It is also a way to breathe a new lease of life into items of much-loved family furniture, and to bring objects of charm into our homes; beautifully handmade in the United Kingdom.
What starts with a skill may turn into a passion and from there into a flourishing business. If you are considering this pathway for yourself, there are a few basic questions that might help to set you off in the best direction for your unique skill set, personality and location. Maybe the first consideration might be whether you want to market your skills per se or start your own upcycling business. If the former, you may think about offering a restoration service to places such as the National Trust, stately homes or antique dealers. If this sounds like a good fit for you, the next step could be to do some research; and find out what other upholstery restoration services are in your area and what prices they charge. Then make contact with some antique dealers, auction houses or organisations that take care of antique furniture.
Another avenue would be to start your own business to upcycle furniture; either items belonging to your clients or items you have bought, re-upholster and then sell on. There are various blogs and websites out there giving detailed instructions on how to go about setting up your own crafting business, but here are a few basic tips. Firstly, you don’t need your separate workspace; many businesses selling unique handmade products in the United Kingdom have grown from the humble kitchen table. You will need a basic set of tools and sources of fabrics, wax finishes, paints etc., so it is worth researching these to ensure you invest wisely. Check out what other upholstery businesses are in your area, what services they offer and their pricing.
Write down your vision. It is always good to have something to aim for and even though your business will inevitably change and adapt over time, having a written vision statement to look back on when you meet those “crossroads moments” can be very helpful.
You will need to set your new upholstery enterprise on a secure business footing, and part of this is ensuring you have the correct insurance. As a family-run business ourselves, we understand both the unique opportunities and challenges of small businesses and would love to hear about your business and talk you through the best policies for your requirements. Pick up the phone or send us a message and we’ll take it from there.
Maybe you already have a flourishing upholstery enterprise and are ready to expand your boundaries. It could be the time for a website and social media update. Be confident in what you do. You will be bringing life back into items of furniture that may otherwise have been cast aside; make sure your sustainability credentials are prominent on your site. Reach out to customers who might be looking to have some of their own family favourites reupholstered; if you take on commissions in this way, it’s a good idea to send photos and updates of progress. Finally, don’t forget to extravagantly populate your website with amazing photos of your stunning upcycled upholstery. Be bold as you promote your work, part of our ever-growing and spectacular lineup of handmade products from the United Kingdom.