If I could choose a new best upholstery friend from anywhere in the world, it would be Heather. This lady is a woman after my own heart. Remember our interview with Ray Clarke? Through his FB page, I found Heather’s work and then asked her for an interview. She’s another creative, artsy upholsterer you’ll want to get to know. When you see where she learned traditional upholstery skills, that’s where I’ll be for two weeks this summer. All I can say is, “Side Trip!” My list of ‘need to meets’ in England’ is rapidly growing.
This is Heather Linnitt from Eclectic Chair (and check out her snazzy new website EclecticChair.com!)
By: Shelly Miller Leer
- Can you explain a little bit about how you started upholstering? What did you do before? What led you to upholstery?
I did a degree in French & Spanish, but then went into the restaurant industry, working my way up to managing a lovely independent restaurant in South Manchester for 10 years. My mum has a gift for creating a beautifully decorated house, and there was always a copy of Homes & Gardens or Country Living on the coffee table, so I grew up surrounded by creativity, so I guess it was in my genes. It was reading about someone’s account of an upholstery course in Wales that drew me to apply for a course, much as I loved the hospitality industry, I was aware that I didn’t want to stay in it forever.
How many years have you been at it? 12 years
2. Did you go through a program for it, or did you learn on your own?
Length of program, apprenticeship?
Are you officially a Master Upholsterer? What does that mean?
I studied at The Traditional Upholstery Workshop in Ceredigion, South Wales. It is a residential course. You can do an intensive 6 week diploma, or study whenever you can fit it in. Over a period of 4 years, I went whenever I could afford to, for a week at a time, gradually learning the basics of upholstery. I met people from all over the world, people even came to do the course from the US. It was in a beautiful setting, deep in the countryside. It was like a little holiday each time I went.
I am not a member of the ASMUF. I would like to be, but it is not a priority. I guess I have been a bit scared that I might not be of a good enough standard to pass their tests, although I think I probably am now. They examine the standard of your upholstery, and only if you meet their stringent criteria, will they bestow the honour of the accreditation.
3. How many years did you upholster before opening your own shop?
5 years, I did upholstery for friends and family, customers in the restaurant, and myself during this time.
4. Have you had employees help you over the years? If so, how many at a time? Only one, and not for long. It’s a big step to take on an employee, you have to have insurances, pay tax and be sure that you have enough work to be able to pay them and still make a profit. The one time that I did take someone on, the standard of their work wasn’t great, and I soon decided to let them go.
5. Are there many upholsterers in your area?
Yes, although they don’t tend to have websites, or if they do their websites are not very appealing. There are lots of upholsterers in West Yorkshire, of varying standards and prices.
6. How did you come upon your unique style?
I’ve always wanted to swim against the flow, even from being a teenager, and that hasn’t gone away. When I started to upholster, I could see a massive potential and a creative opportunity. I have always devoured interiors magazines, and I get most of my inspiration from them. I love to juxtapose modern and antique, so either a modern chair with a vintage piece of fabric, or an antique piece of furniture with something fresh and new in terms of fabric, colour and pattern. My upholstery work sometimes heads into the realms of art.
7. Does a piece of furniture you tear down dictate how you will reupholster it, or do you feel free to use modern materials and techniques as opposed to traditional upholstery techniques?
I’m not a traditionalist, but I tend to stick with the original methods of upholstery. It seems sacrilegious to me to whack a piece of foam over something that was originally sprung, and stuffed with horsehair. Although I will replace the horsehair with rubberized hair sometimes.
9. Do you do any antique restoration?
Not anymore, it is too time consuming, and I’m not an expert. I discovered a local antique restorer, and prefer to pass it on to him.
10. What is your favorite style of furniture to upholster? Least favorite?
Favourite: I tend to prefer furniture from the 1950s to the 1970s, this period is known as ‘mid-century modern’, and the furniture has clean, unfussy lines, often with tapered slightly splayed legs. Because of its simplicity of design, you can really jazz it up with your fabric. I like interesting patterns and colours, and I like to ‘mash up’ ethnic patterns, colours and fabric, with this style of furniture. For example a 1960s lounge chair I worked on looks pretty damn cool with a rather bonkers brown and green African print fabric. You wouldn’t expect them to work together, but they do!
Least favourite: Egg chairs! The curves are so difficult to fit round! I usually take apart the old cover and use it as a template, but even when I do that, they don’t always fit when they go back on, depending on whether there is any stretch in the new fabric. I tend to avoid them now. Too much time spent unpicking has led to this!
11. We’ve all been in awe of your jazzy unique designs, how do you find time to create those in addition to your custom work for clients? How many of your own pieces do you create a week? Sell per week? Tell us a little bit about where you sell your own designs?
Well, over the last 6 years, I haven’t had any time at all to create my own pieces. But I seem to attract people like me, who are looking to do something a bit different or adventurous. And this has meant I have had interesting things in my portfolio.
However, as time goes by, I’m getting faster at upholstering, and I’m managing to find a little time at the weekends to make my own creations. Only one a week really. I’d love to spend all my time doing this, but I need to keep the bread and butter money coming in.
A shop has recently opened in Leeds, that works as a collective. 40 odd crafters under one roof, each paying a part of the rent, and 10% commission of any sales. The makers staff the shop too, I just do 5 hours a week. It’s an experiment, which on the whole is working, and my upholstered furniture is flying out of the shop, which is a huge boost to my confidence.
12. If you were going to do it again, would you have chosen upholstery as your profession? What are some of your other talents that you could have easily pursued?
Although I really enjoy it, the upholstery side of it can be really tough. It’s proper hard work, and a lot of things can go wrong! I would love to be able to combine my talent for hospitality, for upholstery and for vintage and retro interiors, with my love of food and music, in a funky café/bar, furnished with an eclectic mix of vintage furniture. That would be my dream!
13. What advice would you give someone who is intrigued by upholstery and is considering it as a profession?
Do a full-time, accredited course, followed by work experience in a big upholstery company (most small outfits don’t have the time to train an apprentice). Be aware that it is hard, physical work, and not easy to make a lot of money. And if that doesn’t put you off, go for it! I get a lot of pleasure from making my ideas come to life, and a lot of appreciation from my customers.
14. What is the most difficult part of running your own business? What do you love the most?
Time management is one of the most difficult, jobs ALWAYS take twice as long as I estimate to complete, which then affects cash flow, as money doesn’t come in when you are expecting it.
What I love the most is, coming across a real find in a junkshop or on Ebay, and having a lightbulb moment as to what fabric will work on it. This happened with my African fabric lounge chair. I was afraid it would look terrible and that I would have to reupholster it all over again, but it looked ‘the bomb!’ I was buzzing after I completed it, and lots of other people like it too, even though the fabric is bonkers.
15. In my classes, students often talk about the therapeutic value of completely making over a piece of furniture. Would you agree that the start to finish, and ‘working with your hands’ benefits of this craft fill a need in our otherwise high tech lives?
Absolutely. I worked in the restaurant industry, which is governed by hygiene and cleanliness, washing your hands every 10 minutes. The first day I started my upholstery course, they had me filling in tack holes with a sticky mixture of glue and sawdust. I loved getting my hands dirty and connecting with the wood and the history and craftsmanship in the piece of furniture.
16. When you’re long gone, what do you want people to remember about you?
That I was a kind person with a good heart and a great upholsterer with a passion for reinventing and resurrecting beautiful furniture at an affordable price. I want everyone to be able to own a lovely chair, and I don’t ever want to charge the earth for it.
Now that was an interview!!!Thank you so much Heather. Cheers and I hope we get to meet this summer.
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