CITY, Mo. ó Stephanie Grassie wandered into Sit on It
Ö A Chair Gallery one morning and began browsing.
learned about the Kansas City, Mo., shop online after
searching Yelp for furniture stores and finding a
customer description that read, "Itís like art
you can sit on."
owner Richelle Plett told Grassie that if she wanted to
see what the studio was really about, she should head
upstairs to the roadkill floor.
where Plett stores hundreds of old sofas, chairs,
ottomans and other upholstered furniture that she has
bought from yard, garage and estate sales or ó as the
name implies ó found abandoned and decrepit on the
side of the road.
rescues them and gives them some much-needed love.
piece has a price tag that indicates how much that love
will cost the person who chooses it. Most sofas run
around $800 in labor charges, while occasional chairs
are about $450. That includes creating medium density
cushions, installing Dacron and cotton batting,
stabilizing the frame, hand-tying springs and touching
up exposed wood, Plett says. Fabric, which is often more
than the cost of labor, is extra.
canít find anything in stores that I like. This is
unique, one-of-a-kind," said Grassie, who is drawn
to antique sofas and fabrics from India, as she looked
around the first-floor gallery.
it turns out, Grassie 30, of Weatherby Lake. Mo.,
represents a growing niche in the world of upholstery:
Young clients interested in buying and reworking vintage
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Chuck de la Durantaye, a third-generation upholsterer,
opened Dela Studios in Olathe, Kan., in 2008, he was
sure his clients would be baby boomers and their
he said, "we were pleasantly surprised to find
young folks not just taking pieces handed down to them,
but they were going to resale shops and estate sales and
finding interesting pieces."
upholstering piece No. 5 for one young client who likes
midcentury modern, he said.
to Plett, a lot of 40-somethings seem to prefer what she
calls disposable furniture from big box retailers.
who grew up during the Reagan era, theyíre like, ĎOh
letís just get something new,í" she says.
"But people 30 and under seem to realize that you
canít get the good stuff in those stores, and they
feel a need to connect with previous generations. They
walk in here, and itís like walking into their
grandparentsí homes. Itís nostalgic.
also can take it and personalize it, which is something
you canít get at Pottery Barn, where they offer
various shades of beige," she said.
added that thereís also "the whole sustainability
factor. The idea that itís not going to a
Bonney, founder of the popular blog Design*Sponge,
thinks Amanda Brown, an upholsterer in Austin, Texas,
had a lot to do with spurring the trend.
her foreword to Brownís recently released book,
"Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and
Design" (Storey Publishing), Bonney notes that 10
years ago, there were a lot of young artists producing
gorgeous textile designs, "yet no one seemed to be
doing anything with them other than making pillow after
pillow." Brown led the wave of upholsterers who
began to reimagine vintage furniture in bold,
a high-quality sofa or chair will have springs that have
been hand-tied eight ways, tight webbing and down
cushioning. In low-quality furniture, cheap foam and
thin wood substitute for those parts.
Rowzee, who co-owns Rowzee Upholstery with her husband,
Andy, is astounded by the quality of new furniture.
is so, so bad," she said. "Itís amazing that
people can sell stuff of such low quality. The frames
are only one-eighth of an inch thick in places. Itís
hard to take the staples out because the frame wants to
break. And the foam they use is thin and often chopped
up. (Customers) bring it in, and we tell them itís not
keeps a new chair on hand in Sit on It, with pieces of
fabric removed to expose the cardboard that shapes one
of its arms and the lack of webbing on the back.
a no-no," she said, pointing to the webbing.
"Unless you were absolutely sentimental about this
piece, it would be questionable as to whether it should
the flip side, she has seen people with few or no
upholstery skills take high-quality vintage pieces and
redo them by putting new fabric on top of the old.
to anyone who is re-covering an old piece, but itís a
short-term fix," she says.
on furniture squishes the springs and puts tension on
the twine thatís tying them together ó a good thing
because it keeps it all flexible, she says. But people
tend to store unused furniture in garages and basements,
where lack of use and climate conditions dry out the
twine. Also, the foam breaks down and becomes toxic.
Eventually most of it needs to be torn off the frame and
whose grandmother was a tailor and mother a seamstress,
had been dabbling in interior design for several years
when she founded Sit on It in 2011. One of her
upholsterers, Pat Tague, has been upholstering furniture
since 1969 (including 400 clubhouse seats in royal blue
at Kauffman Stadium, he said).
had so many clients who wanted to learn to upholster
that she and Tague began offering beginner classes
earlier this year.
$375 plus the cost of fabric, they teach clients how to
measure, mark and cut upholstery; properly use the
tools; attach new webbing; add and hand-tie springs
using the eight-way method; cut and apply foam; and fold
corners of fabric. The students upholster their own
ottomans during four two-hour weekly classes.
a challenge and an eye-opener for a lot of them, Plett
said. If they do well, they might be able to upholster a
small club chair, though probably not a long, 1960s
empire-style sofa like one sitting on the galleryís
customer had commissioned it in dark menswear suit
fabric with deep button diamond tufting on the back
rest. The total cost for labor and fabric was just over
refinished the wood trim but retained the dents, because
it tells the story of the piece," Plett said.
"You couldnít buy that sofa with that fabric and
that quality for less than $5,000."
sometimes talks about her roadkill like theyíre alive.
single one of these pieces has a story," she said.
"They all have an energy about them. Theyíre like
lost puppies happy to be found."
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UPHOLSTERER REVEALS HER SECRETS
A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design," by
Amanda Brown, (Storey Publishing, $35) does just what it
promises: shows you how to upholster furniture and
owner of Spruce, a hip upholstery shop in Austin, Texas,
opens the 400-page book by showing and explaining in
detail how she decorated her living room, including why
she chose the five types of vintage furniture that she
reupholstered: a Louis chair, a wingback chair, a pair
of slipper chairs, a boxy low-back sofa and a tufted
spends the remainder of the book using easy-to-follow
photographs to illustrate how she upholstered each
piece. Chapters cover ways to estimate fabric yardage,
tie springs for both tight and loose seats, attach
skirts, create boxed seats, diamond tufting, double-welt
cording and many other skills.
youíre the handy, industrious type, this book is for
you. But after reading the lists of supplies and number
of steps to merely install webbing and hand-tie the
coils eight ways in a chair, Iím pretty sure Iíll
just pay an upholsterer when the need arises.