father was really attached to his old recliner.
"Oh, Dad, no, no! Not more duct tape!"
"Yeah. I gotta repair a little split in the old throne here. You
gotta catch these rips early, or they look like hell."
"You know, Dad, instead of repairing this old relic all the time,
why don’t we just bring the Eames down here?"
"Ah, no, that thing’s too fancy for me, I just need a
comfortable place to park my fanny."
everyone has a story about a tired old piece of furniture that they
were loath to part with out of sentiment, convenience or just because
it’s really comfortable.
understands. "People are driven to start an upholstery project
because they saw something or they have a beloved piece they want to
tackle," she said in a phone interview.
She was living
in an old garage apartment in Austin, Tex., that was filled with
eclectic treasures, thrift store finds and more. While she was away
for a weekend visit with family, an electrical spark caused a fire and
the whole place burned to the ground. Devastated by the loss, she
tried in vain to replace her belongings and eventually turned to a big
box retailer for replacement furniture.
It wasn’t the
same, and little by little, she began hunting and gathering old
pieces, saving up to have them professionally reupholstered. Energized
and inspired, she decided to enroll in some local upholstery classes
and soon after was tackling jobs for hire and planting the seeds for
her own business. In 2007, Brown left her day job and in 2007 Spruce
Since then, she
has turned upholstering on its ear, mixing fun and funky textiles with
classic shapes that are full of whimsy, modernizing even the most
classic furniture shapes. Her work is in high demand and her
refreshing designs have appeared in the pages of the New York Times,
Metropolitan Home and Southern Living. She is a regular design
contributor to Design Sponge, and appears in and produces videos for
the DIY Network and HGTV, where you may have seen her teaching her
tricks of the trade.
Now, if you can’t
make it to Austin to take a class, you can buy her new book,
"Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design" (Storey
Publishing, $35). The book is one of the best on the market for
do-it-yourselfers. Inside, you can follow each step as Brown tackles
an entire room full of furniture. From start to finish, it is a master
class in upholstery and design. Brown said the book was born from
early days, we started teaching classes as a way to subsidize the cost
of a retail space," she said.
twice-a-month classes caught on like wildfire as a new generation of
design professionals and DIYers discovered how cool and
"green" it was to rescue a piece of furniture from the trash
heap. The classes are still going strong and are structured for no
more than six to 10 people, so they fill up quickly.
"We have a
chair class that is a two-day class," she said. "We provide
the raw frame and everyone gets some hands-on attention."
She says that
nearly half of her students come from out of state and that they take
the completed piece and ship it back home. Other classes cover a
handmade bench, lampshade and headboard. All of the frames are built
The new book
provides very detailed photos on how to do these projects yourself.
Brown said many people are intimidated by the idea of doing their own
no sewing experience required, and they think you need to have a
sewing background," she said, laughing.
Many people want
to start with a sofa or wing-back chair, and that can be a mistake,
get discouraged if you go too big in the beginning. You want to tackle
something that you can complete in a weekend so you can get that first
rush of excitement."
Brown has loved
vibrant, fun colors since the beginning.
to have a retail store that had fun, vintage pieces that I
revitalized. It was always my drive to make cool pieces to sell."
Silks and small
stripes are a no-no for the beginner.
"It is hard
trying to keep them straight. Larger stripes are a bit easier. Cottons
are great, inexpensive and there are a lot of dynamic synthetic blends
with stain resistance built-in.
also have a tendency to ‘grow’ unless backed so they are not for
Brown was lucky
enough to have built her business up to the point that her employees
— "Sprucettes" as they are known in the design world —
were able to hold down the fort as she worked on the book.
"I hired a
really great person out of California with 45 years of experience, and
he took over my spot in production as I worked on it," she said.
She has never
backed down from a project. Brown will never forget the call from a
woman who asked if she could tackle a really, really big wing-back
"I sent the
delivery company to retrieve it and it was huge, probably 15 feet tall
and from a carnival. I had to stand on the seat just to upholster the
back because it was so tall."
When it was
done, the chair went into a showhouse. Like many Spruce projects, it
surely became the most-talked about piece in the room.