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About the Author
Amanda Brown is the author of Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design. Brown is the owner of Spruce, a furniture redesign studio in Austin, Texas. Her fresh aesthetic for interiors has garnered acclaim from publications including the New York Times, Metropolitan Home, and Southern Living. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Grace Bonney is the author of the bestselling books In the Company of Women and Design*Sponge at Home. Bonney is passionate about equity, inclusivity, and supporting all members of the creative community: she founded Design*Sponge, a daily website dedicated to the creative community, which reached nearly 2 million readers per day for 15 years (and is now officially archived in the Library of Congress); Good Company, a print magazine and podcast about creative entrepreneurs; and After the Jump, a podcast about creatives that has reached over 500,000 listeners per episode. Bonney lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her wife and their three pets. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @designsponge.
Read an Excerpt
GETTING INSPIRED AND DESIGNING THE SPACE
In October 2010, I made a house call to repair a button that had popped off a sofa. My customer, Jack, had a charming one-acre, off-the-beaten-path abode with a spring-fed pond and big trees, all within ten minutes of downtown Austin. I gushed over the natural beauty of the area and its proximity to downtown, so after repairing the button, he took me on a walk through the neighborhood, all eleven houses. At the other end of the street, a house was foreclosed. Jack said, "I can't recommend the house, but it would at least get you into the neighborhood until someone dies." While listening to him tell the stories of the past 35 years and chuckling at his sense of humor, we trudged through the overgrown lawn and peeped in the windows of 4203 Afton Lane.
I'm not being modest when I say it was a dump. In fact, that may not even do it justice. Broken windows, cracked slab, and an abandoned pool (or should I say frog pond?) were only a few of its better qualities. Yet somehow, I could see through its defects. The next day, I got a call from Jack. Another button had popped off the sofa, so I bartered on-site upholstery repair for dinner and another tour of the neighborhood, this time with my hubby.
Let's just say it was meant to be. The next night, Keith and I met Lee, Jack's B.F.F. and our future across-the-street neighbor. We had dinner, drank wine, and stayed up way too late. Over the course of the next several months, we watched and waited for 4203 to go on the market, and in March 2011, we closed on the house. The next eleven months were a blur of bids, demo, and reconstruction.
The living room was part of a 20-year-old add-on with an unrepairable cracked slab, so we knocked it off and worked with our architect to make a new space with tall ceilings, skylights, and a 12' tall fireplace. A Craigslist search for Mexican brick led me to a gentleman specializing in reclaimed architectural stone who had recently removed the travertine from the courtyard of the LBJ Presidential Library. In the back of his pickup was a large slab of the stone with hairline cracks, small holes, and natural imperfections. It was exactly what we needed to make a large statement in a subtle and modern way.
Jemima Dawson, a fellow designer and friend, inspired the blue walls and the floors. She whisked into the construction site one day with her cup of tea and bag full of color fans and samples, and pulled out this amazing hardwood floor with incredible grain and a wide variety of colors. It's also made of recycled furniture — a bit of an omen? The blue is a copy of Jemima's living room walls, which makes me feel light and relaxed every time I go to her house (or is it the wine?). And the black wallpaper was a discovery we made on one of our many Afton Lane rendezvous, the perfect dichotomy of light and dark. We had begun to lay the groundwork for a completely personal space.
So this is where we begin. An empty room can be a large hurdle ... or an opportunity to create a completely original space. Rooms have a way of falling into place when you listen to your gut. It may seem less daunting to start with the small decisions first and work your way up, but I find it's best to dive in headfirst and let the details float to the top. Just like the color of my room. I knew I loved it, so I pulled the trigger without considering any other factors. If you're drawn to a color, paint it. If you have a favorite chair or piece of furniture with sentimental value, focus on it first.
Start with the pieces that are sure bets, like the corner pieces of a puzzle.
When I moved into the house, I had an old sofa I had found at an antique mall. It had become my favorite hangout, so I made it my first and only focus. As I was browsing through fabric samples one day, an orange velvet jumped out of the stack. I wanted to start with a bold stroke, but not one that would railroad every other decision. I brought the fabric home, held it next to the sofa, floors, and wall color to make sure it was good fit, and ordered it the next day.
My other nonnegotiable was the dragon fabric. I've never considered myself a dragon lover, but as I look around my house, I realize that there are several dragons to be found. Then it's no surprise that Jim Thompson's Enter the Dragons fabric knocks my socks off. I had been trying to find a place for this fabric for a while, so when the opportunity arose to redo my own space, it was a no-brainer; I had to use it. The scale of this pattern is best suited for larger furniture, so I searched high and low and found a curvy wingback with just the right dimensions to solidify my second decision.
After your first few unrestricted decisions, make a practical one.
Since I'm a bona fide furniture addict, minimalism has never been an option for me. I was far from finished with the new living room. I had blue walls, black wallpaper, an orange sofa, and to top it all off, a fire-breathing dragon. With my absolute must-haves on the table, it was time for a calculated move, one that could bring order to chaos, and more importantly, give me just enough leeway to add in a few more whimsical pieces before calling it a day.
Practical decisions come in all shapes and sizes. For most, it has more to do with being "reasonable" — like buying something that lasts a long time or is washable or comfortable. In design, aesthetics always play a role in practicality. It's about creating a visual balance with color, pattern, and proportions that is pleasing to the eye. It has less to do with the amazing stand-alone piece and more to do with what is needed to create harmony in the room.
With symmetry, you can create order without compromising personality. All you need is two of the same thing. It can be a pair of beige armchairs or a pair of floral armchairs, and either way, it creates a visual balance. To make my haphazard lineup look thoughtful and planned, I found a pair of slipper chairs on eBay to counter the weight of the sofa. But just adding a pair of chairs to the room was not quite enough to do the trick. I went one step further and chose black and white fabric to dilute the color in the room while adding a playful speckled pattern to support the sprightly scene I'd created so far.
Don't forget functionality.
Clearly, I was still missing an essential component in the living room: the coffee table. Acrylic, glass, metal, wood — I had thought of every possibility, then remembered the run-in with my last coffee table. It was wooden, sleek, and stylish, but we were constantly covering it with throw pillows to soften the top. The first thing Keith and I do when we get home is plop down in the living room, kick up our feet, and relax. The coffee table plays a big part in this daily routine, so it had to be sturdy, cleanable, and soft. I found an old coffee table whose base I liked and made a new top to suit our needs.
In a living room, what good is the visual appeal if it's not usable? Functionality is different for every homemaker. I'm not suggesting that all coffee tables should be replaced with ottomans. I'm just saying, think about what you consider comfortable and what you plan to do in your space. Do you entertain frequently? Do you watch television? Do you take naps in your living room? Your furniture should work for you and help facilitate your daily activities.
We all have it; we all use it. It may require additional dusting, but it's essential for making a room personal and lived in. It's that bit of dissonance in a "perfect" space that encourages people to let their guards down. Nothing breaks the boundaries of rigid formality like a homeless piece of furniture, or as I call it, the floating chair. At a moment's notice, my Louis chair can be pulled up to the sofa, fireplace, or ottoman, and its multilingual stripe enables it to join in every conversation. With its inherent flexibility, it encourages guests to move around, get comfortable, and personalize the space. There's always that one place you want to sit but can't or that one conversation that's one seat too short, and the floating chair effortlessly saves the day.
As for the rest of the stuff, I had linen curtains with a black border made to tie in the wallpaper from the adjoining room and designed a dragon rug in neutral tones to soften the hard floors and add an element of surprise (and dragons of course!). The pillows join in the ensemble to harmonize the overall design, connecting colors, patterns, and textures from across the room, and the knickknacks are an accumulation of objects that entertain me, make me smile, or remind me of a moment in time. When it comes down to the tiniest details, don't force it. You don't have to go from nothing to something overnight. And always make sure you leave real estate open for adding to the collection of treasures.
DESIGN PLAN AND YARDAGE ESTIMATE
From the squarish, tall back chairs of Louis XIV to the curvaceous lines of Louis XV, no sitting room is complete without a touch of French classic style. With the lineup planned for the living room, I knew I needed a small stand-alone piece that could be moved around to fulfill any task, whether it be a Sunday afternoon reading in my mini library or joining in a card game around the cocktail ottoman. I snatched up this Neoclassical knock-off at a local consignment shop and headed back to the house to test it out.
No disrespect to Louis XIII to XV, but Louis XVI got it right when it comes to my living room needs. In a space accommodating four other sizes, shapes, and styles of upholstered furniture, the chair needed to be on the smaller side but not too small, decorative without being ornate, and comfortable enough to allow me to enjoy the better part of a New York Times bestseller. With exposed wood, the chair balances the large swaths of fabric found on every other piece while still having enough surface area to display color and texture. The shapely back and seat complement the roundness of the slipper chairs and contrast nicely with the rectangular shapes of the sofa and cocktail ottoman. This piece fills the position quite well.
I spent an afternoon with Louis catching up on the latest issues of Elle Décor and House Beautiful and decided that the seat was too puny to become a regular hangout for my derrière. As it was purchased, the seat was constructed of webbing and foam. Not a terrible combination, but an extra layer of coil springs beneath the padding will drastically improve the comfort of the seat. I'll also change the color of the wood by refinishing the chair in a dark chocolate brown to coordinate with the other furniture in the room.
If we were upholstering this piece for Louis XVI himself, we'd find the rarest and most intricately woven silk damask available, but since our tastes and selections are no longer shaped by those of the French monarchy, I'll break tradition and upholster with a punchy neon velvet stripe by Designers Guild. The durability of velvet makes it a smart choice for a piece that gets its fair share of activity, and the weight of the material makes the chair seem more substantial, even though it's the smallest piece in the room. Orange, green, and yellow connect to the sofa and cocktail ottoman and bring out the vivid accents of chartreuse and neon green highlighting the dragon on the wingback. The vibrancy of colors also makes the chair a striking stand-alone piece.
Parts of the Louis Chair
A chair of this size typically requires 2 to 3 yards of fabric, but it's always a good idea to measure each part, especially when working with a patterned fabric.
1. Start by writing down the parts of the chair:
* Inside back (ISB)
* Outside back (OSB)
* Arm pads
2. Always measure the largest dimensions of each piece. On the seat, extend the measuring tape from one side to the other to determine the width (29 ½").
3. The depth of the seat begins at the back of the chair and ends at the front (26").
4. Measure the width across the plumpest part of the inside back (19").
5. Measure from the top to the bottom of the inside back for the height (20").
6. Record the width (17") and height (19") of the outside back.
7. The arm pads on this chair are so small we'll skip measurements and use scraps of fabric to upholster them.
8. The highlighted columns list the total widths and heights/depths of fabric needed for pulling and stapling. Since we're using coil springs, I've added an additional 2" to each seat measurement to accommodate the extra plumpness.
Although stripes can be oriented vertically or horizontally, velvet has nap, which determines its direction. Run your hand across the velvet from top to bottom and side to side to determine the most obvious difference in the feel of the velvet. In most cases, the nap of the velvets runs off the roll as opposed to railroaded (see page 229), and this is true for this velvet stripe. This fabric is softest and smoothest when I run my hand from the top near the roll toward the cut edge of the fabric. In this scenario, the fabric should be oriented with the stripes running vertically and the top edge of each piece closest to the fabric roll.
For the most contrast and striking positioning of the stripes, I will center two chocolate brown stripes down the chair inside back and seat.
9. When determining yardage, the first step is determining which pieces can be placed side by side for the most efficient use of fabric and appropriate pattern placement. This fabric is 54" wide with a horizontal repeat of 9", so I will place the seat on its own width of fabric with the two back pieces side by side and directly beneath.
10. Add the final height of the seat to the final height of the inside back (30" + 22" = 52").
11. Divide the total from step 10 by 36" (1 yard) to calculate the total number of yards needed (1.44).
12. Since we still need arm pads and double welt cord to cover the exposed staples around the seat, inside back, and arms, we'll round up to finalize our yardage estimate at 2 yards of fabric.
Supplies for the Louis Chair
* 3/8" staples
* ½" staples
* 10-ounce or 12-ounce upholstery tacks
* Button twine
* Permanent marker
* Spray adhesive
* Spring twine
* White or yellow chalk
Tools & Equipment
* Air blower
* Button needle
* Double-welt cord foot attachment
* Electric carving knife
* High-heat glue gun and glue
* Klinch-It with Klinch-It staples (optional)
* Magnetic tack hammer
* Measuring tape
* Sewing machine
* Square-point upholstery knife
* Staple gun
* Staple remover
* Utility knife
* Webbing stretcher
* Welt cord stick (optional)
* 12 yards 5/22" fiber flex welt cord
* 2 yards fabric
* ½ slab 2"-thick high-density foam
* ¼ slab 2"-thick low-density foam
* 1 ½ yards burlap
* 1 yard cardboard tack strip
* 9 coil springs
* 2 yards cotton batting
* 1 ½ yards 27"-wide Dacron
* 1 yard dustcover
* 1 yard ¾" edge roll
* 8 yards jute webbing
For more information on tools and materials, visit the glossary (page 369).
Excerpted from "Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design"
Copyright © 2013 Amanda Brown.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD BY GRACE BONNEY
MIX 'N' MATCH UPHOLSTERY
Chapter 1: Getting Inspired and Designing the Space
PROJECT 1: An American in Paris: Upholstering a Louis Chair
CHAPTER2: Design Plan and Yardage Estimate
CHAPTER 3: Tying Coil Springs for a Tight Seat
CHAPTER 4: Padding and Upholstering a Tight Seat
CHAPTER 5: Upholstering Arm Pads, a Picture Back, and Finishing the Chair
PROJECT 2: A New Pair of Slippers
CHAPTER 6: Determining Yardage for a Small Pattern
CHAPTER 7: Prepping Sinuous Springs and Padding a Tight, Boxed Seat
CHAPTER 8: Sewing and Attaching Fabric to a Boxed Seat
CHAPTER 9: Upholstering a Channel Back
CHAPTER 10: Finishing the Frame of the Slipper Chair
CHAPTER 11: Making and Attaching the Skirt and Back Scroll Panels
PROJECT 3: Spread Your Wings
CHAPTER 12: Calculate Yardage for a Large Pattern
CHAPTER 13: Spring Tying for a Loose Seat
CHAPTER 14: Padding a T-Shaped Deck
CHAPTER 15: Sewing and Attaching the Deck Fabric
CHAPTER 16: Upholstering the Inside Arms and Wings
CHAPTER 17: Upholstering the Inside Back
CHAPTER 18: Finishing the Outside of the Wingback and Applying Nailhead Trim
CHAPTER 19: Constructing a T-Cushion
PROJECT 4: Three-Seater Tune-Up
CHAPTER 20: Determining Yardage for Railroaded Fabric
CHAPTER 21: Spring Tying with an Edge Wire
CHAPTER 22: Padding a Straight Deck
CHAPTER 23: Sewing and Attaching the Deck Fabric and Tack Band
CHAPTER 24: Padding and Constructing Boxed Arms
CHAPTER 25: Upholstering an Inside Back with Back Cushions
CHAPTER 26: Attaching the Outside Back and Completing the Sofa Back
CHAPTER 27: Fitting and Sewing Boxed Cushions
PROJECT 5: Ottoman Empire
CHAPTER 28: Material Requirements for Diamond Tufting and Leather Upholstery 101
CHAPTER 29: Diamond Tufting the Cocktail Ottoman
PROJECT 6: Topping It Off
CHAPTER 30: Sewing Knife-Edge Pillows, Bolsters, and Boxed Pillows
Setting Up Shop
Sewing Tips and Tricks
What People are Saying About This
Amanda made a stunning sofa for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I walked away coveting the sofa, the life she built, and her creative success.
— Vanessa Price, Senior Design Producer, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
I’ve been known to saythat if I ever won the lottery, the first thing I would do is have all of my furniture upholstered in beautiful patterned fabric. And if I had my first choice of upholsterers, that person would be Amanda Brown.
When I was younger I thought of upholstery as something only fancy or stuffy people had done. I remembered all of the scratchy formal couches my grandparents had and couldn’t imagine ever being interested in such a thing. But in 2003 everything changed. I moved to Brooklyn, started immersing myself in the design world, and was blown away by all of the beautiful textile designs coming out from younger artists. Their fabrics were affordable, fun, and the opposite of stuffy. But unfortunately, no one seemed to be doing anything with them other than making pillow after pillow. Then I discovered Spruce.
Amanda Brown led the wave of upholsterers who started looking at found and vintage furniture and reimagining it with bold, contemporary fabrics. In Amanda’s skillful hands, old sofas, chairs, and ottomans were transformed into hip new furniture for younger families, and the community noticed. Spruce may have started as a local Austin business, but the influence of Amanda’s work and taste has spread across the country.
Whether you’re looking to reupholster your very first thrift store score or want to tackle every piece of furniture in your home, Amanda can teach you how. But she doesn’t stop there. Her ideas for combining different fabrics and using found materials like vintage embroideries will open your eyes to all of the incredible ways you can give your old or used furniture new life. Trust Amanda. She’s been teaching students to reupholster for years now and you’re all about to get a master class from a seriously talented — and tastemaking — master.
— Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge