I wonder how many times I’ve been asked this question. I guess it’s a polite thing to talk about, like the weather, more than a question that really burns in people’s minds but I’ve been pondering it myself lately because I’ve been asked this question in each of my workshops. Usually, when I’m expecting a question to come up I will rehearse an answer because I’m an introvert and don’t really like to talk about myself a whole lot. Also, the answer is not really all that simple now that I think about it, but I tend to answer it as though it is. Like, “I went to trade school when I graduated high school, because I didn’t know what else to do.” The response I usually get in return is “Oh. Yeah, of course”. And then we move on.
But, there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?
I spent my entire childhood living with ugly furniture. No lie.
Just look at that furniture. Even in the day, I can’t imagine it was considered stylish. It was just…something to sit on.
It wasn’t until high school – grade 10 to really narrow it down for you – that I had a wonderful and caring art teacher who handed me a book called “Careers in Art”. He had earmarked the chapter on furniture design. I paid no attention at the time, because hey. I was 15 and didn’t see a need to think further than the following weekend.
But I always did know that the typical university education was not my path. By the end of grade 12 (despite my 4.0 grade point average mind you – I was no slacker) I was desperate to be out of the classroom. Des-per-ate. I just wanted…to MAKE STUFF.
So, I made stuff. In my parent’s basement for the next 9 months or so, I sat and made stuff that I sold in a little consignment craft store in Fort Langley, BC. I also painted whimsical pictures of whatever came to mind, and mostly gave them away. My mom did not consider this a job. It certainly was not making me self-sufficient. She finally (and, I guess I do have to give her credit for
letting me mooch supporting my creative spirit for that long) gave me an ultimatum: go to school, get a job and pay rent, or move out. Hard core.
So, off to the library I went (because in 1994, there was no Google) to look up all the great and wonderful things the local community colleges had to offer.
It was then that I found the Furniture Upholstery program that was offered at Kwantlen College (now Kwantlen Polytechnic University) and thought “Wow! That seems a cool way to appease my mom for the next nine months!” I didn’t take it very seriously to begin with.
In fact, I thought of it as school. As in, the kind that when you finish “doing your time”, you get the summer off. But, no. Apparently, I was a conscientious student. My instructor thought I had talent. He recommended me to a furniture company, and I was given a job I never even really wanted. I just wanted my summer off, to hang out, and tan and stuff. I was 20.
I worked at that furniture company for over three years. I learned a lot of things about furniture, and I learned a lot of things about talking with clients and designers. I also learned that women (especially young, conscientious, talented women) are not always welcomed by men in the trades. Those men, and in my experience anyway.
I decided to leave my fine job (with which I was able to leave my parent’s basement and secure a crappy suite in someone else’s basement) to pursue a formal Fine Art education. It was the most thrilling, and scary thing I ever did. My mom had concerns about me leaving my fine job (she probably thought I wanted to move back into her basement – I did not) to go to art school. I did it anyway.
During the four years I spent at Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, I (sometimes) worked doing upholstery out of a small apartment bedroom. It wasn’t very glamorous, but I enjoyed working for myself. It was always easy to find work. I only had to utter the words “I do upholstery” to find someone with a chair needing love. I never really stopped doing it, and found myself with more and more work over the years. And I found myself enjoying it more and more. With every fresh project under my belt, I gained confidence. It had become my “thing”.
And that, dear friends, is the story of how I got into upholstery.