Imagine pulling a discarded piece of furniture from the trash, giving it a new life, and eventually transforming that act into a thriving business. That’s how my journey in upholstery began, and it happened and was over so fast it nearly made my head spin. The road has been anything but smooth. Today, I want to share my story, from the highs of running a successful fabrication shop to the lows of closing its doors, and how it led me to discover the untapped potential of maker spaces.
The Genesis: From Trash to Treasure
I myself began as a self taught hobbyist. I never intended to start a business. I just needed something to keep my hands busy after being laid off. This led me to pulling furniture from the trash, restoring it, and selling it on Facebook. This humble beginning evolved into a six-year-long adventure running a fabrication shop with my husband, working with local designers and architects, and even changing our local landscape with our furniture designs. But the demand grew too high for just the two of us, and we couldn’t sustain it on our own. We couldn’t hire anyone because there is no training for this type of work in our state. After 6 years of working 7 days a week, we closed our doors. I felt robbed. I couldn’t let nearly a decade of skill-building go to waste. I knew I needed to train more people, in hopes that one day maybe I could think of beginning again.
The Pivot: Making Education Mobile
After closing the shop, I faced a dilemma: how could I teach without a space? I wracked my brain for ways to make teaching upholstery more mobile. My house was 900 sq. ft. so I couldn’t just go back to how I started, working in the house. Instead, I started an online subscription group from my backyard, going live with upholstery tutorials several days a week. My aim was to fill the gaping hole in formal upholstery education in the U.S., and teach as many people as I could. The weather however would not hold up forever, so I was going to need another solution. We moved to a new city and after doing some asking around, I was pointed in the direction of Maker Works, my local Maker Space.
Maker Works offered a few things… One, they had an empty room in which I could rent it out by the hour and teach my classes, and the bonus was, I could also become a member. By paying a low monthly fee, I could access the space and tools whenever I wanted! This meant I could make all of the same types of furniture I had been making in my brick and mortar, without having to invest in the tools, or taking a risk to open up shop in another brick and mortar. This was an incredible opportunity. I only wish I had thought to look for something like this when our business first began. We could have grown more slowly and saved so much money on overhead costs.
I began teaching my sold out classes 3 days a week to eager individuals who were traveling as far as 2+ hours away to take these classes! Why were they traveling so far? The answer is simple… THERE IS NO WHERE TO TAKE THESE CLASSES! There are very few learning opportunities still left in the US. I had no competition! Some people were not just travelling far to take them, they were begging me to also come to them!
The Retreats: A New Chapter
Serendipity struck when Allison Anastasio, a local bed and breakfast owner and professional chef, approached me after attending one of my classes. She offered her venue, The Newton, for weekend upholstery retreats. The idea was an instant hit. Women traveled from all corners of the U.S. to attend, many choosing to vacation alone, seeking skill development and a sense of community. The retreats were a blend of luxury and hard work, with chef-prepared meals and intense upholstery training.
The Cost: An Investment in Skill and Community
The retreats came with a hefty price tag—over $1500—but they offered more than just a weekend getaway. They were an investment in developing a skill that could potentially pay for itself.
First, I couldn’t believe how many women just went and took a vacation by themselves. I had never even tought to do that with my own time. Allison took great care of us in the evenings with gourmet chef prepared meals and cocktails by the fire, but by day we were working very hard at developing our upholstery fundametal knowledge. These retreats were a great mix of work and play, and were the perfect opportunity to build strong bonds with eachother over something we were all equally as obsessed over… Furniture!
Though my 3 Weekend Retreats were very successful, I was still plagued by the fact that a larger number of people may never be able to afford to come, and I was constantly being told “If you just were closer to me…” by my supporters on social media. These retreats, while incredibly fun and valuable, were inaccessible to most people. Not everyone can make the journey to me, so how could I make them more accessible to more people?
The Future: An Upcoming Tour
One thing I have always wanted to do, but never thought would be in my purview, was to travel the world. I’m not independently wealthy. I have no savings or rainy day funds to lean into. I’m broke just like the rest of you. I didn’t know how I could even wrap my head around it until it occurred to me after looking through my past year of class data, that if I took these classes ANYWHERE in the US, they would be just as successful.
Looking at the data it showed that in just 12 months, I had sold more than 580 classes to well over 200 people. 60% of them were returning to take multiple classes to finish their projects. Most students traveled from more than an hour away, and many traveled from our of state (18 different states to be exact! – that’s 1/3 of the country!) Could I potentially bring this operation to your door? Girl. You know it!
Looking at a directory online I found more than 1,000 active Maker Spaces all over the world. If I could tap into their spaces, I could certainly teach these classes from any one of them! The bonus is, these classes bring a lot of draw. Even people who aren’t furniture nerds find them to be fun experiences to take, so filling them would be no issue. If I could just get the Maker Spaces to sign on, I could make it happen! So that’s what I intend to do. The work has begun negotiating contracts with interested Maker Spaces, and I am excited about the potential of my upcoming Upholstery Camp Tour. The cost will be nearly half as much as my retreats, so it will open the doors to so many more people who want to learn.
Upholstery Camp Near You?
My journey has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but each twist and turn has led me to where I am today. If you’re interested in learning a new skill, building a community, or simply discovering the hidden gems in your own backyard, I invite you to join me on this exciting journey. Want to attend an Upholstery Camp near you? Contact your local Maker Space! Give them a call and let them know the opportunity is available and send them my email (firstname.lastname@example.org). If we sign a contract to bring a class to that space, you will get to attend for FREE, just be sure to tell them who you are, and let me know you’re sending them my way!
I’m so super excited about the potential of this. Can’t wait to meet so many more of you starting in the Spring of 2024.