Thursday, September 10, 2009

A craftsman's hands

As I said yesterday I went to the Kravet showroom here in Atlanta to watch a chair being made not quite from scratch, but from a frame already constructed for the demonstration, and a salutary experience it was.

Given the role of upholstery in my life it's surprising to me I knew so little of how a chair, or sofa for that matter, is put together. Reading a company's catalogue with all its options takes a little time to understand but with the willing help of the showroom's staff you quickly learn: the frame options; the leg styles; walnut, cherry of espresso stain; skirt or no skirt; the fabric, etc - well, you get the point.

Today's demonstration was one the best I've seen - ever. The combination of the craftsman's explanations and skill, the VP of Sales for Furniture and Showrooms, Susan Lorenz's erudite exposition of Kravet's services to designers, together with questions from the audience was superb.

In my time, I've waited for celebrity designers to arrive an hour late, I've listened to presentations without a slide to illustrate even the time of day, international aristocrats peddling their latest books, and gobbledygook from so-called lifestyle gurus whose strictures when analyzed say nothing except about their capacity for self-publicity - but today's session, three hours (with lunch - including the best coleslaw I've ever had) and not a minute too long, was one of the best I've ever attended. In fact, for the first time ever the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes did not come to mind.

Every step in the making of this chair was accompanied by admonitions to come closer and watch what was happening. The audience of decorators and students were, as was I, charmed by the way this man worked and how he was able to answer any question from the audience. As you may gather I cannot speak too highly of this event.

Towards the end of the demonstration the completed chair was raffled and I'm a bit diffident about saying this, but I won it - the first time I've ever won anything in my life. In case you'd like to see which chair it is click here.

The master upholsterer, Steve Bolick. In tribute to him and all the unsung upholsterers in the factory, I want to say that previously I had a theoretical and superficial knowledge of upholstery but now I have real respect for the craftsmanship involved.

Below the label that sits on the deck of the chair. None of that "crafted with pride in ....." nonsense, just a statement of how it is - an American company supplying the design market with quality goods made in this country by people whose jobs have not been shipped offshore to save a buck or two.

Disclaimer: I don't work for Kravet in any capacity but some of my friends do.


  1. Great win! that is a very nice chair and now you know. I will say I have toured too many factories being here in NC- but it is a wonderful to see the good stuff getting stuffed! Thank you for adding me to your blog list and I am doing the same. GT

  2. This post choked me up. We don't get to see craftsmen much. I grew up in High Point; my Uncle George owned an upholstery shop, my dad kept his the books and later sold upholstery supplies - stuff that's in there but you'd never see. One of my favorite memories: My dad sold sanitary tacks. The upholsterer would throw half a handful into his mouth delivering them headfirst, one at a time to his lips to be grabbed with a magnetic tacking hammer and banged into the frame with one whack. No staple guns. Anyway my father would drag me over to Uncle George's shop once in a while. He'd visit and I'd watch.

    Congratulations on your chair!

  3. Terry and Little Augury, thank you for your comments. I must say yesterday's demonstration brought to mind the perception that craftsmanship is gone because of the factory system. It was good to see that it was no so but I am cognizant of the need for efficiencies - however much hand-work is involved we do live in an industrialized society.

  4. Bravo! This should be a documentary, a series perhaps. Congratulations on the winning bid. I take it as a most favorable sign that your luck has turned. Enjoy your new chairmanship.

  5. Wow - when we lived in London in the mid 1960's there was a carpenter on site Monday to Friday in the hotel. He made a beautiful dolls house for me - complete with upholstered furniture. Thinking about it, reading your wonderful recounting of your day, makes me wonder how much time and effort went into it. Needless to say, the dolls house has long since vanished and I am not sure that I ever gave it the love and attention it deserved!
    Well done on your win!! I won a hamper once - and can remember the feeling of "me -really?!?" Where are you going to put it?? And what did the Celt think?

  6. The Celt is slightly bemused - we send a load of stuff to consignment and then I win a chair.

  7. What a great entertaining post, nearly as entertaining as being there, but without winning the chair!

    As you say, hand-made does have a place in our world, but it has to be in tandem with mass-production, otherwise our lives would be a little sparse. I think we would all quickly realise that our lifestyles are not that extravagant if we had to depend on hand-made.

    Having said that, your hand-made chair is definitely one to last, and you saw it being made, how jammy is that?

  8. Jammy as all get out - if you don't mind me mixing two phrases mid-Atlantic, as it were. Now I've to figure out how to place it. We sent a lot of furniture we've had for years and old family stuff, to consignment and are awaiting replacements but this chair was not part of the plan. I might just have to store it with the other rejects.

  9. Oh I loved this post Barry! Love upholstery (I know that sounds silly, but I do), and had my upholsterer at the house last week to start on a long "to-do" list. I would love to see a chair being made! Great win- that is a wonderful chair!

  10. Joan, I know exactly what you mean as I too love upholstery and textiles. It was a terrific experience.