Tucked away on a side street in Hackney is a bright yellow door – knock on the brass lion head knocker and you’ll be greeted by Louise Boyland, founder of Shoreditch Design Rooms and her dog, Linda. Over several floors of this old London townhouse you’ll find students painstakingly taking apart old armchairs and ottomans and recovering them with new fabrics, learning the art of upholstery as they go.


‘There are makers in my family, but I studied astrophysics at university and was working in finance IT with a sideline in textiles design. I just needed to have a better product, something that I could see. I’ve been living here for nearly 20 years, my grandma lived and worked on Hackney Road at a wood turners and I felt at home here. I had been apprenticing and teaching at Wendy Shorter and I set up a workshop in Wandsworth prison. We set up Shoreditch Design Rooms five years ago with loads of support from the community – guys who had been doing it since they were young lads.

Freedom to create

'I was working with an upholsterer down the road – he had been doing it a long time and he was running a very efficient workshop, but he still stood back from his work and took it in. It’s a really satisfying trade. It might not make you a millionaire but – and this is what I’m interested in and why we’re involved in this project - it gives you the freedom to do what you want to do. You can work to whatever standard you want, whatever speed, you can deliver many different price points and your time is flexible.'

In with the old

People come into it for all sorts of reasons – because they like fabrics, or they’re furniture nuts, because they like the traditional aspect or they’re struck by the design element. Although you could argue there’s some frivolity in the work, for the most part you are absolutely making a chair to be sat on. Young people who haven’t got a huge amount of money to spend still value something that’s special. So they’re buying it, coming to us and carefully deciding which fabric they want – good quality fabrics that will stand the test of time, they are going to sit on these things.'

More than a trend

'There are trends in upholstery - the big one is Mid-Century - but the ‘trend’ that we’re trying to teach is sustainability. We get people who say I can’t have any animal products in there, or I don’t want any polyurethane because I don’t want to be part of the petrochemicals industry – that stuff still needs a lot of research. We’re all trying our hardest, of course we’re recycling, but we’re also preserving something precious, we’re helping people to engage with the piece. They’re not detached from it, they are actually saying I want this edge to be a bit like this, or I want it built like this so it will last or this was my grandma’s and I want it refurbished.'

A community of makers

'We’ve focussed on repopulating the upholstery fraternity because those skills were not being passed on. Some of the students are hobbyists but largely we’re training people to really know about upholstery so that they can commission good quality work, or for our accredited courses. They are either working with us or with other upholsterers – there are loads of around here, people don’t realise because they’re so busy, they don’t have shop fronts, it’s underground. We’re trying to create a community of people who can share workshops and resources and lean on one another.'

 


'We need people to get their furniture reconditioned. The more upholsterers there are around to keep that going, the more realistic that is and then all that stuff stays out of landfill. We can’t just keep throwing bits of furniture away because we’re bored. If something’s designed well, then we endorse spending money on it because it will last. If you buy something that’s badly designed you will get tired of it. It’s the same with fabrics – there are beautiful designs out there by very skilled artists and textile designers. I think all of those things, if they’re considered they stay with you and then you don’t mind staring at that piece of furniture for ten years because you remember that you decided you wanted that pleat or that line to go there. So that is actually one of the environmental aspects of making something last longer – being thoughtful in the first place, having everyone’s heart in it, the upholsterer, the client and the designer as well.’

Shoreditch House

You'll find Shoreditch Design Rooms just a ten minute walk up the road from our East London House.