By Monica Rhodes, NUA Volunteer
Until very recently, it was virtually impossible, in this country, to learn traditional methods from a Master upholsterer. Enter Louise Cornick, an incredibly charismatic and resourceful upholstery-loving woman not inclined to take no for an answer.
In addition to owning Upholstery Education and planning and managing the courses, Louise Cornick has her own upholstery business, Sitting Pretty, and is a founding member of the National Upholstery Association. Given this, you might be surprised to learn that upholstery is relatively new to Louise. She and her husband, Rob, moved to Southern California from the United Kingdom in 2012 after Rob retired from the Royal Navy. During a previous four-year stint in the States years ago, while Rob was still active in the Navy, their children had been small and Louise had made friends easily as she interacted with other parents. This time, her children were grown and, though she had worked in the travel industry in the past, she did not yet possess a green card, necessary to obtain work in the USA. One day, a course catalogue for Foothills Adult Education in El Cajon arrived in her Bonita, CA mailbox. Louise would later learn that Bonita was outside the school’s mail delivery radius. It kind of makes one believe in fate.
Here is what happened when a gregarious person with a “business head and passionate heart” looking to make friends ended up with a rogue course catalogue in her hands: She changed the game for upholsterers in America.
Thumbing through the catalogue, Louise was drawn to the creative options. She came upon a listing for an upholstery class and thought, “OK, why not?” Louise was one of 28 students in the class taught by a single instructor, Tony Asaro. Students brought their own projects and Tony made the rounds able to offer only a few minutes of attention to each individual. His instructions were brief, brusque and tinged with (sometimes questionable) humor. Some students didn’t like his manner, but Louise enjoyed Tony immensely. He became both a mentor and cherished friend. Louise credits her love of upholstery, in part, to the chemistry they shared. Eager to dive deeper, Louise spent additional time in Asaro’s classroom and eventually signed up for an intensive 240-hour course at San Diego Continuing Education.
Louise became interested in traditional methods, but Tony was not able to help; nor was her instructor at SDCE who brushed her off saying there was no way she’d find anyone to teach her. Louise found this intensely frustrating, even more so when she learned that such instruction could be obtained in the UK – where she no longer lived. She turned to the Upholsterer’s Friendly Forum on Facebook to learn what she could about traditional upholstery. Among those who reached out to help was British Master upholsterer Gareth Rees.
On a visit to the UK to see her elderly mother, Louise learned that Gareth was offering a workshop, but she was unable to make time to attend it. Lying awake in bed, her frustration boiled over. If only she could get Gareth to come to the US to teach her. A voice in her head practically shouted, “Don’t just think it. Do it!” And, she did.
Through a series of messages, Louise invited Gareth to come to California and teach herself and 12 fellow upholstery students, all of whom agreed to pitch in to cover costs. Louise and Rob took the risk of purchasing a ticket for Rees, who had never been on a “long haul” flight, and invited him to stay in their home. Louise and Gareth both had the same thought, “Oh, my God, this is really happening!” The two had never even spoken on the phone. Choosing to maintain the mad magic of it all, they decided to wait until they were face to face to hear each other’s voices.
Louise tended to all of the details, including securing a classroom at Foothills Adult Education over a long weekend. Afterward, everyone agreed the workshop had been an immense success: expert training by a Master, expertly organized and catered by Louise. Her considerable gift for entertaining made it an incredible experience for all. There was food, fun, camaraderie - both inside and outside the classroom - and “the highest quality instruction available in the world.” Louise smiles, “There was so much energy, humour, banter, and Gareth knew everything. He was so engaged. There was just so much pleasure.”
Louise shared the experience with members of the forum and was flooded with inquiries about the next workshop. There were no plans for that but, unable to turn her back on such enthusiasm, Louise mustered the courage to ask Gareth if he’d consider doing it again. His answer, a wholehearted “Yes!” At this point, Louise was not viewing this as a business but the momentum continued and, in May of 2018, she formally launched her company, Upholstery Education. The courses have since expanded to 6 days and include three Master upholsterers each teaching a separate skill for two days. Courses are offered on both coasts annually, one in San Diego, CA and one New York, NY.
Armand Verdier, Greg Cupitt-Jones, Louise Cornick, Gareth Rees, Bruno Paulin Lopez
To learn more about the Master instructors click here.
Explains Louise, “It’s a very boutique experience, there’s nothing else like it, not even in the UK. Three Masters in one place.” Students learn very specific skills, not on whole pieces of furniture, but on custom made frames designed to facilitate those particular methods. “It’s about technique. It’s about hand skills,” says Louise. It’s also about being comfortable and at ease. Nourishment for the mind, the body and the soul. Tea, coffee, delicious snacks throughout the day. It’s about “the best experience ever.”
Says Kasia Heurich of Abracadabra Upholstery in Middletown, NY, “I live in an area where many people have antique furniture and I was asked on many occasions to reupholster them using traditional techniques. Since I only knew modern upholstery, I never accepted those projects. I was dying to learn the traditional techniques, but it’s pretty much impossible to find anybody here in the US to teach these. I was thrilled to sign up for Upholstery Education. I was following Armand Verdier and Bruno Paulin Lopez on Instagram already; meeting them in person was just unbelievable. Greg Cuppit-Jones is so talented and unbelievably patient. A wonderful teacher. And Gareth Rees, not only an amazing upholsterer, but now also the chairperson for the Guild of Traditional Upholsterers. Louise is so devoted to promoting traditional techniques in this country. It is only thanks to her that I had the opportunity to meet and learn from these masters of traditional upholstery.”
Plain and simple, Louise Cornick is a game changer. As American upholsterers, we should thank our lucky stars that the Foothills Adult Education catalogue found its way into her hands – and that Louise is uniquely Louise. She gets it done.
Due to Covid-19, Upholstery Education postponed the last 3 Masters Course in New York. The hope is it won’t be long before that course, and another in San Diego, can proceed.
This article is part of the NUA educator member spotlight series. Find a list of our educator members here.