By Monica Rhodes, NUA Volunteer and Owner of Monday Wash Furniture
On the day I had the honor of interviewing Lindsay Orwig, owner of A Chick and a Chair Upholstery, about her work and the establishment of the Professional Upholsterer’s Network on Facebook, she began by saying that she never intended it to be known as “the PUN”. She, herself, steadfastly referred to it as “the Network”, but it just didn’t stick. Lindsay believes it was Kate Malfroy (Rapt! Upholstery) who first referred to the collective community as “PUNsters” - and that was that. “You can’t control a runaway train,” says Lindsay laughing.
Given this, I initially thought I’d be clever and title this blog “PUN not Intended”, but as I went over my notes, and reflected on Lindsay words, one thing became abundantly clear: the commonly used moniker “the PUN” may not have been intentional, but the Professional Upholsterers’ Network is, to its core, an intentional community – created for a specific purpose and guided by thoughtful, rock-solid values that reinforce and ensure its integrity. That purpose is “to be a place to ask questions and get your questions answered, to share knowledge or ask for help. The key to that,” says Lindsay, “is you have to be kind.”
To this end, “the PUN is actively moderated,” says Lindsay. “Not to censorship, but from verifying that folks are actually professional upholsterers, to making sure a kind tone is set within the group. We're building a community, and we want it to be the very best community that it can be.” Featured at the top of the PUN’s Facebook page is a post by Justin Dazey, one of its five administrators, which includes the following passages: “We have rules on kindness for a reason. We are here to be a supportive group. It's difficult to offer meaningful support in a group of relative strangers without an emphasis on kindness. Before commenting, take a moment to consider why you are choosing to share the feedback you are about to offer. If the answer is anything but focused on the growth or benefit of the receiver, it's best to just skip the comment altogether…Put the benefit of the advised first and the rest will follow naturally. Share to lift up not to beat down.”
In a group that has grown to be a staggering 3,500 upholsterers strong, that can be a pretty tall order. I believe the old adage, “Management sets the tone”. It certainly applies here. Lindsay’s kindness shines bright in every aspect of her work: her relationships with clients, her social media, her teaching (as a lead instructor at Cynthia Bleskachek’s the Funky Little Chair) and the PUN. Faith in Lindsay’s kindness led me to reach out to her during my first weeks of business ownership to ask a question about bookkeeping. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t rebuff me but, at the same time, I didn’t really expect her to respond to me, a nobody in the trade. To the contrary, Lindsay messaged me almost immediately - responding in a way that made me feel more valid than inexperienced. After that I thought: With this woman managing the PUN, I can feel safe looking for help there. That’s important because, believe me, I have a lot of questions and some of them are pretty basic. Lindsay is quick to note that she could not do this alone and she credits the Network’s team of administrators for the group’s continuing success. “They’re not just moderators,” Lindsay explains, “we all have the same administrative powers and nobody’s judgement outweighs the others’.”
The Professional Upholsterer’s Network was born of necessity tempered by consideration. Lindsay began her upholstery business five years ago. She had recently moved to Minnesota, and had begun re-upholstering second-hand furniture as a hobby. One day, she was chatting with a woman at her neighborhood dog park. Before Lindsay could even finish describing her new found hobby, the woman had asked for a business card and had inquired about the possibility of hiring her. Lindsay demurred, after all it was just a hobby. A couple of weeks later, Lindsay, who admits she’s a talker, was conversing with the receptionist at her doctor’s office - and the same thing happened. There’s something here, Lindsay thought.
The response to her upholstery hobby was so different from the response she’d received as a commissioned mural painter before the move, so much more energized and enthusiastic. Lindsay went on to do work for family and friends, devouring books and videos to develop her skills. After a time, a woman from church approached Lindsay and asked her to reupholster two heirloom chairs. Lindsay explained that she was not a professional. “I know,” said the woman, “but I trust you.” When the woman came to pick up her newly re-upholstered mid-century chairs (in teal – Lindsay’s favorite color), Lindsay had covered them with a blanket. She pulled it off for the big reveal and the woman, who had always been reserved and soft spoken, started jumping up and down and yelling “eeeee, eeeee, eeeee” before gathering Lindsay up in a hug. Lindsay thought, I LIKE this! and decided to go pro.
Lindsay took advantage of the fact that Cynthia Bleskachek, a master upholsterer and powerhouse educator in the trade, was local. She studied hands on with Cynthia as well as with the late great master upholsterer Steve Cone. “I have 10 million questions at all times,” says Lindsay. “I’m like a toddler always asking, ‘why?,why?,why?’ Once I understand the why, then I understand the how.” Realizing that it would be too burdensome to constantly unload truckloads of questions on Cynthia and Steve, Lindsay decided to invite upholsterers she admired to a Facebook group to exchange information. Thus, the PUN was born.
When I ask Lindsay if it took off like a snowball rolling down hill, she shakes her head, “It did not.” Several months in, the group was hovering around a couple hundred members, most of whom were pretty quiet. “It was crickets a lot of the time,” Lindsay says. Around then, she discovered Jack Carr’s Professional Upholstery and Soft Furnishings page (which has since been shut down and archived). “It was really good,” she says. Lindsay started to think that maybe the PUN wasn’t necessary, but David Yougdahl, a consistently supportive member, urged her not to quit. “What you’ve got here is something good. You have something special going on.”
So, Lindsay hung in until, one day, “somebody was just really nasty, really mean, and I thought - What are we doing?” Lindsay was on the verge of giving up when David Youngdahl, Rachel Fletcher (Knox Upholstery) and Ragne Smith (Felix Hart) each contacted her individually, not simply to console her, but to help her make things better. These three became group moderators, and later full- fledged administrators, working tirelessly to uphold the positive tone and values of the group 24/7. “I know that Rachel and Ragne consider the PUN as much their baby as I do,” Lindsay says. Justin Dazey was brought on board soon before David abdicated due to family concerns and, more recently, Chrisi Creel Mitchell joined the team. Lindsay explains that they all have different personalities and approaches, some applying a soft touch, others drawing a harder line, but they are all steady and strong and dedicated to upholding the same values of kindness, consideration and support. Lindsay describes the combined force of the PUN administrative team so well. “Sometimes 2+2 doesn’t equal 4. Sometimes 2+2 equals 10. More than 10.” The administrators are a force as evidenced by the fact that this group of well over three thousand people has welcomed and absorbed their guidance and, now, largely self regulates toward true kindness, real support and the enthusiastic sharing of knowledge - keeping one another in line as the administrators stand ready to step in as necessary.
“This team is amazing,” says Lindsay. “That’s why the group is what it is. The PUN is all about feedback - giving it, receiving it. You have to be receptive to both. I checked the stats on the page, and on average, I found that over 80% of our members were actively participating! I don't know if that's typical of groups, but that seems high to me. That means that over 80% of our members are liking, commenting, and posting on the page - that's huge! It means we don't have a lot of lurkers just watching and looking, but actively engaged. This is how we build community!”
And what a fantastic community it is. If you are a professional upholsterer interested in learning from, supporting and helping others in the trade - and you haven’t joined the Professional Upholsterer’s Network already – please, stop by and pull up a chair.
You can find more from Lindsay on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and of course, the PUN.