Log in


The latest news and blog posts from the National Upholstery Association.  All members can read and comment on blog posts.

Industry Partners and Educator members are invited to guest blog for the NUA twice a year. Contact us if you're interested. 

  • April 23, 2021 5:07 AM | Michelle Minner

    By Monica Rhodes, NUA Volunteer and Owner of Monday Wash Furniture 

    My Evolving Perspective 

    I have always been a proponent of re-use. As a little girl, I treasured dolls and other toys passed on to me by my grandma. For my high-school homecoming dance, I wore a lace suit that belonged to my mom and, for prom, I rented a tuxedo rather than buy a dress. Much of my current wardrobe is second hand and my home is furnished, almost entirely, with pieces that were my parents’ or were purchased from antique and resale stores. Some of these pieces are hundreds of years old and all are still up to the task of providing comfort and support. I’d like to say that I routinely re-use for altruistic reasons, but that’s not really true. While I deeply appreciate the benefits to the environment of rescuing, repurposing and reusing, the truth is that my primary driver is simply that I love old stuff. I find old things beautiful to the eye and to the touch and I am hopelessly enamored of their intrigue, history and mystery.

    Days of late, though, I’ve been giving more thought to the larger picture. I have learned a lot through my membership in the NUA – from people I’ve interviewed, like Kriss Kokoefer, owner of Kay Chesterfield in Oakland, CA, and from board and committee members including Carla Pyle, and Jamie Facciola. These women apply their great minds, endless heart and collective sense of purpose to protecting the earth and human health on a daily basis. 

    A Global Fast and Furious Race to the Bottom

    Recently, the NUA, as an act of solidarity with garment workers, has shared posts related to Fashion Revolution Week, an annual event organized by the not-for-profit organization Fashion Revolution. The Fashion Revolution movement arose in 2013 following the deaths of 1,134 Bangladeshi garment workers, and the wounding of 2,500 more, in the collapse of an eight-story building that had been declared unsafe for use. It is not news that garment workers have long been exploited but the overall culture shift, in recent decades, to unprecedented levels of product consumption and waste has led to a ballooning in the number of lives on the line and has gravely amplified the magnitude of their risk. The collapse of Rana Plaza that April morning in Savar Upizila, Bangladesh was the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. Despite that horror, covered in the news and witnessed by the world, thousands upon thousands of garment workers around the globe, including undocumented workers in the United States, have reported for duty every day since- under appalling conditions that do not yield a living wage.  Brands want to keep their profits high and their costs down so they will move orders to whichever factory will make it cheapest. To get the work, factories often compete to pay the lowest prices. They cut corners on health and safety. Slash wages. It’s a race to the bottom,.”writes Martine Parry on the Fairtrade blog.

    Image source: Fashion Revolution Instagram

     “Fast Fashion” has become a well-recognized phenomenon. Dana Thomas of the Wall Street Journal notes, “Workers and the environment suffer as trendy, inexpensive clothes are swiftly mass produced in subcontracted factories and sold in chain stores world-wide…American shoppers snap up about five times more clothing now than they did in 1980.” Sadly, these items are often discarded as quickly and remorselessly as they were made. 

    “Fast Furniture” is the lesser recognized but equally destructive equivalent to “Fast Fashion”.  “As with fast fashion, fast furniture’s environmental problems are closely tied to ethical issues: the transfer of domestic manufacturing overseas where companies can pay lower wages,.” Eleanor Cummins writes in The New Republic. Similar to garment workers, thousands of people in the furniture production chain report to factories each day to crank out mass produced pieces that are not likely to last more than a few years. As these pieces occasionally end up on our benches, we upholsterers have witnessed the evidence: chemical laden particleboard and other inferior quality materials held together with bits of plastic and rubber and covered over with random forms of padding and a deceptively attractive outer fabric layer. When this happens, we have to help our clients decide: Does it make sense to reupholster this piece? Can we shore the frame up with better quality materials to give it the strength to last? Sometimes, the answer is yes. But where does the staggering majority of these rapidly assembled products born of hard, under compensated labor end up? In the landfill, serving no one and harming everyone. 

    Fast Furniture mirrors fast fashion in many ways, but it is an even more challenging problem to address in one regard in particular: size. To be considered are the amount of materials that go into large and complex pieces of furniture (like sofas and recliners), the energy it takes to ship those pieces from overseas factories (and the pollution that causes), the volume it occupies in landfill (9.8 million tons of furniture went to US landfills in 2017, double 1990 volume and 5 times 1960 totals, see “Re-up and Re-use” infographic), and the fact that sheer unwieldy size is one of the primary reasons furniture is tossed to the curb. In today’s culture, it is common for adults to change jobs many times before retirement. This means moving more frequently and often choosing to rent instead of buy homes. Moving furniture is logistically difficult and expensive. Particularly for young people who have not accumulated savings, it just seems to make sense to toss a sofa bought for a few hundred bucks a couple of years ago (that has perhaps become wobbly, broken and/or less fashionable) and buy a new one to compliment the new space. 

    Ways to Participate 

    New high-quality furniture is expensive, but solidly built older pieces may be found in abundance in antique and resale shops. Found, purchased and heirloom furniture can be updated to fit a range of tastes and spaces and, if maintained, will be readily welcomed back by resale shops should a change be in order. Upholsterers can do their part by informing the public of the benefits of re-upholstery, giving good council as to whether or not reupholstering a piece is advisable, and discussing the fabric, padding and structural design options that are feasible in relation to the client’s budget.

    I encourage consumers to reach out to local upholsterers to discuss options for updating and maintaining furniture. That said, I know that re-upholstery is not an option for everyone, and that everyone needs furniture. The situation is such now that sometimes the best/most rational option is to buy new at the lower prices on offer. During Fashion Revolution Week, advocates for garment workers urge the public to ask apparel companies, “Who made my clothes?”  and to demand transparency regarding the chain of production with the goal of transforming it to value and serve the health and well being of people and the planet above profit. One of the things I like best about old furniture is that every piece has a story. New pieces have stories, too. We should be asking, “Who made my furniture? And where? And how? And with what materials? What does that mean for us and for our children and for our planet? What can we do, and push big companies to do, to be sure that story has a happy ending?


    Kriss Kokoefer is on a successful mission to convince large corporations to “Re-up(holster) and Re-use”. Toward this end, she has created a furniture waste infographic that she employs to sway companies to retain a percentage of their furnishings when relocating and/or redecorating, and to engage in maintenance contracts to regularly service and update (rather than discard) furniture that requires attention. 

    Carla Pyle, owner of Natural Upholstery has made it her business to help tradespeople, DIYers and consumers learn the benefits and practical ins and outs of sourcing and using natural materials. 

    Jamie Facciola’s  writings and presentations on circular economy are passionately revelatory and her Instagram personification of furniture items kicked to the curb in Oakland, CA is at once razor sharp witty and heartbreakingly poignant. 

  • March 31, 2021 3:00 AM | CARLA PYLE

    What's up back-stage at the National Upholstery Association?

    Spotlight on the Volunteer Coordination Committee

    Team celebrating on a mountaintop

    The Volunteer Coordination Committee supports the NUA's mission by growing our team of qualified volunteers through prospecting, recruitment, and retention efforts. This committee helps prospective volunteers find their best fit and looks for ways to ensure high volunteer engagement in our endeavor to enhance the overall member experience. 

    We are currently (April, 2021) comprised of four members; our responsibilities include laying the foundation for a successful volunteer program, recruiting and training new volunteers, keeping a database of volunteer information and skills, matching volunteers to opportunities that suit their skills, keeping volunteers informed, and conveying the NUA's purpose to the public. 

    Current openings on the Volunteer Coordination Committee are:

    Volunteer Outreach Assistant – will assist in recruiting and collecting/maintaining data, as well as communicating with volunteers about schedules, training, and opportunities.

    Volunteer Communications Coordinator – Use your writing skills to create blog posts and newsletter submissions, send emails to potential and existing volunteers, keep communication templates up to date, and other related tasks.

    “The best part about working with the NUA’s Volunteer Coordination Committee is making new friends in the upholstery world! Enthusiasm runs high on our volunteer team for advancing the field of professional upholstery, while getting to know others in the trade. We look forward to meeting you and helping you find the best fit for your skills & goals, as we work together for the future success of our rapidly evolving trade!” 

    ~ Carla Pyle, Committee Chair

    We invite you to join our committee and be a part of achieving NUA’s exciting goals this year!

    Ready to dive in? Check out all of our current volunteer opportunities, and fill out a brief volunteer application to get started.

  • March 19, 2021 4:54 AM | Michelle Minner

    By Monica Rhodes, Owner of Monday Wash Furniture and NUA Volunteer


    70% -80% of what the furniture industry produces goes to landfills.*

    It’s 1996 and 29-year-old Kriss Kokoefer is laying wide awake on the floor of a friend’s San Francisco apartment, her three modest suitcases stacked in the corner and her mind churning. Already, she has shed the skin of her past life in Cincinnati, OH - the round-the-clock demands of the hospitality industry that hadn’t fed her soul. Kriss has enrolled in an interior design school and thinks she is going to become a residential interior designer, but she is wrong. 


    “I put myself into something I was fascinated with, but I didn’t know where it was going to lead,” Kriss says. While in design school, Kriss took a job as an account executive at a commercial furniture dealership. “I fell in love with the industry and the commercial side of design.  I love combining design and business. The rest is history. I have had several different positions within the contract furniture industry. The one that really launched my beloved career was with Teknion (a prominent Canadian purveyor of office furnishings) as their Bay Area marketing person. The job required me to get to know every interior designer, furniture dealer, and architect practicing commercial work in the Bay Area. This has served me ever since.” 

    Today, Kriss Kokoefer is the fourth owner of Kay Chesterfield, Inc. in Oakland, CA, an upholstery business launched by Sam Kay one hundred years ago. She is also the creator of the Re-Up infographic featured here, a representation of her mission to save furniture from being dumped into  landfills. Kriss arrived here not so much by traveling off the beaten path as by focusing her passion to change the topography of commercial design and guide some major players across that terrain. She prefers a different metaphor, though: steering “the big ships”.

    Years ago, armed with the relationships she had forged with architects and designers during her tenure with Teknion, Kriss launched Kokoefer + Co. a successful independent representative group for high-end office furniture.  When Kokoefer + Co customers needed repairs or her manufacturers needed local warranty work, she turned to John Jones of Kay Chesterfield for help. One day, Kriss was retrieving a re-upholstered Womb chair and John mentioned that he and his wife, Jo Anne, were planning to retire. Kriss, ready for another challenge, obtained an SBA loan and bought the business.  Fortunately, John and Jo Anne stayed on for six months to mentor her. Like the Jones, Kriss was not a trained upholsterer, nor had she ever run a workshop. “John and Jo Anne came into re-upholstery, 25 years ago, from the same commercial furniture background as I did and they were willing to help me make the big career transition.” The second stroke of good fortune was that a majority of the Kay Chesterfield employees remained, some of them hired back when the Kay family still owned the business; this gave Kriss a great deal of capital and comfort in terms of skill and industry know-how. 

     When I ask Kriss what prompted her to buy the shop in 2012, she says, “I loved that it was local, I loved that it was a craft, I loved that it was environmental, and I loved that, as the owner, I would have control,” referencing the fact that, as a manufacturers’ rep, she could not manage quality control of furniture coming from all over the world. 

    If you visit the Kay Chesterfield website, you will see, front and center on every page, the message: Re-Up(holster) to benefit the environment. Kriss notes though environmental and human health were not the only reasons she bought the company, they were certainly priorities. Committed 100% to the care of the employees, her business, and the environment, Kriss is tackling the rigorous requirements of B Corp status. Certified B Corporations balance people, planet, and profit. “They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment (” Kriss is adamant that profit, crucial to the health of her business, is, by extension, integral to her ability to impact the health of the planet.

    When Kriss was with Teknion, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification and rating system was just being developed. More and more interior designers were asking, “what’s your sustainability story, what’s your environmental story?” Says Kriss, “I was also heavily involved in IIDA (the International Interior Design Association). Suddenly, many industry-sponsored presentations were about environmental health and human health. That’s when my eyes got opened and I got onto my health kick. I don’t think people talk about human health enough…all of the toxins and what they do in our bodies.” 

    Kriss references Simon Sinek and his book Start with Why. “My ‘Why’ is keeping furniture out of the landfill. So, everything I do, I use that as my framework.” Kriss tells me she’s taken on “a sort of evangelistic role”. She has hired highly skilled and experienced project managers from the commercial furniture world to oversee the day-to-day affairs at Kay Chesterfield so she is free to meet with, and give presentations to, what she calls the “big ships”, decision-makers at large businesses, and influential design firms. By working at this level, she maximizes her efforts. “Most designers want to create something fresh and most of their clients want to look different from their competition, so when a company is making a change or moving their headquarters, they often throw everything out and start over.” Kriss wants to gently change their thinking.

    “There are two focused junctures for re-upholstering contract furniture,” says Kriss. 1: When a business decides to move its headquarters. “This is a great time to inventory what soft seating the company owns and then have the designer imagine how to use it in the new design. My goal here is small, 10-20% because designers typically want to start with a clean slate to express their one-of-a-kind ideas.  I don’t want to stop them but if they can commit to some reuse it's a step in the right direction.” 2: Maintenance programs for soft seating. “‘Resimercial’ is the hot new term in corporate settings. It refers to corporate or public spaces looking like a home, hotel, or spa. Since this is a new trend, I do not believe facility managers have a plan for keeping the upholstery fresh. I want to get this stage of re-upholstery out of the design budget and into the maintenance budget. There are many ‘living room’ settings in businesses now to attract and retain employees (millennials in particular). From what I have read in recent industry articles, these settings are one ‘tool’ to entice people to come back to the office after the pandemic is over.  I would like facility managers to have a plan to re-upholster these pieces 80% of the time (as opposed to buying new soft seating pieces).


    Toward this end, Kriss developed the Re-Up infographic in 2020. She didn’t have a background in statistics, but she knew, “The big players really want to see the data.”  Kriss found that, though there were plenty of statistics regarding the detrimental impact of “fast fashion” (cheaply made garments often quickly discarded and replaced), there was a shocking lack of data regarding its counterpart “fast furniture”. After gleaning a handful of available statistics from articles here and there, Kriss hired a marketing professional to put them all on one page in the form of a clear and striking infographic with references to the original material.

    The infographic crystallized Kriss’s message. Her marketing consultant asserted that the Kay Chesterfield website must be redesigned to fully align with it. Though Kriss was proud of her existing website and loved its aesthetic, she knew this was true. If this was her “Why”, then she had to be all in.

    Kriss Kokoefer seeks a tide change. She wants to see decision-makers making an intentional choice to re-upholster. “The health of our planet is declining and re-upholstery is a tool to make a positive difference.” She is very hopeful. Kriss mentions three recent contracts: an airport with a Zero Waste initiative, and two large tech companies that relocated headquarters. Both tech companies chose to re-upholster as many pieces as possible and reintegrate them into their new designs. Kriss’ excitement brims over, “THAT is unheard of. THAT has never happened before! They want their employees and their communities to know that they don’t throw furniture away.”


    Kriss encourages all of us in the re-upholstery trade to go for the 10- 20% commitment from our clients. We can all “work to change the thinking of new spaces. We need to go to all commercial end-users that have soft seating, get in there, and get maintenance contracts set up. Target facilities managers and make it easy for them with a re-upholstery system (to regularly repair and update existing furniture).” This will benefit our businesses, their businesses, the planet, and the health of everyone involved.

    Kriss is gaining traction. “Gensler, the biggest commercial interior design company in the world, recently created a sustainability group with a new lens looking at furniture and construction waste!” Kriss leans in and her face fills my monitor. “They created a group! And they want to have a private meeting with me tomorrow afternoon. So, I am SO hopeful.” 

    The tide is, indeed, changing. Behold Kriss Kokoefer steering those big ships toward a brighter horizon. 


    * Statistic from Re-Up and Re-Use infographic pictured here. Original source:



    Downloadable copy of the infographic

  • February 28, 2021 1:21 PM | Michelle Minner

    To celebrate the many reasons we love our craft and want to support our trade, we’ve created this shareable info-graphic. Download, re-post, add it to your blog, website, or print it out. Help us shout from the rooftops the many reasons people should choose to reupholster instead of replace.

    Download a PNG file for social media or website

    Download the printable PDF

  • February 10, 2021 6:32 AM | Michelle Minner

    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.

  • February 03, 2021 10:05 AM | CARLA PYLE

    Thank You Volunteers!

    NUA volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization. In recognition of our colleagues’ stand-out efforts, the Board has established two designations for honoring that work. In each quarterly newsletter, and at the end of each year, one volunteer will be recognized for work that goes above & beyond the call of duty. 

    The two volunteers honored below have not only delivered more than was expected, they have done it with a friendly and positive demeanor. Thank you both for shining your light and raising our spirits with your presence!

    Jill Ragan Scully
    Volunteer of the Year 2020

    Jill took up the task of webinar host in the first days of NUA’s existence in 2019, as the inaugural Board & Committees sought to establish high value member perks. As webinar coordinator and host (with early help from Linda Miller), Jill has not flagged in bringing meaningful monthly conversations - about skills, tools, business acumen, and so much more - to help members advance their own knowledge in the workroom and office. 

    Jill is being recognized for her undying dedication to planning, producing, and publishing of the webinars for permanent member access. The three most popular webinars have been Wood repairs with Scott Bennett, Once Upon a Hide with Carla Bluitt of Crest Leather, and Upholstered Furniture Design with Lewis Mabon. We can’t wait to see what’s next! Members can log in to access webinars at any time. If you’re not a member, you can join here to take advantage of this valuable resource. 

    Jill will receive a recognition gift for her service.

    Lindsey Ring
    Volunteer of the Quarter, Q1 2021

    Lindsey joined us as web administrator in September 2020, and she has shown us the true meaning of ‘proactive’. A full website rebuild was mentioned as an 'eventual' goal at that time, and Lindsey took this as an immediate call to action, exploring ways to improve the NUA’s website. By November, she had established a test site and wire diagrams showing how the website could be improved for drawing traffic and for creating a more intuitive flow. She offered to make the transition happen over the Thanksgiving holiday, and with help from Rachel Fletcher, Audrey Lonsway, and Michelle Minner, she worked her magic. 

    Lindsey will receive a recognition gift for her proactive website management.  
    Nominations for volunteer recognition may be sent to any time during the year.

    Want to help? Contact to find out how you can join our volunteer team!

  • November 17, 2020 2:01 PM | Michelle Minner

    Written by Monica Rhodes, NUA Volunteer

    Cynthia Bleskachek doesn’t just think outside the box. She takes the box apart and does origami with it.

    Let’s start there. With the box. I’m referring here not to the art of upholstery which, as Cynthia points out, always involves out-of-the box thinking. Because each piece is different, upholsterers are naturally nimble problem solvers when it comes to repairing and transforming furniture. The box in which we find ourselves trapped, as Cynthia sees it, is our industry structure (or “shared infrastructure”) which has become disjointed and dysfunctional, leaving gaping pot holes on the path to success and security for current and future generations of would-be upholsterers. Cynthia is adamant that ours is not a dying trade - so many people are passionate about it, ready and eager to make a living in this industry - but classroom training is ridiculously hard to come by and apprenticeships are largely a thing of the past. Cynthia is on the forefront of a drive to change that.

    In her Instagram Stories at the end of Upholstery Awareness Month (October), Cynthia paid tribute to her mom. When Cynthia was a child, her mother established a home workroom, parlaying sewing skills into a cushion making enterprise that evolved into a full-fledged upholstery business. She did this in isolation, without the benefit of the internet to link her to training and business resources.  In college, Cynthia studied Vocal Performance with the intention to become a music teacher, but by the time she was in her senior year, she knew that was not the path for her. After graduating, she went back to school to study graphic design and started working with her mom “to bridge the gap”.  Cynthia ended up crossing that bridge to a 20-year career in upholstery that has been as notable for her accomplishments in instruction and advocacy as it has been for her much-admired work as a master of the trade.

    Everyone I’ve interviewed so far has grown up watching one or more close relatives sew and/or upholster. One of my favorite questions to ask during interviews is, “Did that person/those people make something that is particularly memorable?” When I ask Cynthia this question, she tilts her head. “What I remember (about my mom) is, not just upholstery, but her journey – of figuring out how to set up a business at home before the internet, and my respect for her self-teaching and determination.” Cynthia also remembers the times when her mom had to endure negative interactions with certain clients, or found herself in over her head on a project with no access to professional support. Eventually, Cynthia’s mother found her community in the Professional Upholsterers’ Association of Minnesota (PUAM); it was a revelation that brought pure joy. No doubt, this played into one of Cynthia’s greatest achievements outside of the workshop or classroom, the co-founding of the National Upholstery Association (NUA) in 2019. The NUA started as think tank involving a group of talented and dynamic upholsterers dedicated to fostering a supportive community of tradespeople and providing access to critical educational, business, technical and material resources. In many ways, Cynthia notes, “we (upholsterers) are a scattered and invisible population.” Now that the NUA is a reality, no member need be an island, gutting it out alone.

    In addition to developing upholstery instruction, Cynthia provides technical consultation and workroom support to master upholsterer Grant Trick in Irondale, AL and Grahn’s Upholstery in Minneapolis, MN. When I ask Cynthia which she prefers, doing upholstery work herself or teaching others, I know the answer before I even finish the sentence. Teaching is her ultimate passion and it is from this angle that Cynthia Bleskachek tears the upholstery establishment box down and deftly folds it into a paper airplane ready to soar.

    In 2016, Cynthia transformed her Facebook page, The Funky Little Chair, into a physical business and began teaching in-person classes there. In addition, she has made myriad instructional videos, on platforms including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, that are regularly accessed by budding and established upholsterers alike. That’s important but, Cynthia asserts, thousands of hours of hands-on learning, either in a classroom or as an apprentice (ideally both) is at once foundational to true mastery and practically impossible to achieve. She points out that upholsterers should not have to fly across the country to receive hands-on instruction to enhance their skills, but that is exactly what is happening in the face of a dearth of viable local opportunities.

    In recent years, Cynthia has spent a good deal of time thinking and working to solve this problem. The NUA is part of the solution; another is Cynthia’s teaching model which is evolving quickly in tandem with her thoughts regarding a new industry structure for today’s upholsterers “who are often coming in with a tech savvy approach and a head for modern business. “Look at Grant (Trick),” she says, “and RePinned, and Clarke's Upholstery and Knox Upholstery, and Blue Roof Cabin, and A Chick and a Chair!” Cynthia is constantly considering ways to ensure that this new generation will “have options for hiring and scaling, if they want it.”

    This work requires focused attention and an immense amount of time. When classroom teaching became impossible due to Covid-19, Cynthia suddenly found herself with opportunity to dive deep into creating the much-anticipated Funky Little Chair Upholstery Training Systems. The first six on-line courses debuted during Upholstery Awareness Month in October. These six are basic level; intermediate and advanced courses are on deck for 2021. The word “systems” is key. The project-based modules focus on skill scaffolding and provide multiple layers of instruction including on-line coursework supported by detailed written and pictorial materials. Later this month, virtual support in the form of one-to-one consultation with an experienced professional upholsterer will become available for an additional fee. Once purchased, the courses and materials will be yours to keep.

    Looking forward to evaluating and further developing the FLC Training Systems, Cynthia stresses the importance of a 360 degree outside-the-box view. It is crucial, she says, to consider all of the things outside of the physical and/or virtual classroom that impact an upholsterer’s development and trajectory. Among these, access to other upholsterers - community - is vital. Cynthia has a vision of the Training Systems funneling into local opportunities, across the country, for upholsterers to connect and work more effectively together. This requires a rigorous examination of trade culture in light of complicated geographical, logistical and economic factors and the insight, charisma and stamina to build a nationwide network of opportunity based on mutual benefits. If anyone can commandeer that high-flying paper airplane that - in its former shape - only served to box us in, no doubt it is Cynthia Bleskachek.  

    You can find Cynthia on Facebook, Instagram and FLC Training Systems on

  • September 30, 2020 12:40 PM | Michelle Minner

    Written by Cynthia Bleskachek and originally posted on The Funky Little Chair blog 9/26/18.

    To read the full article click here.

    Get ready to celebrate, because October is Upholstery Awareness Month!!


    A month-long opportunity to recognize, celebrate and share the skilled craft of upholstery.


    Find share-worthy examples of upholstery work – that which impresses you, inspires you, amazes you. . . and share it! BE SURE when sharing someone else’s work that you have permission and it is properly credited! Use the hashtag #upholsteryawareness so we can all easily find, ogle and applaud craftsmanship at its best! (tag the NUA on Instagram using the hashtag #nationalupholsteryassociation so we can share your post)


    Everywhere! This is a global event, a chance to spread the upholstery love across any platform where you feel comfortable. I will be focusing on Instagram and Facebook, but feel free to take your revelries anywhere you like!


    Upholstery is often invisible to the naked eye. Many of our most talented craftspeople operate in small workshops, largely under the radar. The average consumer has no idea how much time, skill and practice custom upholstery really requires. The most challenging portions of any project are often unseen – in the springs, the padding, the planning.

    Happily, we now have amazing new tools for showing and sharing the upholstery process through photos and stories. Let your friends and followers see the craft of upholstery through YOUR eyes!


    All through October – how often is up to you!  Set a goal that is ambitious but realistic. Weekly? Every other day???? DAILY??????


    If you are a professional, a student, a supporter of upholstery – this event is for you! You’re all invited to be cheerleaders for the past, present and future of our craft.

    No, no, no. . . WHO????

    OH! WHO is the founder of Upholstery Awareness Month?? How did we find out?? That’s the best part . . .

    One morning in September, an upholsterer woke up and texted his friends about Upholstery Awareness month. Those friends thought it was a great idea and messaged more friends. Those friends also thought it was a great idea, and here we are.

    So who was the first upholsterer in this story?

    Bruno Paulin-Lopez. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? 


    If you haven’t already discovered Bruno, now is a great time to do so – his work is sure to inspire and amaze. You can follow him on Instagram, or check out this wonderful YouTube video that takes you right into his story and workshop!

    And when his friends asked, “But Bruno, how do you know it’s Upholstery Awareness month?” he gave the best answer possible:


    And in the end, isn’t that how good things happen?

    One day, someone . . .  starts.

    If we believe in the future of upholstery, it is up to us – ALL of us – to fight for it, to dream it, to build it.

    How does upholstery survive? How do we ensure that skills are passed along? How do we move our rich history into a prosperous future?

    We make it so.

  • September 11, 2020 4:56 AM | Michelle Minner

    Written by NUA Volunteer, Monica Rhodes

    Sewing is all about connection, about binding pieces together to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. As I listen to Susan Woodcock, owner of The Custom Workroom Training Center (a.k.a. Workroom Tech) in North Carolina, tell her story, it is clear that she was born to sew. It is also abundantly clear that she was destined, on a larger scale, to bring our tradespeople together as a community that is even greater than the sum of its members. 

    When I ask Susan to name a tool that feels like it is an extension of herself her eyes light up. “I LOVE my industrial sewing machine.” Susan learned as a girl on a Singer model 3115. Today, her preferred machine is a direct drive with a servo motor; she has owned a Brother 7200 for 15 years. “You buy a machine as an investment,” Susan notes, “it can be your machine for 30 years.” Susan’s mother, widowed in the 1960s, supported five children fashioning exquisite window treatments and soft furnishings in her home workshop. “She could, and would, sew anything,” remembers Susan, “embroidery, quilts, garments, colonial costumes for Barbie's…There was no limit to her creativity.” Susan and her siblings (three brothers and a sister) grew up with confidence in their ability to make things. “It was just part of life.”

    Susan, among other things (including trade writing, editing and brand management), ran her own home-based high-end window treatment business for 30 years.  A few years ago, she was listening to the Sew Much More podcast by Ceil DiGuglielmo and noticed that “so many people featured there started out with hands-on training, but that really wasn’t available anymore.”  With this seed planted in her head, Susan and her husband Rodger, a retired firefighter, started looking for places in Tryon, NC to set up a trade school. Tryon, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a haven for artists, musicians and small businesses - warm, welcoming and alive with creative energy. Susan muses that Workroom Tech probably would not have come about had she and Rodger not moved there five years ago. 

    Workroom Tech was a natural extension of a previous and remarkable accomplishment. Susan had always enjoyed attending trade conferences but, by about 2008, the opportunities to do so had become scarce. In 2015, Susan and Rodger took it upon themselves to produce the first annual Custom Workroom Conference (CWC) culminating in in the first annual CWC event in 2016. They decided to start small, planning for 50 attendees. Looking for guidance, Susan consulted her friend Tim Allen, Marketing Manager for Hanes Fabrics, over lunch one day. By the time the check arrived, Tim had pledged full sponsorship. Susan was floored by this, but even more so by what happened next; 180 people signed up for the conference. Susan and Roger had to scramble to arrange additional hotel rooms. “People showed up not knowing what they would get,” says Susan, “just starving for those relationships.” 

    From the beginning, the conference included upholstery classes, but in 2019 the emerging National Upholstery Association (NUA) held a symposium there. “So many drapery people attended (the symposium) and so many upholstery people attended drapery workshops.” Susan says smiling. The CWC attracts participants from around the world. Susan and Rodger have found that 200 attendees plus exhibitors and vendors is the sweet spot, keeping the atmosphere dynamic but intimate. “200 people gathered together, people who make things with their hands. There’s nothing else like it in the world,” says Susan. “People with different business experience and perspectives. There’s nothing better than all those people having fun, sewing, learning, going home and using skills, and staying in touch. No other industry embraces new people like ours. People come not knowing anyone and go home friends with industry superstars.” Sadly, this year’s conference has been postponed until October 2021 due to Covid-19.  Susan shakes her head, “It’s hard to imagine not passing things around, touching things. That energy is what makes the conference so important and you just can’t get that online.”

    The energy generated by the first CWC events fueled Susan’s vision of the trade school. She wished to create a place where people would gather together, face-to-face, to acquire technical and business skills toward establishing their own workshops. “Many people want home businesses for various reasons. There is great interest in having a creative business and doing something that you love. At the end of the day you’ve made something. That’s very appealing. I want people to be proud to own a workroom. It can be whatever (they) want it to be. This is no ‘old lady in the basement’ situation.” Since opening doors three years ago, Workroom Tech has been a great success. People have come from all over the country to learn while enjoying the camaraderie and lovely surroundings, often joining one another for coffee, a glass of wine or a meal outside of class. And many have gone on to open their own workrooms. After several students expressed an interest in a credential, Susan created a certificate program: 150 hours, 25 devoted to business and the rest to hands-on experience at Workroom Tech and/or in a verified apprenticeship. In addition, candidates must be serious about opening a workroom and must contribute in some way to the broader welfare of the trade. 
    Susan’s vision for Workroom Tech was always centered on bringing people together face-to-face, but COVID-19 has forced her to convert to online classes. The silver lining is that many people who may never have had the opportunity to travel to Tryon are able to partake of instruction; and the community, camaraderie and common goal are sources of solace, friendship and inspiration during this difficult time of restricted contact. Online classes for beginners accommodate up to 30 students (vs. 6 in-person). So far, all have focused on window treatments. Susan packs boxed kits for beginners containing all needed supplies, save for the face fabric, which participants source themselves. This is no small feat as packing and mailing kits is time consuming and logistically challenging. Classes for professionals are more flexible in terms of size as participants source all of their own materials. Susan is considering an online upholstery class for beginners centered on a small, simple to source item, like a footstool, that participants would provide themselves. 

    These days, when not writing or teaching, you’ll find Susan sewing quietly at one of the 4 large tables in the brightly lit training center, content doing her work, but looking forward to the day those tables are once again filled with people talking and sharing, creating together, passing materials and finished work from hand to hand. “At the end of the day, you’ve made something,” Susan said. 

    At the end of each day, so many who have benefited from Susan’s teaching can be proud, not only of the beautiful things, but of the relationships and the businesses they have made. I sincerely hope that, from time-to-time, Susan steps back to appreciate what she has made – this strong and supportive community of tradespeople secured together by the common threads of joy and pride in creating and the desire to help one another thrive. These are the ties that bind and, at the end of the day, they are what will get us through.
    Susan Woodcock is the author of several publications including the books, Singer® Sewing Custom Curtains, Shades and Top Treatments and First Time Window Treatments: The Absolute Beginner's Guide

    Susan's podcast "30-Minutes with Workroom Tech" is produced by The Sew Much More Podcast, and can be found at and iTunes. 


    In addition to Workroom Tech online classes, Susan has classes available on: &


    This article is part of the NUA educator member spotlight series.  Find a list of our educator members here.

  • August 05, 2020 1:28 PM | Michelle Minner

    Written by Monica Rhodes, NUA Volunteer and owner of Monday Wash Furniture

    This is a story of promise.

    Glenn Quezada has an artist’s eye and heart. An artist’s hands. They probably look like his father’s hands, and his uncle’s, and his cousins’ and brothers’ - all of them upholsterers in Honduras and the United States.

    Glenn is a student of fine arts, a woodworker, an upholsterer from a family of upholsterers and, fortunately for the upholstery and woodworking trades, a teacher. When we spoke, he expressed concern for the fate of the upholstery profession as well as an ethical obligation to teach those who wish to learn the craft. One reason Glenn joined the NUA is that he “saw the upholstery trade dying out and felt a need to be part of the revival.” Last Fall, he attended the NUA’s Upholstery Symposium in North Carolina. There, he was excited to meet Cynthia Bleskachek and others fiercely dedicated to the future of upholstery. “I’ve lived the difficulties in the industry,” said Glenn. “There is much less support than in other trades.”
    For the Quezada’s upholstery is truly a family affair. Glenn’s father learned the craft at the age of 14. He came to the USA, worked in New York for a few years, then took the money he earned back to Honduras to start his own business. There, he taught Glenn’s uncles and they taught their sons. Glenn’s older and younger brothers also upholster. Glenn’s wife, Lucia (a former pastry chef), now lends her creative talents to GQ Interior, their 2,700 sq. foot workshop in Cerritos, CA.

    Glenn spent summers as a teenager working in an upholstery shop in southern California. When he graduated high school, his mother sent him back to Honduras to learn upholstery from his father. When Glenn returned 18 months later, he enrolled in the Fine Arts program at Cerritos College, his heart set on becoming a painter. At that time, three of his cousins were working in a local upholstery shop. When one left to return to Honduras, Glenn took his place as an assistant in order to pay tuition. Glenn devoured his coursework. When he ran out of art classes, he studied woodworking. “And,” says Glenn, “that was the moment that got me; it opened up furniture as art.” Glenn saw his future laid in front of him – a fusion of upholstery, woodworking and fine arts.

    Glenn loves restoring antiques and, though he does all types of upholstery work, leather is a specialty. Asked what advice he has for those of us intimidated by leather, Glenn explained that, “you must learn its characteristics: wrinkles, pores, stretch; you have to get a feel for it.” Years ago, an antique dealer brought Glenn a dining chair to restore. The damaged leather seat cover was imprinted with a grid and embossed with images of chess pieces. Hearing this, I exclaimed, “Whoa, that’s daunting!” Glenn laughed, “I like to get in trouble, it gives me a chance to do more artistic work when I don’t know what’s going to happen.” Glenn meticulously mixed his own tints and dyes to complete the work. Understanding the complexity of that job, I gasped when he told me that, upon receipt of the finished chair, the dealer was upset. Again, Glenn laughed. He was upset because the restored chair made the seven remaining dining chairs look so terrible in comparison. The antique dealer had Glenn restore the rest of the chairs and the two men did business together for years, helping Glenn’s business to grow. Glenn started at age 21 honing his skills in his cousin’s garage. Today, he employs five people in addition to himself and Lucia and, true to his vision, GQ Interior is an amalgam of upholstery, woodworking and fine artistry. Glenn’s website,, features not only restored and reupholstered furniture, but a gallery of contemporary Cuban art, including a fascinating table and other pieces that Glenn made in collaboration with artist, and dear friend, Rudy Rubio.

    Glenn Quezada has a wealth of knowledge. Fortunately, when the opportunity to share it walked up and grabbed him by the hand, he found himself excited to give it a try. One of Glenn’s former instructors had asked Glenn to upholster a chair for his mother. When Glenn took the instructor shopping for fabric, the woman who assisted them at the store overheard their conversation and got visibly excited. She told them that the upholstery instructor at the ABC Adult school in Cerritos was retiring and that the program was slated to close. The woman placed a call to the school and Glenn was scheduled for an interview. Soon, he was teaching 5 classes per quarter, each enrolling 20-25 students of all levels and backgrounds. It was overwhelming. “As you teach, you learn, you know? How to structure a class, how to present information…” Glenn found that instruction and preparation took 20 plus hours away from his business. He took some time off to decide if he could make it work. Concluding that education is vitally important, Glenn restructured his business to accommodate teaching.
    Glenn’s students choose their own projects. “Some are starting at zero, some are experienced; they are doing furniture, boats, cars….” Glenn teaches fundamentals and makes the rounds instructing each student individually. He also teaches upholstery workshops for woodworking students at Cerritos College and there are plans to formally incorporate upholstery into the curriculum. Currently, classes at ABC and Cerritos College are on hold due to Covid-19. A group of enthusiastic students is pushing Glenn to teach from his shop. It will require a great investment - not just money, but time. Still, he knows, the need for upholstery education is great.

    As our talk concluded, I asked Glenn if he plans to teach his two young daughters the trade. I could hear the smile in his voice, “They may hate it, but they’re going to learn it.” With Glenn teaching, I am confident that his children won’t hate learning. I know that they will be proud to have hands like their father’s, grandfather’s, uncles’ and great uncles’.

    Upholsterer’s hands.


    This article is part of the NUA educator member spotlight series.  Find a list of our educator members here.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software