Several weeks ago, a young couple brought an old sofa to Surrey Upholstery for some needed repair work. It was a colonial style piece of furniture, all floral and with a frilly skirt and wooden arms.
"It was so ugly but they really loved it," recalled a smiling Sonya Burton, who owns and operates the Newton upholstery shop.
"It cost them around $2,500, but we took the skirt off, put on some cool legs, changed the back, made the wood nice and dark and put some good fabric on it, and it'll last them 30 years. Something like that makes me so happy - young people doing that. They had to make payments to make it happen, but they are just ecstatic with the results."
When sofas, chairs and other pieces of furniture become old and ragged, most people are inclined to toss the item in the trash and buy new - a relatively quick and easy solution, for sure, but not always the smart one. First, there are environmental concerns with throwing that not-so-comfy couch in the dumpster. Second, if the furniture is beloved, it can be saved and made to look new again.
"Getting something reupholstered is not the cheap way to go, because it's custom work, hands-on," a candid Burton told the Now. "I mean, you can go to The Brick and buy something cheaper. Like this sofa and two chairs," she said, pointing to a finished project in the upholstery shop, "is probably around $4,000 to do, which is cheaper than going to Jordans or Ethan Allen (furniture stores) - we're probably in between those places and Brick. You have to like the furniture to get it reupholstered. If the person likes it and wants to keep it, they come to us."
Burton has seen the world of upholstery evolve considerably during her 26 years in the business. When she first started out, having something reupholstered was cheaper than buying new, but that's no longer the case, typically. Not coincidentally, the number of upholstery shops in Surrey has declined from around 20 in the early1990s to four or five today, she estimates.
"The whole industry has changed," she said. "When they retire, a lot of the older European men just close shop, because the younger generation doesn't want to get involved in it. And upholstery courses like the one at Kwantlen (university), it was cancelled because not that many kids want to learn the craft. It takes a long time to properly learn how to do this (upholstery work). When I started, I was picking staples for two years, and then I worked on dining chairs and then sofas and bigger pieces, then cutting and sewing and then I got into courses on colour and design. It's not a one-year course to learn all that."
A typical chair costs around $300 to reupholster, Burton said. At Surrey Upholstery, the work is all done by hand, and everyone at the shop takes a turn. Angela Browning strips nails out, Margaret Wu cuts and sews fabric, and then Browning preps foam. The stapling and finishing work is done by Brett Wickens.
Burton's father, Richard, operated Surrey Upholstery until his retirement a dozen years ago (he has since died). The shop, positioned in the same complex as Hook and Ladder Pub, remains a family-run business.
"My cousin Julie (Gilmore) works here, and her dad was an upholsterer," Burton said, "and my husband worked here and so did my sister's husband - that's how we met our husbands. We figured if dad hired them, they must be OK."
Today, Burton's job is to visit homes and businesses to look at furniture, show samples and give price quotes for upholstery work. Of course, it's easier for her to go to the client - to places in West Van, even Whistler - rather than have the client bring in the piece of furniture. Thankfully, photos sent from iPhones and other devices can speed up the consultation process.
As for current trends, a hot colour this year is tangerine, Burton said. Furniture done with big, bold patterns and French script is in style, too, and Burton recently attended a design show in Vancouver where it was suggested the peaches and greens of 20-plus years ago are slowly coming back.
Whatever the colour or design, Burton loves seeing the transformation of furniture through upholstery work.
"You get a roll of fabric, it's all cut up and then sewn and pieced together and something is created," she said.
"The before and after pictures are just so fun and satisfying. Like this green chair here, the guy really likes it and it's comfortable, I guess, but most people would just throw that in the garbage. So to see it transformed and have it make the owner smile and appreciate it again, that's exciting."
The shop, online at www. surreyupholstery.com, is located at 8567 132nd St., Surrey.