The slick way to spruce up upholstery (without duct tape)

By Rosa Colucci / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Frasier Crane’s father was really attached to his old recliner.

Frasier: “Oh, Dad, no, no! Not more duct tape!”

Martin: “Yeah. I’ve got to repair a little split in the old throne here. You’ve got to catch these rips early, or they look like hell.”

Frasier: “You know, Dad, instead of repairing this old relic all the time, why don’t we just bring the Eames down here?”

Martin: “Ah, no, that thing’s too fancy for me, I just need a comfortable place to park my fanny.”

Just about everyone has a story about a tired old piece of furniture that he has been loath to part with out of sentiment, convenience or comfort.

Amanda Brown understands.

“People are driven to start an upholstery project because they saw something or they have a beloved piece they want to tackle,” she said in a phone interview.

She was living in an old garage apartment in Austin, Texas, that was filled with eclectic treasures, thrift store finds and more. While she was away for a weekend visit with family, an electrical spark caused a fire, and the whole place burned to the ground. Devastated by the loss, she tried in vain to replace her belongings and eventually turned to a big box retailer for replacement furniture.

It wasn’t the same, and little by little, she began hunting and gathering old pieces, saving to have them professionally reupholstered. Energized and inspired, she decided to enroll in some local upholstery classes and soon after was tackling jobs for hire and planting the seeds for her own business. In 2007, Brown left her day job, and Spruce Upholstery (www.spruceaustin.com ) was born.

Since then, she has turned upholstering on its ear, mixing fun and funky textiles with classic shapes that are full of whimsy, modernizing even the most classic furniture shapes. Her work is in high demand, and her refreshing designs have appeared in the pages of the New York Times, Metropolitan Home and Southern Living. She is a regular design contributor to Design Sponge and appears in and produces videos for the DIY Network and HGTV, where you may have seen her teaching her tricks of the trade.

Now, if you can’t make it to Austin to take a class, you can buy her new book, “Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design” (Storey Publishing, $35). The book is one of the best on the market for do-it-yourselfers. Inside, you can follow each step as Brown tackles an entire room full of furniture. From start to finish, it is a master class in upholstery and design. Brown said the book was born from necessity.

“In the early days, we started teaching classes as a way to subsidize the cost of a retail space,” she said.

She says that nearly half of her students come from out of state and that they take the completed piece and ship it back home. Other classes cover a handmade bench, lampshade and headboard. All of the frames are built in-house.

The new book provides very detailed photos on how to do these projects yourself. Brown said many people are intimidated by the idea of doing their own upholstery.

“There is no sewing experience required, and they think you need to have a sewing background,” she said, laughing.

Many people want to start with a sofa or wing-back chair, and that can be a mistake, she said.

“You can get discouraged if you go too big in the beginning. You want to tackle something that you can complete in a weekend so you can get that first rush of excitement.”

Brown has loved vibrant, fun colors since the beginning.

“I wanted to have a retail store that had fun, vintage pieces that I revitalized. It was always my drive to make cool pieces to sell.”

Silks and small stripes are a no-no for the beginner.

“It is hard trying to keep them straight. Larger stripes are a bit easier. Cottons are great, inexpensive and there are a lot of dynamic synthetic blends with stain resistance built-in.

“Linens also have a tendency to ‘grow’ unless backed, so they are not for the first-timer.”