Upholsterer Simion Hawtin-Smith is obsessed with vintage chairs and, the more daring and colourful, the better. ‘I’d like to be like Iggy Pop,’ he laughs. ‘His house is filled with beautiful chairs and apparently he makes time to sit in each and every one of them – maybe one day I’ll get there!’ Simion’s studio in Stockport, which he moved to earlier this year, is crammed with curious antique seating, often brought to him by clients. ‘It’s very dangerous,’ he says. ‘If ever anyone sends me an. unusual chair, I simply have to upholster it.’ His company, Reloved Works, offers bespoke upholstery services and creative workshops for budding furniture fanatics. What’s more, Simion also upholsters skip-salvaged seating for the BBC One show Money for Nothing.
What’s your background?
I’ve always been interested in interiors, especially when it comes to making and restoring things. When I was a child, my mum caught me stripping the dark stain off my bedroom furniture to bring it back to the pale wood. I studied design at college but ended up working in the bar industry, opening my own cafe and art gallery in Manchester. I worked hard to perfect the interior, designing it myself and working on the upholstery. After that, I bought a house in France and renovated it myself, the challenges of which led me to want to learn how to properly upholster furniture. Back at home, I met upholsterer Dennis Gallagher, who taught me how to upholster the traditional way. He’s 87 now but he still comes and visits my workshop a couple of times a week to give me advice.
What inspires you?
I’m always inspired by my surroundings, whether it’s a trip to Liberty, walking down the high street or being away on holiday – I constantly see things that I want to transfer to a project. My passion is for fabrics and I’m a big believer in ‘the statement chair’. I think I keep a memory bank of fabrics in the back of my mind, so that when I see a chair for the first time, I have an idea of what it should be upholstered in. I’m also involved in a really nice community of makers and designers here in Manchester, which means I can always access advice and inspiration.
Talk us through your process
With each chair that comes in, I start by stripping it back to the frame and repairing any breakages or wobbles that there might be. You never know what you’re going to find until you strip a chair back – I once found a china dinner plate down the back of a Chesterfield! I then build up from the bare frame by replacing all the materials and adding the fabric chosen by
the client, before topstitching everything by hand. Now that I’ve moved into a bigger workshop, I’m able to cut out all of the pieces for an upholstery project and sew them together in one go, which is much easier. Every chair is different but a typical lounge chair, such as a Parker Knoll Statesman, will usually take me a week to upholster from start to finish.
What has been your favourite project to work on?
For Money for Nothing I was given a huge lounge chair, which I upholstered in a yellow, honeycomb quilted fabric. I made the pattern myself and it was such hard work that it almost broke me. Upholstery is always a challenge but that’s what I love so much about it. Sometimes a client will ask me ‘can you use velvet on this chair?’ and I know it’ll be really difficult to do – but I still do it anyway!
What are you working on at the moment?
While my previous business was mostly upholstering vintage chairs imported from Europe, I now mainly focus on bespoke projects for clients. For example, I’m currently working on a G Plan Housemaster chair that I’m reupholstering as a wedding present from a mother to her son (pictured above). I’m using beautiful fabric from the Isle of Bute, as the family hails from Scotland. That’s what I love the most about my job: working on chairs that are a personal project for someone.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to run more courses and workshops in my new studio space [Simion works in an old mill above a vintage emporium] as well as return to sourcing chairs myself to reupholster. I’d also like to take on more collaborative projects.
See more of Simion’s work at relovedupholstery.co.uk