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Piecing together the story behind tattered treasures

Small town upholstery business gives artist the opportunity
to put talents to work while saving items from the landfill

GRENFELL, Sask. — Monica Larson likes to breathe life into broken-down furniture.

Larson saves pieces from the garbage heap by using her training and talent for upholstery. The Kootenay School of the Arts graduate spent three years studying textiles and fabrics, which allows her to see art in what others might consider junk.

Larson, who was born in Grenfell, Sask., and spent her school years in Texas and British Columbia, ret-urned to her hometown in 2008 to start her business.

She operated out of a small shop for eight years and worked part-time as a care aid, eventually buying a larger building two years ago and immersing herself full time in Rural Home Upholstery and Design.

“There is such an abundance of throw-away furniture because it’s so easily accessible and inexpensive, but that furniture is often made from inferior wood, like particle board, and is cheaply made so it’s not going to stand the test of time and you will be replacing it in two to five years,” she said.

Larson said higher wood quality and better craftsmanship are the two elements that make older and antique furniture worth keeping and restoring.

Her projects have included everything from chairs, couches and ottomans to seats and benches for automobiles, tractors, boats, ATVs and RVs.

Her goal is not only to keep furniture out of the landfill and bring an old piece back to life, but also to create something for her clients that is a focal point in their homes and full of memories.

“I consider myself a craftsperson and feel a lot of satisfaction and pride in what I do, so being able to use skills that I have developed through a lot of years, blood, sweat, swearing and tears, and being able to revive an old, run-down, shabby looking piece of furniture makes me feel pretty good.”

She is challenged almost daily by pieces of furniture.

“Upholstery is an endless learning curve,” she said.

“Every job is different, every chair or tractor seat or ottoman is different, which inevitably requires me to figure out how it was sewn or put on the frame, or finished with some decorative detail.”

For Larson, the first step is dismantling the piece she is working on and removing the padding, which can be anything from cotton batting to horse hair.

Next is the re-tying of the springs, which is often the most labourious process and the one that requires strength.

After that, Larson works on re-padding the pieces and sewing the fabric together to ready it for the final fitting. Then comes detailing the piece with piping, stitching or decorative nail heads.

One of her favourite parts of the process is selecting fabric and finishes with clients.

“I love trying to figure out how my client’s house is decorated and what they like and giving them suggestions about what I think will work best.”

One of her most recent clients, who brought in a decaying truck bench, was leaning toward all-black vinyl when Larson talked him into adding some bright green stitching to match the restored green body of his antique truck.

“He showed me pictures of the outside of his truck and I said he just had to go for the coloured thread to make it pop and to make it interesting,” said Larson.

Every piece of furniture she works on has a story, she said.

“I love opening up a chair or couch and finding a little toy or coins or hairpins because you can start to see where that piece comes from and what it has been through over the years,” she said.

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