Reduce, Reuse, Reupholster

The business of upholstery is not often equated with stylish, modern home decor – it might in fact call to mind old heirloom couches or dusty wooden chairs cluttering up a garage. But antique furniture has become a popular way of adding personality to homes, and one Ottawa upholsterer has made a name for herself by bringing old furniture into the 21st century with her unique, colourful aesthetic and design skills.

Brittany Martin of The Wooden Button Studio has been putting her spin on antique and mid-century modern furniture for four years, and her clients have come to know her for her fresh take on classic wooden pieces.

With a background in furniture, Martin said her creative upbringing made upholstery a natural fit.

Her mother taught her to sew at a young age, and her father was an engineer and a carpenter.

Martin has dabbled in many creative endeavours, including stained glass and landscape design, but found herself drawn to furniture. What began as a hobby – taking chairs apart, seeing how they were made, and covering them in whichever colourful fabrics caught her eye – turned into a full-time business.

Within a year, she had gone from selling these pieces on Kijiji to almost exclusively dealing with clients who would bring in family heirlooms or special antique finds looking for a fresh touch.

“I think there was a need for it in the market,” Martin said. “My style and my take on things are young, fresh, bold.”

She often combines two or more fabrics in one piece, playing with colours and patterns that bring out the quality of antique and mid-century modern pieces while also updating for their new homes.

Martin works with clients to figure out their style including a home visit to see the space the newly upholstered piece will fit into.

She keeps her prices accessible, with sustainability in mind – she wants customers to be able to choose a custom antique piece over a new one without breaking the budget, especially since the older pieces she loves to work with are built to last much longer than the plywood and chipboard furniture that dominates the market today.

Many of her repeat clients are antique hunters looking to make their finds last into the future, as well as to add comfort to worn-down or stiff old-fashioned styles.

“If I put my touch on it or I upholster . . . it’ll last people forever,” Martin said.

Martin works mainly with seating, from antique tub chairs to sofas and even dining room sets. She has an eye for colour, and the studio below her home is filled with rolls of fabrics, with tapestry-like prints of birds and flowers, and a mix of muted and colourful, rich patterns.

Some were picked out for specific projects, whereas others just caught her eye. She pointed to a chair in the corner that she found on Kijiji for $20 and “fell in love with,” and the fabric she plans on using for it.

This is one of many side projects she will end up selling, once she has the time to work on it.

There are chairs everywhere, some fully covered, others still waiting to be worked on. In the entrance is an antique couch partially covered with a new coat of royal blue velvet.

The matching tub chair is in the corner, finished and waiting for the set to be completed. The brilliant new blue makes a modern, striking appearance against the delicate old woodwork of the pieces, which were once covered in a carpet-like tapestry from the 1920s.

Martin said she especially loves working with antique pieces like these because of the signature woodwork. Furniture just isn’t made with the same details today, she says, and putting her own personality into these pieces is what she loves to do most.

“It just kind of came naturally,” she said.

What began as a hobby is now a career, and Martin’s work not only makes her clients’ furniture stand out, it also makes her stand out as an artist and designer of unique, colourful pieces that speak for themselves.