In the third of our “So You Want My Job” series, we meet with Upholsterer Ray Clarke who specialises in customising soft furnishings for both homes and business, breathing new life into old furniture, and occasionally giving ercol originals pieces a bespoke makeover…
Ray Clarke carrying out his work. Photo taken by Simon Tupper (2012).
1. Did you always want to be an upholsterer?
Originally I wanted to become a fashion designer specialising in menswear and printed textiles however life had other plans....
2. What path did you take to get your role?
From art school, printed textiles, evolving from that into fashion design then fashion retail followed by bicycle couriering - which inspired my 1st business start-up - failure, homelessness, debt, relationship breakdown, depression, then a private commission inspired me to take up 1st upholstery study (2 years on an intermediate upholstery course at London Metropolitan University by day while working part-time bar at night. From this came my first commercial upholstery projects, which inspired me to take on another year-long more intensive and advanced upholstery study). More upholstery projects followed, part-time labouring, doing yet more upholstery and then deciding to find a studio space. Finally committing myself full time to upholstery…
3. What does your typical day look like?
Every day is different, there is no "typical day" as such, but here is how a day may look: Responding to email enquiries and admin, heading to the studio to continue "ripping down" furniture, applying suspension systems and cutting, sewing and fitting covers (all whilst listening to my favourite tunes!), a late lunch, more sewing, coffee, more tacking/stapling, then off home to unwind.
4. What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
Seeing peoples (joyous) faces when I've returned their revitalised furniture.
Ray Clarke working his magic on some reupholstered ercol furniture
5. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s hard to answer, all of my projects and jobs have helped me reach fresh understandings and always teach me something new about the art and craft and trade involved in upholstery.
6. If there was one thing you could change about your job what would it be?
I’d like to have more time and resources to explore manifesting more of my own textiles and art onto my upholstery projects.
7. What advice would you give to anybody who wants to be an upholsterer, what do you wish you had known?
Be prepared to have your heart broken, or at least keep your chin up when inevitably sometimes things go south. Work out your estimates honestly. Factoring in your own living and business costs, not by simply comparing yourself to what other craftsmen are doing & charging
8. To you, what makes the ideal home?
A large flat filled with an eclectic mix of my own best upholstered mid-20th century modern and antique, or traditionally, upholstered furniture. It would be above my own shop with a nice garden space out the back, with some garage space to charge my electric van.
9. Describe your personal interior style.
A luxurious, colourful eclectic mix of vintage, mid-20th century modern and antique (French) furniture in spacious surroundings, beautiful framed prints, soft lighting, colourful rugs, hardwood parquet flooring, minimalist background wall colourings and coatings.
10. Favourite piece from Furniture Village collection:
Ercol Studio Couch in Black (colour G447):
Quick fire questions
· Metal or wood? Wood
· Modern or vintage? Vintage
· Warm or cool? Warm
· Refined or rustic? Refined
· Simple or eclectic? Eclectic
· Minimalist or opulent? Opulent