Keith’s Got it Covered

After working for more than 50 years in the upholstery business, you could say that Keith Cleal has it well covered!

Making our homes both beautiful and comfortable, it’s one of the few trades that is still entirely hands-on, working with traditional tools and encompassing a variety of skills which can only be learned and honed through experience.

Keith began work as a teenager in Whitstable, apprenticed to upholsterers A Rye and Sons after leaving school at 15 and having a brief try at boatbuilding. At 69, he’s still enthusiastically restoring, repairing and re-covering chairs and sofas from a workshop in his garden and he has a busy order-book.

When A Rye and Sons closed in 1979, Keith went into a partnership as Rye Upholsterers which lasted nearly 30 years. He’s always worked locally, bar two years in London with the Savoy Claridges group. Since 2007 he’s worked from home. A member of the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishings for 35 years, he regularly attends their Kent meetings at West Malling.

It’s a job offering personal service, where Keith works closely with the customer to discuss the work needed to preserve a favourite piece of furniture. His workshop is lined with fascinating tools of the trade and there are two sewing machines: one for bulky fabric such as layers of leather and one for lighter-weight material. He has a wide range of fabric samples available to browse, or customers can bring their own.

Keith works on modern furniture as well as the antique pieces where he uses horsehair and hogshair stuffing. A current project is a Regency chair, which needs work which needs new double-cone springs and new hessian. This requires the use of tacks to be authentic rather than modern staples.

It’s the interaction with people that is as rewarding for Keith as the actual work. A man with a cheery smile himself, he loves to see a client’s face light up when he shows them a finished article. “If there’s a big smile then I am happy!” he says.

Most work arrives through word-of-mouth, and there seems to be no sign of it slowing down. Keith says he will continue for as long as he can, with wife Julie doing the paperwork, and it’s turning into a full family affair as Keith is now teaching daughter Christine one day a week. Good with her hands, she already runs a handicraft business called Babygro Buddies in Maidstone, but would now like to preserve her father’s skills, too.

After all, preservation is what the upholstery business is mostly about – recycling and prolonging the life of beautiful furniture.

Cleal’s Upholstery

01227 273811
21 Oakwood Drive, Whitstable, CT5 1NY

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