Our writer, Susan Hubbard, meets two creative Kent sisters who are passionate about design, upholstery skills and saving furniture from landfill!
Upholstery wasn’t the first career choice for either Amber Judges or her sister Jade Peel, but it was perhaps inevitable that they should turn to it later. The two little girls who watched grandmother Nornie working with wonderful fabrics and helped grandfather Grandie create woodwork ‘masterpieces’ in his garage have now combined these two interests into an upholstery business.
Always creative at school and college, Jade and Amber seized the opportunity to change direction after having children. They enrolled for upholstery courses at Wendy Shorter Interiors in Hertfordshire.
Now the sisters each teach one day a week on the AMUSF Diploma courses at Shoreditch Design Rooms in London, which they successfully completed themselves, alongside fulfilling bespoke commissions in their purpose-built workshop on the old family farm at Great Chart.
The Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers sets an industry-wide standard for operators and trains students who want to work in the industry. The sisters are now offering leisure courses like this at their Wells & White premises (they chose these ‘ancestral’ names for their business in homage to their grandparents). There are weekly classes on Tuesday evenings and Friday mornings, as well as weekend sessions. The classes are great fun, with cake and chat included, and quickly fill up by word of mouth.
The premises are usually open to customers on weekdays, but it’s best to phone first as the sisters may be out visiting a client. As well as being passionate about design and skill, they both enjoy working with customers. There are discussions to be had about materials, particularly the top fabric layer, then there are trims to be chosen. Buttons are hand-made to match fabric.
It’s these small details and personal choices which make renovation preferable to buying a new chair or sofa. And, of course, there’s one less frame going to landfill, says Jade. She likes the challenges of renovating furniture – “you never know what is going to come in” – while Amber loves the design side of the job and putting colours together, so not surprisingly her own house is full of bespoke furniture, much of it painted by her.
The pair say that in London there is now a trend in upholstery for using recycled fabrics such as hemp, while in Kent a country style is perennially popular. They offer a huge range of fabrics from the bright modern colours of Scottish designer Bluebellgray to classics like Morris & Co. But fabrics all behave differently, the sisters warn, with some more stretchy than others, so that’s another challenge for them!
To keep up with trends, they attend national exhibitions such as Chelsea Harbour Design Centre and the NEC Furniture Show in Birmingham (where Jade exhibited after being runner-up in a design competition two years running).
They have lots of ideas for the future and would like to collaborate with other local craftspeople and suppliers. One specific dream is to make footstools using local-produced wood and wool.
The enthusiasm of the two little girls watching their grandparents is still there and growing with the business…
Tel: 07999 604250 or 07810 792123