Meet the Maker:
Nicole Crowder of Third & Grace

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Upholsterers occupy a special place in designers' hearts for their ability to take something old and discarded and transform it into something unique and renewed. It's physical work, plus it requires an eye for pattern, fabric, and what works for a given piece of furniture. Today we're talking to one such maker, Nicole Crowder, about her company Third & Grace, where she does custom upholstery and produces a line of sewn cushions.

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Name: Nicole Crowder, owner of Third & Grace
Location: Washington, D.C. Area

So, why upholstery?
I fell into it very serendipitously. One afternoon in 2012 I came across some stunning chairs by a woman named Andrea Mihalik, who owns a company in Pennsylvania called Wild Chairy. After seeing the work she was doing, something seriously shifted in my brain and I had this desire to try a chair myself. I went out and purchased two chairs from Goodwill and some fabric, and began my first upholstery job. I was happy with the results and decided to sell them on Craigslist, because we had enough chairs at home. Within about a week two people were interested. From there I became fascinated by chairs all the time and thought of all the ways I could restyle them. I had never even contemplated upholstery before last year, but within a few months of selling a few more I had inquiries about when I was opening a shop.

Have you always done this? If not, what did you do before?
For five years I worked as an assistant photo editor in the magazine industry and as a freelance interiors and food photographer. I love working as a photographer, but I also wanted to get out from behind my desk and work more with my hands. Working as an interiors photographer for various clients (including Apartment Therapy!) was so invaluable because I was able to see people's decor styles all the time. I became more familiar with different chair types and where the homeowners found them, and began to collect sources for where I could find my own. I would work full-time during the day, and then come home in the evenings and on the weekends and work on chairs.

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How did you learn the trade?
YouTube was the first tool I used to become familiar with the process. And then I purchased a great DVD from an upholstery company in Austin, Texas called Spruce, to break it down and feel more like I was in a one-on-one classroom setting, because there were no upholstery courses available in D.C. Most of my learning about what went into upholstery, however, was trial and error. I really just had to jump in and be hands-on, because each chair requires a different approach. Before last year I had not sewn so much as a button back onto a coat, and now I'm churning out pillows and pouf cushions and I don't want to leave my machine!

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How do you choose which fabric to use?
Initially I was focused on "Ok, this has to come from the 45" Home Decor section of the fabric store." But now that I've worked with enough fabrics to become familiar, it could be anything. I'll switch up and use a fabulous rug to cover a chair just because I like the pattern or the texture. I've had clients bring in thick curtains that they want to use for a chair because they love the colors or the pattern. There is even a piece of black lace from a dress I have that I'm anxious to incorporate into a chair soon. I love working with linen and twill because of their durability and texture. But my favorite fabric is hands down African Wax Print. It's strong, vibrant, and the various patterns allow me to really get creative with a chair.

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Who's your favorite furniture designer?
Because she inspired my career change, Andrea Mihalik of Wild Chairy. She's so daring with her designs and completely transforms a chair into practical couture. It's art in itself. The confidence in her work is written all over her chairs, and she inspires me constantly.

And perhaps most importantly, have you found any interesting, funny, or valuable things in old furniture when you've stripped it down? If so, what?
Great question. Nothing too out of the box just yet. I'm slowing amassing a collection of loose change, so hopefully after stripping a few more chairs I can fund my next vacation!

Check out more of Nicole's work on her website, Third & Grace.

(Images: Nicole Crowder)