If it were up to Harmony Roselli, everyone would think a little bit harder before buying furniture.
As an upholsterer, she specializes in repairing family heirlooms and furniture that people hope to keep a while longer. But there are fewer people choosing high-quality furniture these days versus inexpensive “fast furniture.”
“It’s tough now in the age of Ikea, when furniture is cheap and imported from places like China,” Roselli said.
Opting for cheap over high quality is often bad for the environment, since the furniture doesn’t last as long. Since 1960, the amount of furniture in local landfills has increased significantly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Also, low quality furniture makes the cost of fixing it less reasonable to consumers.
Although the demand for upholstery and other restoration jobs has dwindled nationwide, Roselli, 43, a native of Southwest Washington, said the business has experienced a demand. She and her husband, Shawn Roselli, a third-generation furniture refinisher, recently moved the business to a different space to accommodate more and larger projects.
1900 W. 39th St., Suite B-201, Vancouver.
Number of employees: 4.
Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook: The bureau doesn’t track upholsterers in detail, but projects a nationwide decline of four percent and an average salary of $35,130, according to May 2019 data.
“We did definitely struggle during the pandemic, with the city being shut down and everything, but people have been cooped up in their houses for a year now,” Harmony Roselli said. “So they’ve been staring at this chair that’s uncomfortable to sit in or needs new fabric and they’re finally wanting to do something about it. Everyone is tidying up their nests.”
The Columbian caught up with her to learn more.
What has business been like during the pandemic?
There was definitely a slow down when everything went into lockdown. We had a little bit of a backlog of customers, so we were able to get caught up. We’re by appointment only anyway, so it’s easy to stagger customers to where there aren’t a bunch of people coming in and out. The cost of lumber right now is crazy, too. Even just buying hardwood or veneer. It gets tough to function and make a profit when everything’s so expensive. But we’re hanging in there.
There are a declining number of types of businesses that have people specializing in doing work with their hands. What are your thoughts about that?
We live in a consumerist society; it’s easier to buy than recover it half the time. But there are people, especially with family heirlooms, who want to have something preserved for future generations. There’s that market, but it’s always satisfying to take a unique piece and make it nice again. Something that would have been destined for the dump.
What is the benefit to restoring versus disposing and buying new?
Well definitely the heirloom pieces, the people who have had it for 50-plus years and they want to keep it in the family for another 50-plus years: that’s the upside. But it just depends on peoples’ budgets because we have our own overhead cost, and the cost of materials. During the pandemic, the cost has gone up exponentially. I went to put in an order for cushion foam, and the salesperson told me they’re going to be boosting prices so if I wanted to order more, I better do it before Friday. And, you know, if you’re going to just take something and haul it off to the dump versus getting some new fabric for it because that’s all it needs, that’s wasteful. I’m happy to talk with people and help them decide if it’s something they could fix on their own.
Is there a threshold for not being able to restore something?
We have taken on some pretty… I don’t know if “gross” is the right word. Items that come in that have pet urine smells or black mold or dust or fire damage, all sorts of stuff. Things get exposed to the elements and it’s not very often that we turn it away and say it’s not worth it; the main time we say it’s not fixable is if there’s wood rot in the frame. The wood will just crumble, and you may as well just get a new chair at that point rather than gluing it back together.
What are some interesting jobs you’ve taken on?
Just this past year I took in an upholster job from a woman. They were mid-century modern chairs that she had shipped from Germany that had belonged to her father. He passed away, and so she shipped them to Vancouver area and wanted them recovered. They were this interesting scooped-back-style chair. I’d never seen anything like them before. There are so many different styles of furniture. Sometimes designers will do just a one-off design and there it is out in the world.
What are your hopes for the future?
I’m planning on training my daughter Aurora about how to run the industrial machine in the next couple months. She’s ready to learn. She’s been doing a lot of refinishing. My son works there as well. Partially it was because of COVID-19. He’s here to keep everyone together rather than them do a desk job somewhere else where they might be exposed or expose us. They’ve both done other jobs, but we’re always willing to welcome them back into the fold. We’re also just trying to figure out the potential of this new building.