I’ve seen the folks at Spruce (lovingly dubbed by themselves as “The Sprucettes”) in action. Using tools both familiar and new to me, they hack and pull and rip and tear until they strip a piece of furniture to its bones. It’s what they do next, however, that has made them so famous: they take their experience, style and materials like fabric to breathe new life into old furniture. Shaping the look of Austin doesn’t just have to do with designing buildings or erecting outdoor statues; Spruce is contributing to the nicer aesthetics of Austin one chair/sofa/bench at a time.
Spruce’s owner Amanda Brown is a gorgeous, dynamic, quick-to-laugh Southern woman that can dig through filthy attics for old furniture finds and host huge events with equal amounts of grace. She’s led her company, Spruce, to four successful years of business (they just had their four-year anniversary earlier this month) and in those years has had a profound effect on the look of Austin. Along with fixing up the furniture of Austin residents and business owners, Spruce also teaches classes from basic upholstery to lampshades, offers instructional videos for sale, has items (from furniture to housewares) in their showroom for sale, offers to-the-trade fabrics to anyone who loves design and in general exists as one of Austin’s most dynamic centers for design lovers.
Though Amanda estimates their business is about 85% residential (plenty enough to warrant a spot in my column series in of itself), their impact on commercial spaces in Austin has been quite impressive recently, having upholstered furniture for P Terry's on William Cannon, Beets Cafe, Kick Butt Coffee at the Triangle, Sabia, Trace at the W Hotel, Hotel St. Cecilia and more.
We asked Amanda a few quick questions.
You guys just had your 4th anniversary. How does it feel? What do you think’s been the secret to lasting so long in Austin?
It actually feels like more than four years! There has been a lot packed into that four years, and the key is never sitting still too long. I'm always looking for the next way we can move forward and ahead of the pack. We have to keep producing unique products, improving our quality and coming up with new business ideas and venues to stay fresh and interesting to our customers.
What are your thoughts on furnishings versus architecture? What effect do you think furniture has on a space?
It's funny that you ask this because I studied architecture for three years and have a great respect for architects and the work that goes into designing a space. With that being said, I believe any space can be transformed and take on a new personality through the interior furnishings. Think about people and fashion. How many people have you seen on "What Not to Wear" that have amazing bodies and beautiful faces but have gone unnoticed because of the clothing and accessories they wear? It's the same with interiors. Colors, textiles, shapes, and comfort greatly affect the mood of a room.
Do you find that people tend to express themselves a little more when it comes to reupholstering furniture?
There's definitely a formula to how wild a client will get with furniture. The smaller the piece, the wilder they'll get. As with any product, we're all willing to go a little wilder with things that are less costly to replace or redo. So yes, it's easier to go out on a limb for a piece of furniture than to do crazy flooring or counter top.
Do you guys try to push clients to experiment with fabrics, patterns, colors and furniture frames?
We always work within the comforts of the client and respect many different styles from modern to traditional. We encourage customers to try fresh and new ideas on their furniture because we know that the end product really pays off, and you don't have to recreate grandma's sofa with the same type of fabric and style. We have many clients that discover they like certain fabrics and furniture styles they never considered because they can see it on furniture we've recreated.
If someone’s trying to decide between buying new furniture and reupholstering old furniture, how do you guys persuade them to go the re-purpose, reuse route?
It's not a hard sell. Older furniture is so much better quality and lasts so much longer. And you can hand-pick exactly what you want in the fabric you want by reupholstering. You don't have to settle for what comes out of the catalog.
I vaguely remember someone from Spruce giving a quick run down of some of the weirdest things they’ve ever found in old furniture when they were stripping the old upholstery off…could you give me some highlights?
Hmm...let's see. Well, there are the regulars: guitar picks, keys, old remotes, hair clips, toothpicks, toy cars and lots of change. And we've randomly found items such as a wooden lemon, an old British newspaper, underwear, pantyhose, and a mini Farkel game.
Does teaching people how to reupholster their own work ever, you know, take away business from the furniture y’all reupholster? Or do you consider empowering people in this craft to be just as important as making the things yourselves?
I think the classes actually bring us more business. I don't know how many times I've heard things like, "This isn't a class on upholstery; it's a class on appreciation." After class, students will frequently bring in other furniture pieces for us to redo. And because they've spent two days working side by side with us, they know we're honest and really care about quality craftsmanship and giving their furniture a lot of TLC.
Do you guys feel like you’re having an aesthetic effect on the look of Austin? Do you feel like the work y’all have done these past four years has boosted the look of Austin interiors?
I don't know that we can take credit for that; although, I do think we've helped brighten up a few homes. One of the reasons Spruce does well in Austin is that people were already thinking creatively about their spaces and furniture. We're just a resource for helping them get there. I do believe we've had an impact on the profession of upholstery and how upholsterers are presenting themselves to clients not only in Austin but around the U.S.