If you’re interested in learning how to upholster and restore old furniture look no further than Polliander Studios. Located in beautiful Cornwall, you can switch off from life completely in a stunning part of the world as you get to grips with the skills required to breathe new life into vintage furniture. Polliander Studios is run by expert upholsterer and furniture restorer Polly Waite, who relocated from London in 2018 to set up the unique creative teaching studio in the pretty seaside town of Falmouth. Polly singlehandedly transformed the interior of a former hair salon on the outskirts of the town centre to create Polliander Studios, where she holds regular upholstery and restoration courses.
Thoughtfully designed and fully equipped with workbenches, tools and materials, Polliander Studios offers a stylish, relaxed space where students can learn everything there is to know about professional upholstery. On the walls behind the workbenches, eye-catching cloud print wallpaper makes you feel as if you are learning to upholster in the sky. Across the back wall of the studio, gold leaf wallpaper adds a touch of glamour to proceedings.
Polly runs both long and short courses that are ideal for anyone looking to pursue a new career path, as well as those keen to learn a new skill. She is experienced in teaching both modern and traditional upholstery along with wood restoration and French polishing to ensure furniture is finished to perfection. Open to all levels of experience, the weekend and five-day courses run several times a month to impart all the skills required to breathe new life into worn, old pieces of furniture. I caught up with Polly at her studio in Cornwall to find out more about what she does as an upholsterer and what her new teaching studio offers…
How did you become a furniture upholsterer yourself? I worked in book publishing for almost ten years but was looking for something more creative and hands on, where I could work for myself and not feel so tied to London. At the time I was living with an artist, a cabinet maker and a sound engineer in London and their lives were so inspiring that it gave me the courage to go for it myself. Furniture restoration seemed like such an obvious choice, I love design, I love old furniture and my mum worked in antiques so I grew up going to auctions and antique fairs. So I booked on a course and after my first week I was exhausted but hooked.
How did you get into teaching upholstery and restoration to others? Teaching was something I fell into, it was never the plan. A creative teaching studio in London called The Good Life Centre were looking for a teacher at short notice and contacted me. I thought I’d give it a go and at first I was like a startled rabbit in headlights but over the years I’ve grown massively in confidence and experience and surprisingly I love it so much. Setting up a teaching studio was never the plan but when I decided to leave London it just seemed like such a natural progression so I just went for it.
What’s your favourite part of your job? I love that I get to share a lovely old artisan craft with people and that they get a huge sense of pride and achievement from it. I also love that I’m helping to save some of these beautiful old pieces of furniture before they’re gone. Something that can look like it’s ready for the tip can be saved and transformed into something that will last a life time. The frames of old chairs are made to last and can be repaired and saved again and again. New furniture just isn’t made that way. We save old buildings, and I can’t understand why furniture isn’t prioritised in the same way.
Do you have a favourite piece of furniture you have restored yourself? My favourite chair is the first one I ever restored, not because it’s anything special but because it has sentimental value to me. And the 1930s library chair that has a built-in drinks cabinet in it.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to learn upholstery as a professional career? My advice to anyone wanting to do this is to do a week course and see. You’ll probably love it. Even if it’s for a hobby, you might just surprise yourself by how much you enjoy it. Also find a studio/workshop and teacher that’s right for you. We all learn in different ways and finding the right environment and teacher for you is so important. We all remember the teachers that inspired us in school, find one the best one for your new journey.
How much do the courses cost and what do prospective students need to know? I currently run fast track courses which cover all the key skills you need to tackle most projects on your own. Most of my courses are mixed abilities. Although I am in the process of getting set up to run the AMUSF accredited courses so that people can pick whatever is right for them. Course prices start at £140 plus materials for two days tuition over a weekend course. Materials such as hessian, hair, foam and fabrics are priced as extras and costed by weight and meters used. Students are invited to bring their own pieces of furniture to work on over a five day or weekend course, but we can provide all materials if required, and have a large selection of beautiful fabrics students can choose from.
Find out more at www.polliander.com