What better way to celebrate the official launch of The Tasteful Friend than with two like-minded tasteful friends? I recently got to know Petra de Graaf and her partner Mark van der Haas, who work together in the Dutch town of Leiden in a dizzyingly colourful shop called The Rockin’ Chair. Petra had already established a name for herself as master upholsterer. And when artist Mark came into her life a few years ago, they decided to start working professionally as well. That is what a shared love for furniture can do to you! Last year, the couple decided to take their business to the next level. Petra and Mark launched their very own line of restored vintage chairs and sofas, which they give a totally new and unique look not just with new fabrics, but also coloured frames. The result? Absolute delight!
When I entered your shop, I didn’t know where to look first - and that is just about the biggest compliment I can give you as a maximalist.
Petra: “Mark and I are definitely taking a risk with our colourful new direction. We reimagined The Rockin’ Chair earlier this year and six months in we’re finally starting to find our new target audience. I knew we were in for a challenge, but it felt like I had to follow my heart and just do it.
A lot of our regular customers appreciate what we’re doing. One of them bought an Artifort F140 swivel chair that we had not only reupholstered in an electric blue fabric but had also given a matching bright blue frame.”
I can imagine part of the challenge is that people think reupholstering can be a pricey affair!
Mark: “When you inherit a chair that has been in the family decades, you often have warm memories of it that you want to keep alive. We charge a reasonable price for what we do and people know what to expect.
Petra: “I’ve built a name for myself here in Leiden through the years. We even have a waiting list at the moment, so I really can’t complain. With our new direction, Mark and I also want to show the world how much further you can take things when you decide reupholster a chair or a sofa. Choosing a different colour for the piping can already make a world of difference.”
Mark: “Yes, I love contrasting piping. Petra can be a bit more ton sur ton but if it was up to me, I’d go all out and choose green and fuchsia for maximum contrast. That being said, I realise I’m still quite new to the business. I learn so much from Petra, she involves me in every aspect of The Rockin’ Chair.”
Petra, how did you start in the business?
“I’ve studied upholstery in Rotterdam and started getting orders right after I had finished my traineeship. In the beginning, I worked from my living room with little more than a sewing machine. At one point, an acquaintance was able to get me the space we’re in now. To be honest, I didn’t really have a plan when I started out, but things have worked out really well.”
I really admire how far you’ve come. There are so many people who reupholster a simple chair as a DIY project. But to make a living out of reupholstery, that feels very ‘next level’ to me.
Petra: “Yes, reupholstering can all be very time-consuming if you want to do it right. But I love it every time I get a tattered chair with pulverised foam and then hand it back over to the customer in tiptop shape. First, you have to gentle remove all the staples and then carefully take apart the entire chair. Sometimes a piece of fabric is so stretched that it can be a real challenge to determine its original shape.
If you pull the new fabric too tight, the chair loses its shape. But if you put it on too loosely, it becomes baggy. On top of that, reupholstering can be physically hard work as well. I can’t tell you how many times I had to pull with all my might to get the webbing back in its original place.”
And what is your original background, Mark?
Mark: “I used to work at a high-end furniture store in Amsterdam, but I’m also an artist. I made a few bad life decisions when I was younger, but the moment I put all that behind me ten years ago, the creativity that was already right here in my head, just flowed out. I started painting and creating graffiti art. And then I met Petra and my life became even better!”
I see so much love when you look each other in the eyes!
Petra: “Yes, we’ve really found each other creatively. Mark and I went to the Vitra museum in Germany a while ago, which is something I wanted to do ever since I had The Rockin’ Chair. The quality of the chairs on display there is so good. To be honest, I prefer to limit myself with my work to tried and tested design brands. Taking apart a beautiful vintage chair really makes you appreciate the ingenuity of its designer”
Mark: “The level of quality used to be extremely high. In some vintage chairs, the wood is so strong, it is virtually impossible to take out the staples.”
Is there a particular design you dream of reupholstering?
Petra: “Without a doubt, the La Mamma UP5. It has such a challenging shape for someone in my line of work. Oh, and of course the Verner Panton’s Visiona.”
You can check out everything Petra and Mark have on offer on www.therockinchair.nl. Their Leiden shop is located on Korte Mare 22a and is open from Wednesday to Saturday. If you drop by, don’t forget to tell them I said ‘hi’!