Made in Bri­tain

Uphol­sterer Liz Rose in­vites us into her mag­i­cal coun­try stu­dio to sam­ple her tra­di­tional craft

Period Living - - Contents - Words Ali Heath | Pho­to­graphs Alun Callender

Arus­tic moss-clad barn, tucked away in a leafy cor­ner of uphol­sterer Liz Rose’s quiet East Sus­sex gar­den, art­fully dis­guises the drama of what lies within. Gi­ant, ruby-red Dorothy shoes, re­trieved from a lo­cal car­ni­val float, hang the­atri­cally from in­ter­nal beams, along with colour­ful pom-poms, a shim­mer­ing disco ball, lav­ish silk-lined walls and op­u­lent vel­vet cinema seats. Not your usual up­hol­stery stu­dio, but then this is no or­di­nary creative. In the far cor­ner of this in­spi­ra­tional space, Liz brings to life her de­signs by com­bin­ing the an­cient craft of up­hol­stery with a pas­sion for con­tem­po­rary fab­rics.

Hav­ing stud­ied French and Ital­ian at univer­sity, Liz en­joyed an ex­cit­ing ca­reer in Lon­don and abroad, work­ing in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment for Habi­tat, with di­rect re­spon­si­bil­ity for the de­vel­op­ment of the

VIP for Kids range, work­ing with lead­ing de­sign­ers and celebri­ties. With a young fam­ily, the draw of the coast be­came more ap­peal­ing, and she moved first to Brighton and then to Lewes, where the fam­ily now live. ‘I loved the cut­ting-edge na­ture of my work, but had an over­whelm­ing de­sire to use my hands and do some­thing for my­self,’ says Liz. ‘I took an up­hol­stery course at Sus­sex Downs Col­lege and filled the cor­po­rate creative void with the ex­cite­ment of learn­ing a new skill. I loved the tran­si­tion of be­ing creative in my own way, with no con­straints, and con­tin­ued the course for sev­eral years, work­ing on pieces at home and sourc­ing chair frames from nearby Ard­ingly An­tiques Fair. It was im­por­tant to me to per­fect my craft, in my own time.’

When Liz made the move to her present fam­ily home in Lewes in 2013, a neigh­bour and friend, graphic de­signer Suzie Jo­han­son, was es­tab­lish­ing a com­ple­men­tary new busi­ness in sur­face de­sign. The pair mo­ti­vated each other and Liz sparked an idea. ‘Suzie worked with me on the fab­ric for my first col­lec­tion, and we pro­duced a dig­i­tal run of be­spoke fab­rics for a trio of cock­tail chairs,’ says Liz.

This first col­lab­o­ra­tion marked Liz’s for­mal launch of El­iz­a­beth Rose and her first pub­lic foray. ‘I wanted to cre­ate be­spoke chairs, one-off de­signs, cre­ated by me and never to be re­peated. My point of dif­fer­ence is the var­i­ous col­lab­o­ra­tions that I have en­joyed, with a wide group of con­tem­po­rary UK fab­ric de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing Rachel Parker, Eva Be­spoke, Ge­or­gia Bos­son, Lou Tay­lor, Emma Jeffs of N&N Wares, Rosie Moss, Hello Marine, Stu­dio Jo­han­son, Holly Berry and Re­becca Hoyes. Each col­lec­tion in­volves a new col­lab­o­ra­tion and is to­tally unique – I have re­mained very strict about not tak­ing on straight up­hol­stery projects.

‘My time in the week is spent quite di­versely: a mix of idea gen­er­a­tion, chair sourc­ing and de­vel­op­ing new col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ships with de­sign­ers and gal­leries, bal­anced along­side quiet stu­dio days, strip­ping back old chairs and re­uphol­ster­ing,’ she ex­plains. ‘The process is fluid and not pre­scrip­tive, which I love. Pieces evolve nat­u­rally; ev­ery el­e­ment is con­sciously con­sid­ered – form, pat­tern, fin­ish – and this takes time to de­velop. The chair has to re­flect the qual­ity of fab­ric be­ing de­signed, and sourc­ing the right an­tique frames is a labour of love. This year I am also plan­ning to work with a fur­ni­ture maker to de­velop my own unique frame, which I am ex­cited about.’

Days spent in the stu­dio, lo­cated next to the fam­ily home, are a wel­come es­cape. ‘Ra­dio 4 keeps me com­pany and the soli­tary time gives me the head space I need to be creative,’ says

Liz. ‘There are all sorts of nos­tal­gic pieces in the stu­dio: my hus­band Si­mon’s pas­sion is film, and he con­verted the barn for us to both have space to fol­low our ob­ses­sions.’

The life of each res­ur­rected chair be­gins with the strip­ping back of fab­ric. ‘It is amaz­ing what you can find hid­den away as a chair is de­con­structed – coins, sweets, notes, all sorts of in­ter­est­ing trea­sure. Of­ten chairs have sim­ply been re-cov­ered by past own­ers, and it is not un­usual to find layer af­ter layer of old fab­ric, be­fore you reach the bare bones,’ she says. ‘I love this sense of prove­nance – the fab­rics un­earthed are a great marker of his­tory.’

The tools of the trade are sim­ple yet vi­tal: a mal­let, ham­mer, pli­ers and tack­lifter, with a two-pronged end – per­fect for lift­ing out sta­ples and hard­ened tacks; a web stretcher for at­tach­ing web­bing to the bot­tom of a chair; a trusted Singer sewing ma­chine, used for pip­ing and cush­ion­ing; and the es­sen­tial kit of pins, nee­dles and thread. ‘Once stripped back, the chair is re­built: ginger coir fi­bre made from the husk of a co­conut for the seat pad­ding and main body of the chair, then a thick layer of cot­ton wad­ding, fol­lowed by a fi­nal top layer of 100 per cent wool, fire-re­tar­dant in­ter­liner, which adds ex­tra pro­tec­tion, com­fort and warmth,’ says Liz.

The ma­jor­ity of Liz’s work is hand­stitched. ‘I treat the chair like a man­nequin to con­trol the process. It is re­lax­ing, ther­a­peu­tic and re­ward­ing see­ing the piece come to­gether. My in­spi­ra­tion is based on clas­sic Mid-cen­tury de­sign and I am a pro­fessed per­fec­tion­ist, which has its draw­backs al­though the need for pre­ci­sion, at­ten­tion to de­tail and con­trol con­stantly drives me to do bet­ter,’ says

‘It’s not un­usual to find layer af­ter layer of old fab­ric, be­fore you reach the bare bones. I love this sense of prove­nance’

Liz. ‘I love that with my own hands I can de­sign and cre­ate a sub­stan­tial piece of fur­ni­ture; a vi­tal part of ev­ery home. I have al­ways been drawn to tex­tiles and it feels a nat­u­ral thing for me to be do­ing.’

In 2017, Liz was in­vited to col­lab­o­rate with East­bourne Towner Art Gallery, on their three­month Eric Rav­il­lious Ex­hi­bi­tion. ‘The ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plored all the var­i­ous medi­ums of Rav­il­lious’ vast port­fo­lio of work, plus that of other lo­cal artists – Enid Marx and Paul Nash among oth­ers, and their in­flu­ences over each other,’ says Liz.

‘I felt very priv­i­leged to be in­vited to de­velop and pro­duce two chairs and a bench for the ex­hi­bi­tion, choos­ing de­signs from an archived Cur­wen Press book of pat­tern pa­pers.’ Work­ing with Hat­ley Print, to­gether with the Towner, they turned the cho­sen de­signs into fab­ric re­peats ready for up­hol­stery.

The Er­col bench, cov­ered in a Paul Nash de­sign, re­mains a per­ma­nent gallery fea­ture. ‘I love that ev­ery col­lec­tion fea­tures a new fab­ric de­signer.

Each piece has to be spe­cial and dif­fer­ent.’

Over the past six months Liz has also de­vel­oped the em­bel­lish­ment and em­broi­dery side of her chair projects. ‘Some of the curved-back chairs I have sourced lend them­selves per­fectly to three-di­men­sional pleats, frills, stitch­ing and adorn­ment. It is won­der­ful to add the ex­tra lay­ers of lux­ury on to cer­tain col­lec­tions.’

This year, Liz is col­lab­o­rat­ing with artist and pho­tog­ra­pher Philippa Stan­ton, well known on In­sta­gram as 5ft­inf. ‘Philippa of­ten in­cor­po­rates trea­sures and finds into her pho­tog­ra­phy and we are work­ing on a mon­tage, which Philippa will pho­to­graph,’ says Liz. ‘It will then be worked into a fab­ric re­peat and printed onto rich, deca­dent vel­vet. Once the chair has been up­hol­stered, some of the ac­tual mon­tage trea­sures will be sewn onto the fin­ished de­sign.

‘I love the creative en­ergy that comes with each col­lab­o­ra­tion - it pushes the bound­aries of our tra­di­tional craft to a new con­tem­po­rary level. Each chair def­i­nitely feels like a piece of art.’

To find out more about Liz’s up­hol­stery work or to com­mis­sion spe­cific projects, log onto stu­dioeliz­a­ or call 07748 784497.

Left: Liz’s work desk area is home to her sim­ple col­lec­tion of up­hol­stery tools and is sur­rounded by lots of vis­ual stim­u­lus for past and fu­ture projects Above: Work­ing on the base lay­ers. ‘It’s im­por­tant to en­sure they are all per­fect be­fore adding...

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