Austin shops embrace bold look of vintage fabrics
In fashion, much is getting remade these days. Driven by the economy and the eco-push to reuse and recycle, artisans and designers are crafting niches out of refashioned vintage scraps. In home design, it’s less so. For one, there is just not enough of it to go around, and if there is, it’s not of the right quality.
Frankly, there’s so much work involved in actually finding vintage material for interiors, that most people simply don’t even try. That’s also what makes it so special. In a time of mass-produced, vintage feels fresh. Two Austin-owned businesses have carved out a slice of their work using vintage fabric.
Nestled along Lamar Boulevard in the Highland neighborhood, Spruce is one in a cluster of mom-and-pop spots. It’s a clean space, with concrete floors and the furnishings for sale clustered in conversational groupings. Bright colors and whimsical patterns dominate — from a Duncan Phyfe sofa in just-shy-of midnight blue velvet to a channel-back chair outfitted in a vintage silk floral print that was once a drapery. There is a feminine, slightly kitschy vibe, with candles scattered on tables and aprons hanging for sale.
It’s still more service than retail space, with custom upholstery making up the bulk of its business.
The store sells fabric and its retail creations (everything from lamp shades to tufted headboards), teaches upholstery workshops (during non-summer months) and does its custom work. It also has a virtual store on Etsy.com.
Fabric takes center stage with bolts in the middle of the room, and then in sample books hanging along a wall. A small portion of that fabric is vintage, but not for lack of desire.
“We would love to do everything in vintage fabric, but it’s really hard to find that much quantity,” says owner Amanda Brown, who gets most of Spruce’s vintage fabric from eBay. For that reason, she incorporates vintage fabrics for mostly smaller upholstery pieces — benches, chairs, lampshades or pillows.
She explains the allure of custom upholstery and vintage is in its rarity: Not everyone has it.
“In Austin especially, people want an individualized style.”
The allure of vintage also has its roots in the return of color and big prints.
“We’ve just kind of come out of this beige era,” said Lizzie Nguyen, a member of the upholstery team. “People are being more risky with the colors they’re choosing.”
Vintage makes for a good spring or summer look, because “a lot of the vintage fabrics are bright and have a lot of vegetation,” says Brown, who concedes that with such short winters here, it works all year.
For those seeking something less overtly feminine, geometric prints are another option. The best choices for vintage fabrics are cottons and printed linens, says Brown, who advises folks to stay clear of polyester because of its give.
For retail work, Brown says, Spruch might wait on finish- ing a piece of furniture until the store finds just the right fabric.
“What we try to do is pair fabric with pieces that go together, but are not that typical. We wait for the fabric to come along that just clicks,”she says.
Cush Cush Design
Known largely for her work with drapery, Stephanie Moore is the woman behind Cush Cush Design, which sprung from her retail fabric store Cush Cush Fabrics and Furnishings, which closed in 2004. She now runs her business out of her home, a stone’s throw from the French Legation Museum, and takes on projects both large and small — from one-off pieces — to whole-house and commercial business projects involving window treatments, wall fabrics, pillows and bedding.
One room off the entry of her home serves as workspace, with a large cutting table dominating the room and bolts of brightly colored fabrics mounted on walls. Still more bolts and samples are tucked into corners. A large wall hanging made from a vintage cotton print with oversized flowers in purple, pink, orange, yellow and greens competes as a focal point.
Moore is passionate about fabric, vintage especially, because of the handiwork and labor involved.
“The finishing, lovely touch of the room is fabric,” she insists.
She points to one particular bolt, a white cotton print with oversized green flowers and flourishes of orange and gold, where she can feel the ink printed on top of the fabric. She picks out places where the pattern was out of register. Rather than seeing these as flaws, she says they add to the fabric’s charm.
The bulk of the vintage fabric she has now was found by a friend in the back room of a fabric shop in Monterrey, Nuevó León. Moore bought up as much of the fabric as she could.
She attributes a certain amount of her fondness for vintage fabrics to the influence of the 1970s, the era of her youth.
“I think it’s sort of nostalgic. You see it, and you’re sort of pulled to it. Now, you don’t see as much color in fabric.”
Moore says that about 10 percent of her work is with vintage fabrics and that customers seek her because they know she has vintage fabrics and sells them. She now has just shy of 30 patterns that she estimates are from the ’60s and ’70s. The majority are largescale florals or damasks; some are Grecian patterns.
Because of the color and use of oversized patterns, Moore says, vintage fabric is sometimes better suited to accent pieces. But she also sees an oversize print as a perfect option for a window treatment, especially in a smaller room, where it becomes a statement piece.
“A roman shade is really great for a large bold pattern, because it can simulate art on a wall,” she says. “I can build a whole room off the fabric.”
A vintage silk rose print covers a channel-back chair at Spruce Upholstery.
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Stephanie Moore’s vintage fabrics include bold prints like these.
At Spruce Upholstery, a Duncan Phyfe sofa has been recovered in luscious blue velvet fabric. The shop has furniture as well as fabrics for sale.