Maaike Furniture Resurrection on Oxford St in Darlinghurst is the studio of furniture designer Maaike Pullar where she also holds upholstery classes to turn decrepit old armchairs found on the road into beautiful furniture for your home. There are workshops for all levels of experience, ranging from one-off classes for beginners, to month-long weekly DIY dining chair courses. They’re also a great way to take your anger out by hammering and using a staple gun. We sent our writer Jess in to get hands-on.
Maaike Furniture Resurrection on Oxford St is situated between Adult World on its right and City of Sydney Pop-Up Art Space on its left. This in and of itself feels like an apt metaphor for the whole of Darlinghurst, specifically the portion of Oxford St leading up to Taylor square which is littered with kebab stores and bottle-o’s. It’s a local art space gem hidden amongst the stalwarts of Sydney’s nightlife. I’ve walked past the store many times to and from work, specifically choosing to walk on that side of the road so that I could peer in casually to watch people stripping apart old furniture. It’s something that most people who stroll along Oxford St can’t help but do when they pass the unassuming, and warmly lit workshop of Maaike Pullar.
There’s a general impression of upholstery simply as a trade, and something far too difficult to attempt yourself at home, but Maaike’s workshops destigmatise upholstery and encourage people to give it a go and realise that with a little guidance and an unloved piece of abandoned furniture you could make something incredibly beautiful for your home. Wielding a staple gun and helping a student secured the foam bedding for her chair, Maaike explains how she started out with upholstery.
Coming from an artistic family – her father was a architect and furniture maker, and helps Maaike with some of the structural work on her furniture pieces occasionally, and her mother works with pottery and her delicate creations are scattered across the workshop – this evidently was enough for her and she moved after graduation into a job at Marrickville council, dealing with sustainability projects as an education officer. Working specifically with a program called Watershed, her job was to instigate social change in the community, which manifested itself in sustainable gardening workshops and worm farms, however that soon developed into recyclable furniture projects that involved making an ottoman out of 2L soft drink bottles, and creating upholstered tops for milk crates. She never trained in upholstery but took to playing around with the craft at home, having made an estimate 60 pieces on her own before she took to TAFE to learn the skills she needed to supplement what she had already fastidiously figured out through her work.
She began a move into upholstery specifically by hosting a class at Workshop in Redfern, run by Matt and Chester, who she specifically wants to mention are great guys who are keen for any class that people want to teach. Having heard about Work-Shop from a friend who taught Retrosweat, a 70’s and 80’s themed aerobics class where the instructor is dressed like your favorite weekend morning VHS, feathered hair women, with the workout set to electro pop classics. She thought, “If a class like Retrosweat can exist, why couldn’t I teach upholstery?” She opened her store on Oxford St in June 2013 which serves as a workshop for Maaike to work on commissioned furniture that her dedicated clients come to her for, while also as a space to host community workshops introducing people to upholstery, whether its making something small like wall buttons right to stripping down an old arm-chair and re-making it from the legs up. I was able to pass the threshold of the store-front that I had once hidden behind as a curious pedestrian and was kindly invited to sit in on the final session of a month long workshop on dining chairs.
The workshops work on a general skill and aim to focus on a particular way to introduce beginners to the basics of upholstery, but Maaike makes a point of tailoring the course to what each person wants as best she can, because as she makes a point of stating “no two chairs are the same”. This feels obvious, but when you see the process behind making up a single dining room chair, it is astounding. Having now observed the process, I have an absolute appreciation for the craft of upholstery, which isn’t just stuffing some wool into a cushion and stapling it to a chair frame, but all these intricate and very specific details that could go terribly wrong if mismanaged. Maaike mentioned that after learning the craft she couldn’t help but walk into a Fantastic furniture and think to herself “Oh god, can’t you even match your sides evenly!”
It is an incredibly detailed process, and it sheds light on the amount of effort and though that goes into every piece of furniture that you may come across in your home. Briefly, to explain the process, it involves making sure the chair frame is stable and workable – wood furniture abandoned on the road doesn’t tend to be in the best condition. From there you have to rebuild the base of the seat itself, the springs that will give firmness to your seat. The task from there on out is a process of layering one material on top of another to ensure, first off, the greatest amount of support, and secondly, that the chair is comfortable. This starts with layers of hessian, followed by copious and carefully arranged layers of foam, which Maaike says, “stretches like everything else I love”. There happens to be a foam pit in the back corner of the workshop next to the light so that when Maaike goes to the switch after a long day in the workshop, she has to either “get at the switch with a broom or launch into the foam pit and aim for the light switch”.
Rochelle and Mary were the amateur upholsterers for the night and are friends/old work colleagues that decided to do the course after reading it about it online with What’s On Sydney last year. They committed to the month long, once a week sessions that run from 6-8pm (as advertised) but tend to extend to 10pm because people are just so keen to stay and finish what they’re working on. When I asked both women what they loved most about the workshops they vehemently said, “it’s just so refreshing and empowering to get away from the computer screen and from typing, and to do something with their hands and make something”. Maaike encourages people to name their chair – when I asked, Mary had decided to “name her chair Edith”, whereas Rochelle “wasn’t sure yet whether hers was a girl or a boy”. And the worst part of the workshops apparently, according to Maaike its “when no one eats the cookies I buy and I have a month worth of cookies that I cant finish on my own”. I obediently and thankfully waddle to the jar and pull out a cookie after this comment.
That’s the whole atmosphere of Maaike’s workshop – its warm and inviting and not at all imposing or intimidating. It feels like a space that you’re able to crack jokes, and muck about and float between working on your chair and wolfing down that cold Thai take-out you bought for the night, and all of that is pulled together most by Maaike herself who is an incredibly down to earth and funny person that knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to admit mistakes, because she knows that upholstery isn’t a perfect science, but something that is about working and reworking the corners of your chair until there are no loose creases. She lets you take charge of your own project and is always there when you’re stuck, she is constantly there with encouraging compliments on your progress. There’s The Shins and Haim floating around in the background while people are busy hammering away. The excitement is palpable as a mangy wooden and foam filled chair begins to resemble a chair, and I find myself getting really absorbed into the process, occasionally putting down my camera and notepad to help out by holding onto the chair while staple-gunning – anything to get involved. It’s a contagious energy of construction that I just want to be part of.
You can find out more about the workshops and if you were looking to have custom furniture upholstery done at www.maaike.com.au. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, don’t be shy, the open glass doors and “Come In!” sign are there for a reason. Maaike is always in the workshop and always up for a chat with strangers, as she was with me. This is a great local business that teaches what seems like an incredibly satisfying workshop that people definitely need to be made more aware of.
Maaike Furniture Resurrection
Tuesday – Saturday: 10am-6pm
122 Oxford St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010