Welcome to Bespoke Life: the Upholstery Blog

Welcome to Bespoke Life: the upholstery blog of Julie James!

I LOVE upholstery, but I don’t think it gets the respect it’s due.  In order to highlight the art and benefits of the crafts of upholstery and reupholstery, I’ve decided to write this blog. I hope you find this blog interesting and educational; but most of all that you gain new respect for the kingpin of interior design, creature comfort, and craftsmanship – that’s what upholstery is, after all.

My story (in brief):

Most of my career has been spent in IT, in a sales and marketing role. I left a lucrative job at Microsoft Canada (to everyone’s amazement and consternation) to embark on a new career in the decorative arts to pursue my passion. In order to learn the craft of upholstery, it meant starting with the experience of a lifetime: going to England for training (since upholstery training is no longer available in Canada.) Off I went, (quite happily) for an 8 week intensive course in traditional English upholstery in Kendal, England (the Lake District). I studied 6 days a week to complete the practical requirements at Kendal School of Upholstery.  I had completed the academic qualifications – a research project on 20th Century furniture in advance of the trip.  At the end of my sojourn, I was accredited by the AMUSF (the Association of Master Upholsterers & Soft Furnishers of the UK) with a Level 2 upholstery certificate. (For those so inclined, you can read more about my adventures in Kendal on my personal blog here, here, and here.)

I returned home to Toronto, Canada and found work at a series of upholstery shops before starting my own fledgling business. I still have a lot to learn about upholstery, design, furniture, fabric and materials; but I have begun this blog to document this learning and to share the art.

And that’s where you come in.  Please share your comments, questions and upholstery resources.  Enjoy!


5 thoughts on “Welcome to Bespoke Life: the Upholstery Blog

  1. Hi Julie,

    First, I think you blog and website are utterly charming. I do have a qualification about you possible identification of the settee as Jacques & Hay. Sorry, but I think that it is far too late. With the degree of carving, it could be a later product of the successor firm to Jacques & Hay (later the Robert Hay Co.) called Charles Rogers & Co.. However, it does have a strong resemblance to similar settees in the Eaton’s catalogue of 1916. This is available online and I will explain how to get into if you are really interested. As for many things on the net, is not straight-forward.

    For more background on Jacques & Hay you might also see my dissertation on the company available again online from the University of Ottawa. Identifying J and H furniture–without invoices or family history–is a nightmare. I frequently think the more I know, the less I know.

    You also might like to know that the Toronto Reference Library has strangely enough examples of upholstery fabric from the mid-nineteenth century. Again, I can explain if you are interested.

    Hope I have not made myself obnoxious, but I love what you are doing and thought you might be interested in some background on this type of early Canadian furniture. Please keep up the good work.

    • Hello Denise! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my blog and for your expert guidance on Jacques & Hay furniture. I am definitely interested in learning more. If you could share as a further comment the links for your dissertation on Jacques & Hay and the settees in the Eaton’s catalogue of 1916 I’d appreciate it (and it would be available for others who are searching). I agree that it’s not easy to find legitimate information on the web about the history of Canadian decorative arts such as furniture. I guess it’s the tyranny of modernity 🙂 I also never knew that the Toronto Reference Library has upholstery fabric from the 1800’s! I wonder if they’d let me take a few photos for this blog? It might help people who want to upholster in fabric appropriate to the period. Also, based on your email address am I correct in guessing you are related to the Jacques in Jacques & Hay? Thank you again for your comments and for providing clarity on the history of this settee. I will let the owner know.

      • Hi Julie,

        In the Baldwin Room of the Toronto Reference Library you will find a box of papers and files of the late Jean Minhinnick . Jean worked at Upper Canada Village, among other projects, for years. Anyway about midway in the box, you will find about 6 or more samples of mid-nineteenth century upholstery fabric. I remember them as surprising bright and cheerful. This was different from what I had anticipated.

        Ask the librarian about photography, but this is a public resource. I understand from an industrial designer that a photograph of sufficient quality could be taken that digital information could be then downloaded to reproduce a modern bolt of fabric. Apparently this can be done, usually in China, for small quantities at reasonable price.

        Hope this is of interest,


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