The Day Dumpster Diving Birthed a Business

In my 30s I began taking on occasional upholstery projects. It was work that fit nicely around raising my young children and provided a creative outlet as well as a needed mental break from parenting. One day on my usual neighborhood walk with my husband, I stumbled upon an idea that would transform my side hustle to a furniture business.

It wasn’t our usual route and we didn’t have a purpose in mind, but we decided to walk the street behind Goodwill. And I struck gold! Sticking out of their dumpster was a six foot, sleek mid-century modern bench. The crusty, mustard-colored velvet wasn’t a deterrent…at least to me. Its diamond tufting was ornate, yet elegant; its classic tapered wooden legs were lovely. I was in love!

As a witness to my excitement, Christian wasn’t surprised when I asked him to dig it out and carry it home with us. He patiently and without complaint hauled it four blocks into my upholstery shop where I went to work stripping it down. Deciding what to cover it with was fairly easy; I had some natural colored upholstery-weight linen that would give a clean, modern edge to this 1960s treasure. 

I tufted the fabric in the traditional way, folding the excess fabric between folds. Later I tried sewn tufting and adored its precision; it’s the method I use today, but this first art bench (see picture above!) was an experiment. At this stage — before the buttons were applied — this bench was a blank canvas waiting for color. 

I had hundreds of pieces of fabric that I had been saving as I’m a bit of a fabric hoarder. Those who collect art and craft supplies understand this affliction. Most pieces weren’t even big enough to make a pillow. I had sewn a bunch of Barbie sleeping bags, but there’s only so many of those my daughter’s Barbies needed! There was, however, enough of all of the pieces to create one button or more from each swatch. 

In my mind, the arrayed buttons looked like a painter’s palette where you mix colors before you start painting. Each button became a dab of paint and every tuft became a different painting. On the six foot bench, that allowed me 34 little canvases to play with. As an artist and creative person, I was completely hooked. 

There is something quintessentially satisfying about crafting a piece of furniture that looks sophisticated and sleek from across the room. But what is even more enchanting is the surprise that awaits the viewer. As she approaches, she spies little bursts of pattern, texture and color — the piece has caught her perception off guard in a delightful way. At 15 years in, I am still tickled by each and every piece. Not one is a reproduction of the last; with each one, I hope my clients feel like they have struck gold.