TOUR // Spruce Upholstery

Though it is the finest place to reupholster furniture in Austin, Spruce is no ordinary shop. Within minutes of walking through the door, it's apparent that Spruce is a many splendored amalgam, comprised of multiple branches. Here's what I found on a recent tour:
Ready-made goods designed and produced by Spruce are on display around the sales floor: lampshades, pillows and, of course, recovered furniture of every shape abound – my favorite was a dreamy pair of white armchairs with black speckles, accented with emerald velvet pillows.
A bouquet by Gypsy Floral adorning the lobby table

The variety in color and texture among the pieces is impressive, though it paled in comparison to what I found behind the large bolts of fabric that act as partitions: a fabric library of unimaginable size! Pictures hardly do it justice; the collection of swatches and sample books spanned three walls, nearly from floor to ceiling.

Photo by Kim Jones for Camille Styles
The best word to describe this display is inspirational. Despite my firm intention not to do any personal shopping (documentary integrity, darn it!), I found myself caught up in exploring the treasure trove of patterns. The scrap bins were especially tempting, due in part to their bargain pricing, and partly because I always want to make throw pillows.

Next on my tour was the workshop, located through a back hallway. Only a few years ago, this spacious enclosure was the garage of an auto mechanic. Today, it's where the in-house team of upholstery experts creates the very pieces that populate the sales floor. Seeing how everything gets made is fascinating. Most of the frames used at Spruce are vintage, meaning that the stuffing and fabrics the production team meticulously replaces may not have seen the light of day for over 100 years. The back-of-house area is also where workshops take place. (Yes, you can upholster your own treasures!)

After seeing the detail, history, and craftsmanship of upholstery in person, it's easy to see why Spruce's owner, Amanda Brown, was driven to pursue the craft. In 2007, she left a job as Development Coordinator for the Austin Symphony to start Spruce, which has thrived in Austin's design- and eco-conscious environment. Spruce has enjoyed rapid growth, and Amanda even published a how-to book, Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design (Storey Publishing), last year to share her knowledge with the world! Read on for our interview with Amanda.
Photo by Kim Jones for Camille Styles
In your opinion, what are the best places to source vintage and antique furniture?

 It really depends on your budget. Since I like investing in the restoration of a piece, I typically look for inexpensive frames at garage sales and small-town antique stores. I also frequent Spruce's neighbor, Corner Collector's Market.
Warrenton is also a great section of Round Top's Antique Show for affordable pieces that need a little TLC.

I love the before and afters on your site. Such stunning transformations! Is there a particular upholstery project that was especially memorable for you?

I found this cute, antique slipper chair on Craigslist during my first year of business. There was nothing particularly outstanding about it until I stripped off all the old padding and discovered hand-carved butterfly wings inside. There were diagrams drawn by the original maker depicting where the fabric should go, which I followed to restore the piece to its original condition. Too bad I didn't keep that piece for myself!
Amanda Brown in Spruce. Photo by Kim Jones for Camille Styles
Where do you look for design inspiration? Textiles play such a major role in getting my wheels turning. From embroidered napkins, to quilts, to modern fabrics, I am continually revved up by all the patterns, colors, and textures.

I'm sure you've had many exhilarating moments at Spruce. Can you pick a favorite?
A few years back, I made several trips to Brady, Texas to dig through a former mental hospital from the late 1800s. The daughter inherited the space from her mother, who had filled it with 40 years of garage-sale purchases. The 126-room space was dilapidated and filled to the ceilings with furniture and everything else you can imagine. I spent so many hours retrieving treasures from the piles, working by flashlight since there was no electricity and the windows were blocked by piles of stuff. Truth be told, I didn't find much that was salvageable, but the space was so amazing. I kept returning just to walk the halls and search through all the nurses' closets and cubbies. 

You made a career switch to pursue a creative dream, and ended up starting your own upholstery empire. Was there ever a time where you weren't sure how things would turn out? What advice do you have for others who are thinking about going a similar route?

Oh man, so many times! I think my lack of experience when I started Spruce was what made me fearless enough to make the career switch; however, it also made the first few years such a challenge. My husband, mom, and sister talked me down from the ledge many times.
My best advice is trust your gut and know that you can always work harder and faster than you think. Always push yourself beyond your comfort level and the wheels will start turning.

Lastly, Where's your favorite place to eat in Austin?

It's a tough choice between Justine's and Josephine House. I also love Elizabeth Street for all of their thoughtful details. My favorite place for coffee and dessert is Thrice, next to Thai Fresh, which happens to be primarily vegan and gluten free!

Many thanks to Amanda Brown and Clarisa Ramirez!

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