The inspiration behind Perthshire based business The Original Chair Company stems from the time owner Kate MacKenzie spent with her grandfather as a child. His favourite chair 'followed' her to university, where it slowly became more and more dishevelled. When she was finally able to afford to have it restored, a passion was born.
These days, as well as spending hours hunting down old chairs and sofas, and having them transformed, she is even designing sofas and chairs herself. While Kate initially sold her products on ebay, her stand alone website now sells both restored and waiting-to-be-restored furniture. The company can breathe new life into almost any piece you think is past its best.
So if you were planning to throw that comfy armchair on the skip, it may be worth keeping it. With a little care and attention, it could look as good as new. The Original Chair Company.
Britain is in danger of becoming one big rubbish tip, as our throw away society fills landfill after landfill. Perth based entrepreneur Kate MacKenzie is tackling this by taking worn out chairs bound for the tip and transforming them into beautiful bespoke pieces of furniture. Jack McKeown finds out more.
"It does annoy me when I see people throwing away chairs that could be rescued," says Kate MacKenzie. A brief look at the before and after pictures on her website is enough to discover the remarkable things that can be done with furniture you would swear was only good for the rubbish dump.
One picture shows a rotting old armchair with stuffing pouring out of gaping holes in its lining. What's left of the fabric is peppered with damp stains, while the seat sags like a weary boxer's knees. Yet by the time Kate (36) has finished with it, the shabby seat has been transformed into an elegant armchair that would not look out of place next to the telephone table in an upmarket country home. The roots of her fascination with chairs go back to her childhood growing up in South Wales. "My grandfather had this enormous armchair," she explains, And when I was little I would spend hours sitting on his knee in it."
"When he moved into a residential home he gave the chair to me and I used it throughout my student years. By the end though it had seen one too many a party and wild night. It had a broken arm and was generally the worse for wear."
Kate left university and went back-packing, meeting her husband-to-be Stephen in Australia. After the couple married they moved to Edinburgh before settling in Perth, where they live with their four year old daughter Poppie.
Stephen is also a businessman, running the Clubhouse indoor golf venue in Edinburgh.
"When we moved to Edinburgh I could finally afford to have my grandfather's chair restored." Seeing the chair brought back to its original splendour inspired Kate and she took a course in upholstery before starting her own business, The Original Chair Company, which trades mainly via her website.
She began scouring odd chairs. At first she tackled the restoration work herself and now has upholsterers working for her.
This has left Kate free to concentrate on coming up with original and bespoke designs, and in the time she has been running the company she's sold pieces to households in London and as far south as Cornwall.
Most of the pieces Kate restores are bought in auctions, but she reads the classifieds very carefully and even keeps a watchful eye on her surroundings when she's out and about.
"I've seen furniture left on the street to be collected by the bin men and I've gone up and knocked on the door to ask if I can take it away for them. I've even been seen rooting around in skips before.
"I don't like to see a piece of furniture thrown away when I know I can breathe new life into it."
There are lots of reasons to look for a new line of work – but it was a favourite old chair that led Kate Mackenzie along a new career path, writes Susan Welsh
Kate Mackenzie turned her passion for chairs and antiques into a career
AS A child, Kate Mackenzie liked nothing better than to while away the hours sitting on her grandfather's knee, while he sat in his huge armchair.
The armchair, which dates back to the 1880s and now takes pride of place in her family home, was the key to Kate giving up her job as a teacher to launch her own business, The Original Chair Company.
“I have always had a passion for chairs, particularly those of a different style and period to now,” explained Kate, from Perth.
“That, together with a love of antiques, encouraged me to turn what started as a hobby into a career.”
Kate designs timeless bespoke furniture, constructed by teams of contracted skilled craftsmen and using only the finest materials and fibres. She also sources and upholsters antique chairs, sofas and chaise longues, and provides a finder's service for clients seeking a particular style.
“One of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandfather's knee while he sat in his favourite old armchair, a chair which I absolutely loved,” said Kate, 38. “When he moved into a residential home I was given the chair.
“It survived my student days and literally travelled the world with me, but then it started to fall to pieces; the arm had fallen off, and the whole chair needed restoring.
“I went on a few courses to learn how to re-upholster chairs and managed to bring it to life again.”
Meanwhile, Kate worked as a teacher, but spent her free time at auction houses and sales, looking for unusual and one-off pieces which she then brought back to life.
“After my daughter Poppie was born I worked part-time as a supply teacher which I didn't find particularly rewarding compared to working full-time,” explained Kate.
“I decided this was the ideal time to set up on my own, it was a make or break decision really.
“I got a business plan from the bank and with a very small sum of money, just enough to get me started, I worked from home, converting the garage into a store and work room.
“The timing was right as there is a big interest in period furniture, particularly in this current financial climate.
“People want quality furniture and they want pieces which will last for years.
“A lot of the furniture I sell is Victorian – the way the Victorians made furniture was fantastic.
“If these pieces are looked after properly, with traditional upholstery, you will end up with a beautiful piece that will last for decades, unlike modern sofas and chairs.”
Kate's business is now extremely well-known, and although it's based in Perth, her clients, who range from owners of stately homes to those who simply want a favourite chair brought back to life, come from all corners of the UK.
“I try to offer a very personal service, and showcase some of the pieces in my own home,” said Kate.
“I like to think of it as a unique service as clients spend hours here, looking at different types of furniture and fabrics.”
The furniture is built by skilled craftsmen, using fine materials and fibres. Kiln-dried birch or beech wood is used for the custom made frames.
Joints are crafted by hand and to exact specifications and a combination of jute webbing and springs are used for optimum comfort.
The top fabric is hand-cut to the correct pattern and then hand-finished into place on the frame.
Kate also offers a bespoke service where the craftsmen can modify any of the frames to suit individual requirements.
“I no longer do the re-upholstery myself but have an excellent team of contracted traditional furniture makers, French polishers and fabric specialists who I work very closely with, which allows me to concentrate on sourcing specialist pieces and designing new classical furniture which looks good in a traditional or contemporary setting,” said Kate. “For anyone thinking of doing what I did and turning a hobby into a career I'd offer this advice: Be prepared for long hours and to sleep and breathe the business.
“It is hard work and there are long hauls but it is rewarding.
“Focus on customer service as it's good to be remembered as the person who always goes the extra mile.”
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With a range of restored antique and reproduction sofas and chairs, The Original chair Company has something for all. Designs in the Kate MacKenzie Collection are classically inspired with many pieces that can be custom-made and upholstered in your choice of fabric, such as The Parnella.
A sea change is sweeping through Scotland's homes, with the recession making its presence felt on interior style - but with positive results. Specialists say that people are looking to the long-term by investing in timeless bespoke pieces.
Not only does Kate MacKenzie source, transform and re-upholster antique furniture, the owner of Perth based The Original Chair Company ( www.theoriginalchaircompany.com ) is also seeing an increase in demand for her collection of handmade, classically inspired furniture, which is upholstered in contemporary or traditional fabrics.
"I love using vibrant, sumptuous fabrics on classic chairs, as it allows them to live on," says Kate MacKenzie. "We also offer chaise longues, footstools, headboards, rugs and a collection of fine leather furniture, as well as a home consultancy service to provide guidance on mixing hand-made modern furniture with antiques."