Upholstery a dying art resurrected by man Kennett | Local News


KENNETT SQUARE — When he was little in Philadelphia, Modesto Solano gazed longingly out the window of his father’s furniture and upholstery finishing shop down the street, where his friends were playing cat. Reluctantly, he turned his attention back to the tasks at hand: picking up tools, cleaning them and setting them up.

As he grew older, his father showed him how to use these tools to sand a chair, stain a table, stretch a fabric. Little by little, Modesto learned the trade from his father.

“I didn’t like it at the time, I just wanted to play away. But now I appreciate what he was doing, ”he says.

Modesto’s father is now retired, but his uncle, Rafael Bautista, still works at the store he opened in Kennett Square 50 years ago, Bautista Upholstery & Refinishing.

Rafael now divides his time between his adopted hometown of Kennett Square and his native Dominican Republic. He is able to do this because his nephew Modesto skillfully runs the business for him while he is away. Rafael apprenticed with various artisans to learn his trade, first in the Dominican Republic and then in Puerto Rico, before coming to Kennett Square. Longtime Kennett residents will remember Rafael’s first store on Broad Street.

After moving to Union Street, it moved to its current premises at 223 Birch Street, next to Taylor Oil.

Although the job of finishing furniture and upholstery was in Modesto’s blood and was part of his initial training, including time spent working with his uncle in the Kennett Square store, Modesto went to Penn State to obtain a degree in accounting and worked as an accountant in New York for seven years. “I did this to get away from the furniture,” he laughs. But, although he built a successful career as an accountant managing hedge funds, he realized that was not what he wanted in life. “I spent long hours on the clock calculating numbers on a balance sheet. I have never met my clients. My only reward was a good salary – I wasn’t building anything, ”he says. So he quit his job to work with his uncle.

“Finishing furniture is much more rewarding, both professionally and financially,” Modesto says, and he enjoys every part of the process. “I really enjoy working with people, listening to them, showing them possibilities. I go to someone’s house and take the table, sofa or chair to renovate or fix, then bring it home when it’s done and see their enthusiasm. The before and after photos show these transformations particularly well. Because this is such a small business so deeply rooted in the community, there is a very real connection to customers and word-of-mouth referrals keep them busy. “We want people to be happy and excited about the work we’re doing for them,” says Modesto. “We are doing everything we can to get it right. “

In addition to customer service and craftsmanship, a wide variety of skills and a deep and broad knowledge of furniture, style and design, in addition to attention to detail, are all essential for this type of work. The scope of their work ranges from repairing small scratches, tears and tears to complete finishing and upholstery projects including vintage, antique and antique furniture.

Whether it’s a small repair project for a single piece of furniture or a large one, like restaurant seats or church pews, Modesto also likes that there is never two identical projects.

“It’s always different to work with people of different tastes and personalities,” he says. While there isn’t much that Modesto and Rafael haven’t done in terms of projects, the challenge is often to help people figure out what they want. “Part of my job is to protect clients from potential mistakes,” Modesto laughs. “It’s easy to work with designers, for example, who know exactly what they want. “

But every project involves many choices, from fabric and trims to hard or soft padding, dye colors and more. The Bautista Upholstery & Refinishing showroom is packed with books and samples, and Modesto and Rafael draw on their years of experience to guide customers through the process to make the finished piece look even better than they could not have imagined it.

One of the costs of being an expert with such a good reputation in this profession is being busy.

“We’re four to six weeks behind right now,” Modesto says. He is seated at his desk at the Birch Street business location. The room is cluttered with chairs and sofas restored to their former glory and ready for delivery along with other rooms awaiting transformation. The walls are lined with racks displaying thousands of fabric samples. His wife Elody Montero and their daughter Nicole greet customers, answer the phone, organize orders. Modesto looks around and laughs. “I run everywhere all the time,” he says. “But it’s a good puzzle to have.”

Modesto has been working full time with his uncle for about 20 years now, and he has seen a lot of trends come and go. “Before, designers wanted skirts on chairs and sofas, now they’re getting rid of them. But the changes come with the fabric styles or the dye colors, not with what I do. “

While the ancient skills of craftsmanship remain the same, attitudes towards older furniture and its value have changed. Our throwaway mindset and the inferior quality of new furniture are very real issues, says Modesto.

“Even the very expensive furniture of today is all made from pressed wood. Nothing is made to last, but to be replaced in three or four years. People think that if something is expensive and looks good on the outside, they get good quality furniture, but it isn’t. It is almost impossible to repair even those pieces of junk that people pay ridiculous prices for, because they are not made of real wood.

There is also a huge environmental cost. Repairing and giving older furniture a new look helps prevent cheap furniture from going to landfill. Bautista Upholstery & Refinish also make custom furniture but they don’t build as much as they still use real wood and people tend to look for cheaper options.

Young people in particular often think new is better, says Modesto, and many don’t realize the value of what they have when solid wood furniture is passed on to them.

“Your grandmother’s sofa, even though it’s 100 years old, is 100% better than a $ 10,000 sofa built today,” he says. And with so many renovation options, Bautista Upholstery & Refinishing can make any room look and feel completely different, enhancing its value by using the highest quality materials. One of the most satisfying parts of Modesto’s job is to take a piece of furniture that someone doesn’t like, or doesn’t understand the value of, and amaze the owner with the transformation.

He loves to tell the story of a photograph in an apartment shop in the Dominican Republic. “We bought all the furniture from Habitat for $ 20 and refurbished it,” he says. “People can’t believe that not everything is from a high end furniture store. “

Unfortunately, says Modesto, finishing and upholstering furniture is a dying art. ” Everything is handmade. There are no shortcuts, and a lot more people are learning to do it, ”he says. “Everything in this country is tech-driven and most kids go to school because they want to work at a computer, not do something with their hands that gets their hands dirty.”

“It’s funny,” Modesto says. “When I see some of these friends now, the ones who used to play outside while I was helping my dad, very few of them have the freedom that I have now, to do something I love, to work on my own. hours and take the time to spend with my family and do the things I want to do.

Although she might not fully appreciate him for a while, he tries to teach his daughter the same way.

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