This month I’m introducing you to Cynthia Bleskachek, the owner, teacher, and upholsterer behind The Funky Little Chair.
These monthly features of other creative businesses are a way for all of us to get to know these wonderful businesses; it has been a long-time interest of mine to explore how other creative people make their way as professionals.
Introducing Cynthia Bleskachek and The Funky Little Chair
Cynthia Bleskachek and I met at the Crafty Instructor’s Summit a year ago in Denver. Cynthia and I had lots of fun chats, but I remember her telling me she was a terrible knitter, but liked to crochet. We talked about how it takes lots of practice to become good at things and when you are busy, sometimes there just isn’t time! I also remember talking about a book I’d read just before on the furniture industry.
Cynthia Bleskachek is quite humble, but if you see her work, she needn’t be. She is also wickedly funny.
Q: Tell us a very important person to you being the business-owner you are today. This might be someone who has mentored you or whose work you have followed or someone who has guided you in some way.
A: I’ve been blessed with too many mentors to count. But since I can’t say my mom and it’s hard to pick just one, I’ll tell you who is really inspiring me lately: Bob Ross.
It’s not like he was the first painter, or the best looking or the one with the biggest, flashiest career. He was just happy doing what he has doing, and gracious enough to invite us along. How fantastic is that???
It’s so easy to compare yourself to everyone else, especially in our increasingly public existence. Bob Ross reminds me that sometimes the most engaging thing you can offer is your happy self. He was just consistently comfortable in his own skin, joyful sharing something he happened to be good at. I love that positive energy. I turn on Netflix and just watch him when I’m stressed out, or struggling to find my own groove. He reminds me of the kind of teacher I’d like to be.
Those teaching mentors are so important to those of us who teach. I always try to remember the things that I wish someone had said to me, or offered as advice—then do those things. It is so easy to compare ourselves when we see so many personalities who also do what we do. That is a great reminder that being who we are is the best thing we can be.
Q: Describe your what. This can be a physical thing or a construct. It can be your product, or what drives you to create, or defines you. What-ever!
A: Upholstery can cover a lot of things: decorative pillows, gym equipment, custom headboards, cars, boats, antiques . . . I focus on custom modern residential re-upholstery.
In non-industry speak, that means basically sofas and chairs built in the last 70 or so years, and upholstered with foam (as opposed to older pieces that are padded with stitched hair and other natural materials) I’m not especially drawn to valuable antiques – I mostly love working on furniture that people intend to USE. I believe that function is just as important as form, and that old things are almost always better than new – sturdier, more interesting, often more comfortable, certainly more fun. I love when someone rescues furniture from the thrift store or curb.
Teaching has given me the opportunity to share everything that’s beautiful inside and out of an old chair. It’s wonderful. And something you can’t really explain or appreciate without getting your hands inside a project.
And like most upholsterers, I REALLY love when someone drags in a ratty old chair that’s steeped in memories. These are the BEST. Some sheepish client will come in, wondering if you’ll laugh at this dirty wreck. Usually several well-meaning friends will have suggested that they just toss that garbage out and get a new one. And you don’t laugh. You oooh, and ahhhhhhh and appreciate and listen to their stories about it. You explain to them what’s beautiful about it, why it’s worth salvaging, what you can do to restore it. You give them back a little piece of those memories. You give them someplace comfortable to sit at the end of a long day. You give them a place to read with their kids. A chair can be so much more than just a chair.
This pair came from a young married couple – they came from the husband’s grandmother, but I could tell he was dubious about the viability of having them reupholstered. The wife picked out a beautiful linen and a subtle-but-fun stripe to give them JUST a little surprise. One of my favorite projects.
I have loved watching your projects, and those of your students. They make great social media photos (and I suggest that everyone follow The Funky Little Chair on Facebook or Instagram to get those photos).
This pair came from an elderly woman who inherited them from her mother. I just loved that she chose something so sassy for such a traditional pair. She was quite a sassy lady herself, I truly enjoyed meeting her!
I know that we have talked about sustainability, and keeping things out of the landfill, and your photos should motivate anyone to reconsider just throwing out pieces that they have loved and that have served them well. Of course I love the lime, but that print on the back. Whoo.
This sofa was purchased for $20 at a thrift store. The client has a small house and busy family. We wanted something comfortable, functional, and sturdy. Oh yes, And FABULOUS.
I totally would have thrown out that couch! but I love the new look and it looks like it really fits the users’ lives!
Q: Describe a place that is meaningful to your work or how you work.
A: I’m always inspired by spaces that are filled with history and personality – I’ve been in a lot of shops and homes, and the best ones are such a rich reflection of their inhabitants. So [when I was setting up my workshop] it was a little unnerving to be in a new, empty space (though it’s an older building, woo hoo!!)
Since it IS a working space, I focused on flow and function first. That’s so important – it’s quite frustrating when you’re constantly running around looking for things, or bumping into stuff. And upholstery involves a lot of STUFF. But then it felt so sterile. There was no real history, yet, no stories. So I pondered and fussed and finally realized, it’s the BEGINNING of a story. And it will never be the beginning again. Someday, we can look back at NOW and remember what was going on, who was here. . .
That was important, I wanted the story of this new space to involve more than just myself. And I wanted the whole thing to be constantly evolving, an encouraging and creative and grateful space. So I put chalkboard paint all over, and wrote student names over their projects. There’s a new motivational quote up every month. I started a bookshelf in the window with authors or stories that have inspired me in some way. And best of all, there’s a swatch wall.
Every fabric that hits the cutting table, we take a little swatch and add it to the wall. It’s like a visual timeline of the students and clients who’ve been through the shop so far. I love watching it grow, and I love that it reflects so many different individuals – I want this story to be very collaborative, very colorful. I want to look back someday and just smile at all the fabulous people who are woven into the shared history of this little space.
Q: Please tell me what is going on in your business now, and any exciting projects you have going on or coming up.
A: The big news for me right now is that I opened my own upholstery shop in September, something I didn’t think I’d ever be brave enough to do . . . I really thought that . . . pretty much right up until BOOM! I decided to do it.
It just seemed like there was so much to try, so much to explore and offer, but it was all on the other side of this big, scary move. So I did it. Now I’m working on breathing into it, seeing where it goes. . . Trying to step up and be a responsible, informed business woman, but also to hang onto that creative joy, that “Bob Ross” energy that I want to share with students and clients. It’s way tricky, but worth it, I think . . . as Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” So I’m trying to live that, at least for awhile, without panicking about every little answer on the 5 year plan RIGHT THIS SECOND OH MY GOSH. . . Whew. Because who knows really where this whole thing goes?
For now, it’s good to focus on teaching, on doing my craft the best I can, on following opportunities and finding new ways to share. Hopefully, we can figure the rest out along the way 🙂
I was so amazed at how quickly you pulled that shop together. Clearly you had not just had an idea—it looked like you were fulfilling a dream. You seemed to have a wonderful team (family and friends) who were happy to help you make that dream happen.
Keep posting those wonderful pictures. Although I never plan to upholster anything, they are inspiring. You have a great eye for fabric, and your pleasure in what you do is palpable.
Find and Follow Cynthia Bleskachek and The Funky Little Chair
Learn more about Cynthia and The Funky Little Chair on her website:
Take in-person workshops from Cynthia at her shop. Or learn from Cynthia anywhere in the world through her Craftsy class “Getting Started with Upholstery.
Stay in the loop with everything going on at The Funky Little Chair by signing up for Cynthia’s mailing list, here.
And if you’re in or around St. Paul, MN be sure to visit the store, open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (or other times by appointment) – address and hours are on the website.
If you aren’t in St. Paul, check out Cynthia on Craftsy!