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For some, an upholstery project might be an extended (and probably pretty stressful) undertaking. For the master re-inventor behind “One Chair a Week,” it’s just business as usual for the next seven days. Susana de Trapaga isn’t shy about mixing patterns, decades and textures, but the finesse behind her creative process results in really beautiful and unique furniture. Get to know the self-described “chairwoman” of the business, and be sure to check out her corner to see which chairs are getting the VIP treatment this week!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and where do you currently live?
I grew up in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina where I studied architecture. I worked in this field for many years and I am retired now. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area in the small town of Hercules. I am an avid recycler and enjoy creating new things with old or discarded materials.
What is the best thing about living in your neighborhood?
I am not a big city person, I am used to living in the suburbs where the pace of life is a bit more relaxed. I like the interaction with nature I have right in my backyard, where I’ve created a habitat of California native plants that bring lots of birds, butterflies and even a fox that frequents the neighborhood.
What are your top places you go locally to discover hidden treasures/work materials?
Sometimes I find materials in unexpected places, like a “no waste” booth at an event where I found the “Dakman” coffee burlap bags used to upholster chairs abandoned on the curb. They were giveaways from Republic Services (the garbage company), who was approached by popular coffee shop chain that had so many it was worth the effort to recycle them.
The Freecycle Network is also a great resource. I used gray lanyards a company was giving away to weave a simple pattern for the seat of a beautiful chair, also found on Freecycle.
I have done other art projects with materials found at City of El Cerrito recycling (great place!) Hercules has two annual city garage sale events; I recently participated in the Port Costa town-wide yard sale which was productive and fun.
Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?
I am minimalistic, I like things with a function, not clutter or “tchotchkes.” But you would think I was a hoarder if you saw my storage. I do hoard materials for my many hobbies, and upholstery has been the worst. Which leads to the next question…
What exactly does “One Chair a Week” represent?
While I spent time honing my skills in upholstery classes, I started collecting chairs. Way too many chairs, because there was always a style I didn’t have yet. So I began telling my friends my goal was to finish one chair a week, hence the name. I pretty much replaced, or re-upholstered, all our furniture at home. I enjoyed the process so much I kept at it.
What’s the biggest transformation a piece of your reupholstered furniture has gone through?
I think the piece I call “not your grandma’s rocking chair.” This piece is all about putting the rock back into an old 1880’s rocker. It didn’t take much; just replacing the traditional upholstery fabric with something unexpected transformed it into a younger kind of humorous and contradicting look. I’m not crazy about animal prints, and actually looked without luck for a plaid faux fur to make it more fun. When I couldn’t find it, I used a “feather” faux fur instead.
What blogs or websites do you visit regularly?
Since our house is in constant remodel I like to look at before and after photos and go to the DIY, projects, outdoor and classifieds sections of Apartment Therapy. I also spend a lot of time doing image searches on Google.
If you could redesign the set of any TV show or movie, what would it be?
Actually I think the work of professionals that do sets is really good. The TV show that comes to my mind because I really like is Pushing Daisies. Very creative show with great visuals and humor. Very retro.
What’s your preferred design style or time period?
Modern, Mid-century, eclectic. In general I feel comfortable with very simple design but I also like “pretty intricate things” that are not so simple, which justifies mixing an old piece with a special quality here and there. I can appreciate design qualities and artistry in other styles, so I do not have a problem and actually like the challenge of working with any time period piece.
Name your top 3 dream items you’d love to stumble upon.
Since I can dream: an Alexander Calder mobile, a George Nelson modular open wall unit, and an Eames or Mariano Fortuny textile piece.
From where do you draw inspiration?
From my own basic rules:
For me the whole idea behind going into re-purposing and furniture upholstery was to be able to change things. I get easily bored with repetition and seeing the market flooded with “the en vogue thing.” I want my pieces to look different but still create a connection without being literal. I am not a purist: I am informal and eclectic, and although I work with old pieces I want the end result to have an updated look or an unexpected twist. For example, I have used a houndstooth pattern that is pixelated so it is obvious the piece has been reupholstered, but there is still a familiar connection because it’s a traditional pattern.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning your own business?
Being the chair woman of One Chair A Week allows me to do my own pieces and not have to work for others. I can do what I want and choose what I like for the piece, the creative part is the fun. There’s no pressure or calls from customers. The reward is the finished piece after the hard work and the feedback I get from people who understand what I’m trying to do.
And what’s the most challenging?
Doing all of it is the challenge. Repairing, refinishing, taking apart, putting together, buying, selling, taking the photos, posting, doing marketing. But I am learning a lot in the process.
Do you have anything planned for the near future?
I am going to Argentina this summer to visit family. The different environment might be inspiring, and I am hoping to come back with new ideas (and maybe a cow hide or two).