Throwing Out Old Furniture Doesn’t Sit Well with Upholsterer Molly Hutchins

At the Recovery Room, in Boothbay Harbor, she and her husband restore everything from bar stools to sectionals.

Maine upholsterer Molly Hutchins, owner of The Recovery Room, in Boothbay Harbor, Maine
Photo by Michael D. Wilson
By Will Grunewald
From our April 2024 Home & Garden issue

The Recovery Room (12 Oak St., Boothbay Harbor. 207-315-6051.) sounds kind of like somewhere to take a load off after jostling through crowds on a hot summer day in downtown Boothbay Harbor. Plus, the place always has plush furniture around. But it’s the chairs and sofas that get to recover inside, not weary travelers, as the shop is one of a handful of reupholstery outfits still going in Maine.

Owner Molly Hutchins is relatively new to the trade, even though she’s not new to textiles. Previously, she owned a fabric store in Edgecomb, and before that, she traveled the crafts-show circuit selling patchwork jackets. At the fabric store, she had started doing covers for cushions and pillows. Then, she taught herself how to reupholster entire pieces of furniture, soliciting Facebook friends for chairs she could use as guinea pigs. A little over four years ago, Hutchins opened the Recovery Room, making the full switch from selling fabric to repairing furniture. “There’s really no one else in the area here doing it anymore,” she says. “Most of them have either retired or died. And it’s not easy to learn. I was able to figure it out, but if I didn’t already know how to sew, it might have been too tough.”

Hutchins and her husband, Glen, tackle projects together — everything from bar stools to sectionals. He strips them down, she builds them back up, replacing foam and batting and tailoring the look to the customer’s fancy. Most of what they see is mid-century or older, with solid-wood frames that’ll stand the test of time. “If someone wants green velvet, we’ll do it in green velvet,” Hutchins says.

“Maybe a chair had covered buttons all over the back, but you know, we don’t have to do that again. We could make it smooth and plain and, that way, more contemporary. Or if a couch has a skirt, maybe we should have a look at the legs and see if it might look more updated without a skirt.”

Early in the pandemic, shortly after the Recovery Room opened, Hutchins was booked out more than a year ahead. And though the wait list isn’t quite that long now, she’s found that there’s no shortage of demand. “Some of these trades are slowly petering out,” she says, “but I also think more and more people are taking note that it’s not the best idea to just throw well-made things in the dumpster.”

Covering Your Bases
Three points to consider before you reupholster.

QUALITY: The best reupholstering candidates are sturdy and well constructed, with hardwood frames affixed with mortise-and-tenon, dowel, or tongue-and-groove joinery (rather than glue and staples) — characteristics that typically apply to mid-century and earlier pieces.

COST: Recovering often costs as much as buying a new piece of furniture, so it’s not just a matter of simple math — “it’s really pretty subjective,” Hutchins says. “Most of the time, people are getting a piece reupholstered because they value the furniture they already have.”

MATERIAL: Choose durable synthetic “performance” fabrics or leather for furniture that will get a lot of use, and reserve cotton and linen for pieces you don’t sit on every day. Trim costs by selecting a solid fabric or one with a small pattern repeat. You’ll need less material and the upholsterer will spend less time matching up the design.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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