THE SPA IN ME
Interview With Wendy Conklin, Author, Speaker, and Chair Stylist of Chair Whimsy
Thanks so much for this interview. Can you tell us a little bit about your backstory, and if you were an artist when you were a youngster?
I always liked crafts and things like that when I was a kid. But I wouldn't say I was overly artistic. Probably like any kid, I did a lot of arts and crafts and things like that at home. I did like getting those kind of gifts as presents for Christmas. And, I was always decorating my room and changing things up.
As far as what led me to doing this, over 23 years ago when I had an apartment, we were grad students at the time my daughter was born. I wanted the place to look good, and I wanted different things. I always did my best to try to make my surroundings look good. And, that's when I posted my first chair. I had gotten a book and tried to figure it out. Of course, I had the wrong tools. It was very frustrating, but it was something I enjoyed doing. It seemed really hard, because I was trying to figure it out. That led me to take my first upholstery course in person and learn the right way to do things with the right tools. And I was like, this is so much easier. This is not rocket science is what I discovered.
I also realized that anyone can learn to upholster, but not everyone has a really good sense of style, according to my taste. Once I took my two classes in a row, because I felt like I needed to, I needed it to sink in. I didn't have a recording, where I could go back and re-watch and re-listen. So, it was just one of those things that I had to take a second course. At the end of the second course, I had completed a couple of different chairs. I had five of them done, and I thought I'm just going to open an Etsy shop. I had never done anything like that before. I wanted to see if I could make some money. I already had a career. I was an educational consultant. I wrote books. I traveled. I trained teachers. I really didn't have any desire to stop doing what I was doing. I still enjoyed it. I was good at it. But this was a hobby to me and it grew from there. It was almost like I was holding down two full time jobs, because I started getting a lot of orders, mostly custom. That’s when the business began to grow. It’s been almost four years ago that I quit my day job to do this full time. It’s a very satisfying journey.
Well, I love your work, especially the colors and the designs. Where do you get the inspiration for the colors that you use?
It really sounds so trite to say this, but really everywhere. I see clothing, and I think ooh, wouldn't that be good as fabric on a chair. I'm always thinking about it. When I see colors in nature, when I'm scrolling Pinterest and certain color combos catch my eye, and then just basically fabric hunting gives me all kinds of ideas. When I see something that I really love, I begin thinking, oh, how would this look on a chair. Would it be right? And, what kind of finish would I use? I'm a very visual person. I've got to see it, or I see it in my head what I want. And, then, when I see the fabrics, it’s like yes, that's it!
Can you share the most creative material that you have used for styling your chairs?
It was my very first set that I was commissioned to do. The customer wanted a bohemian look with all different fabrics; a different fabric on the seat, a different fabric on the front, and a different fabric on the back. I thought, well, how will I do this. So, that was really fun and challenging, which I love. I need to be challenged. I kind of thrive in those situations. There were six chairs with 18 different fabrics that I had to work with. It was really fun. And, then different clients wanted something a little different. So, I just began doing a lot of those kind of chairs.
Do you remember the first set of chairs that you sold and how you felt?
Yes, it was one chair I sold two weeks after I put it on Etsy. It had to go from Texas to New York City. I wondered how in the world would I ship it, which was very interesting to have to figure out. It was an armless chair with a cane on the top. I painted it sort of a topi gray color. The seat had blues and turquoises with a little bit of chartreuse mixed in it. It was just a very refreshing and beachy feel to the chair.
What advice would you give people who are hesitant about bringing more color into their home?
I think I would say explore why. What's the problem? Because, most of the time, it's that we feel like we have to share the house with everyone else, so we're not allowed to have anything that makes us happy. But, if you're around color, and you love it, you need to put it in your house. It has everything to do with your mood and your outlook; setting goals for yourself. It does something to us. It doesn't harm us. It makes us feel good. It definitely has an effect on how you feel.
A lot of people have gotten into the whole farm house movement the past eight or nine years. I would just say, if you're ready to move into color, you've got the perfect backdrop for just layering it in color. So, start with pillows, or start with some painted furniture to bring into the space. I started with chairs, and I let chairs be the defining factor of what's going to happen. Other people start with a rug. But I think people should start with what they’re comfortable with, and then let the whole room just kind of layer in piece by piece.
What I have found is when you really love something, you should get it because there's going to be a place for it, even if you don’t know right then. But, it's interesting how the things that we love, and that we're gravitated to, generally do end up working together. Listen to that inner voice. We don't let ourselves do a lot of things that we really should do for ourselves. And, I'm here to change that.
I do feel very strongly that women, especially my age and older. I think that a lot of women don't let themselves do the things that make them happy. And why? It’s just color.
I remember when I painted my foyer pink in my two story. My husband was just a little bristly at first about it. But it is just paint. Like, that is it, and I said, “And furthermore, you look really good in here. It's really good on your skin, you know.” And, then he's okay with that.
I mean, he doesn't usually mind at all. I'm very lucky. I think he sees how happy it makes me, and he wants me to be happy. So, it's not a big deal. He’s got his room, where I've put in darker leathers, dark blues, dark green on the wall, and things that he really loves. I let him do what he wants in there. So, he has his space that he feels comfortable in. And, I have a pink rug in my living room. It's a good balance.
What are some of the ways that people can work with you if they want to purchase a chair from you? Or, if they want to learn how to style their own chair. How can they contact you?
I teach my main courses: DIY upholstery for beginners. I teach people how to upholster chairs just like all those in my shop, and all those that I post on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. In that course, it's from beginning to end. No one needs to have any experience. We have a private Facebook group. That course opens a few times a year, and I have a waitlist on my website. People can put their name on the waitlist, and they will get an email when the course opens. The course is five or six days at a time, a few times a year or two. So that's the best way, because honestly, you save money doing your own chairs. And, it's not just saving money, but it's also the satisfaction of making something with your hands. I think that's a really powerful thing for someone, whether it be baking, gardening, painting furniture…I think we're all makers at heart. I think that transforms in us when we see what we can actually create through our own imagination.
I do have other courses. I have a fabric sourcing course. I've got a course on styling with the chair stylist. And that's approximately $19 a course. It shows my process of how I style a chair with fabrics. What am I thinking? How am I positioning fabric? What am I drawn to? I have another course called Just the Bottom. For example, if someone wants a seat bottom for their chair. So, I have a lot of courses that are always great, saves you money, enriches your life, and gives you something fun to do.
I also do sell chairs. On my website, I've got an Etsy shop as well, where I have antique and vintage chairs that I redo for customers. I have custom boutique styles in certain collections they can pick from. So, yes, there are different ways we can work with people.
We've been through a lot this year. Can you share what you've learned about resilience and adapting to change during these difficult times?
I can share personally, and I can share about the students in my course, too. For me, it's been an interesting year. I already had a lot of orders when COVID hit, but they kind of went through the roof. I think once people were home, and started looking around, saying, oh, I can't live with these chairs anymore, or, whatever they were saying. They’re like, I don't care. I'm buying these. So, I got really busy.
My adult daughters, who were both in college, came home. So, it's no more empty-nester, which was, just another adjustment, but it's been a good year with family. It’s been hard not being with friends, honestly. I’m grateful. I'm trying to take the opportunities now to do it, you know, go away for a night with a couple friends of mine; get together with people in a business mastermind that I've been a part of. I've been able to do a couple things, just recently, in the past month, when things have gotten a little safer.
I do know that the people in my upholstery course have told me that they were so grateful for the course, because with everyone being locked up, they had something to do. And not only that, but we've got a really cool supportive Facebook group for the course. So, they're all in there sharing, “Hey, I've got this chair. I'm stripping it down. Can anyone help me with this?” Or, someone will post something, and they will say, “This is my very first chair, and there's tons of mistakes, but I feel really proud of it.” It’s just everyone cheering them on. It was a very interesting way for people to really feel community. The group has helped me to feel a sense of community, purpose, and things to do. So that just made me feel so good. It was something I didn't expect. It blew me away to get those kinds of testimonials back to me. You know, I was really shocked. And, then so grateful that I went ahead and created this course a year and a half ago. Because, at first, I thought no one wants to learn this from me. They can just go to YouTube, but I think it’s the community aspect of the course. I think we're all realizing that’s just important in life. You need people.
I want people to live up to their highest self and to be able to live in joy. That's the whole point of why I do what I do is to bring joy to people; whether they buy my chairs, take my courses, or just read my blog. I hope I can lighten people's day and, and give them some hope and joy. That's my purpose, I think, in life.