Inside Our Design Resident's Inviting New Upholstery Studio

When designing her workspace, Nicole Crowder took her cues from a…living room

December 18, 2021
Photo by Nicole Crowder

Follow the Pattern is a brand new column from furniture maker and upholstery expert (and Home52's Resident Design Wiz) Nicole Crowder. Nicole is here to show us how to breathe new life into old furniture, reuse and repurpose materials, take chances with color and pattern—and develop a signature aesthetic. Today, she shares her best tips for sourcing the fabric of your dreams.

For years I’ve had very clear ideas around what my dream studio should look like: bright with lots of sunlight, floor-to-ceiling windows, wood-beam ceilings, and plenty of storage space for all the chairs that I find in secondhand and antique shops—and to showcase my work, of course.

Moving back to my hometown Minneapolis (from DC) last year offered me the opportunity to find exactly that kind of space. But once I found it, the question was: How does one furnish a studio space without breaking the bank, and while also maximizing space and design? Having worked out of three separate (upholstery) studios throughout my career, I have learned a few tricks on what to do—and what not to. Maybe you could use some of these ideas in your own workspace?

Nicole Crowder in her new upholstery studio.

1. Develop the Studio’s Personality

The first thing I do when approaching a work studio is think about my intention with the space. Besides the obvious reason of needing a space to cultivate my craft, I ask myself: How do I want the space to feel? What do I want it to look like—to myself, but also to a visitor?

Much like a living room in a home, I know it's where I’ll spend most of my day, so I try to incorporate elements that I love from various living rooms in my studio. Here, I’ve carved out a living area that doubles up as a consultation area for clients—and for me to sketch, write, or thumb through design magazines. I love a space that feels warm and inviting, and there’s no better way to do that than to create a cozy seating area with plush, colorful couches and chairs.

Photo by Nicole Crowder

The chairs I have here are a combination of purchases from retail stores like [World Market] and Wayfair, as well as chairs gifted from friends, and sourced secondhand. I love defining a space with a large area rug: it instantly adds warmth and texture, and helps ground some of the sounds in an otherwise large, empty room. Go ahead and layer a smaller rug on top of the area rug for even more depth.

Dress Your Walls

I love decorating my walls: I painted the studio wall a beautiful Smoked Trout from Farrow & Ball, and plan to add even more texture by covering two walls in Farrow & Ball's Off Black patterned wallpaper. Wallpaper—especially the easily removable kind—is such a simple way to add dimension to your space, and it has the power to make the room appear bigger and the walls even higher.

Photo by Nicole Crowder

As a community-driven creative space, I wanted there to be the imprint of multiple local artists and their mediums. To make the ceiling area appear dynamic, I hired a local floral designer, Becky of Bluebird Florals (based in Minnesota and Colorado), to design a gorgeous six-foot wide floral installation using a mix of dried flowers. I chose to use dried flowers because it makes maintenance that much easier. Curious about how much a service like this costs? Prices can range from $600-$1000, depending on the scale of the work.

Another thing I love to do is decorate walls with colorful wicker baskets and plates. Mine are colorful, handmade, and can be staggered in multiple ways to create textured wall art. I buy mine from local African bazaars where the seller has sourced them from Ghana or Mali, but you can find these online at major retailers. (I also love Indego Africa and Reflektion Design for these.)

Photo by Nicole Crowder

Displays Your Tools

Shelving is another great way to add depth to your walls. The shelving unit in my studio is an étagère-style unit with brass accents and faux marble shelves. I love the brass because it perfectly accents the jewel tones of paint and fabric that I have throughout the space. Buy a couple units and stagger them to display tools that are related to your trade, or use them for trinkets that you love—and make it feel more like an extension of your home.

Photo by Nicole Crowder

Mix and match furniture accents

My general aesthetic is to incorporate non-traditional elements and bring them together in a way that feels fresh and functional. I didn’t want to go with a traditional sewing table, preferring a glass or lucite table that would complement the overall styling of the studio. I somehow lucked out and came across the ideal "sewing table" I was looking for in a smoked acrylic. For chairs, I went with mixed and matched reupholstered pieces that would invite my guests to linger for a while.

Sourcing the perfect work or industrial table can be tedious. I searched for three months for the ideal cutting table for my fabrics, which was very hard given the specific size and style I needed. I ended up at good ol' IKEA because it had the counter height that I needed, as well as the dimensions and, yes, the price point I was looking for. But if you do have the space and resources to have a custom table built, I highly recommend that route to make sure you’re getting the best piece for your space.

Don't forget the scent

Photo by Nicole Crowder

A styling accent that can often go understated is scent. In a studio, you are likely to be working with wood or dust, fabrics, and paints or glue, but the studio space doesn’t have to be filled with industrial notes. Underline your studio as a warm space that is both for work and rest by adding candles, incense, or essential-oil diffusers. The two I have in my studio are this Santal Vanille Diffuser from Voluspa and this Oak and Grapefruit diffuser, along with one of my favorite candles called Blood Moon that's made by a Minneapolis-based company called True Hue.

Ultimately, making sure that the elements you pick allow you to be your most creative and productive is the goal. Whether it is filled with plants, color, or furniture accents, it helps to give a space a personality of its own. Display your tools, have a local artist create a mural on the wall, paint the door frames in a contrasting color, hang lights and plants from the rafters. Most importantly, have fun with it.

What do you love most about your workspace? Tell us in the comments below.

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Nicole Crowder

Written by: Nicole Crowder

Nicole Crowder is a furniture designer and upholsterer creating custom one-of-a-kind pieces. She has a lover of mixing vibrant color and bold textile patterns. Nicole and her work have been featured in design publications, including Architectural Digest, Domino, Martha Stewart Living, and Better Home & Gardens.

1 Comment

thebubblygirl July 9, 2022
This space is so eye-catching and inviting with the deep color and patterns. Brava, Nicole!