Lifting the Curtain on Custom Design
At Portland’s Home Remedies, drapery and upholstery projects start with real talk in the workroom.
Portland’s Rachel Ambrose doesn’t enjoy turning away business. But when it comes to helping clients at her Home Remedies shop make choices they’ll love, sometimes it’s necessary. Whether encouraging a customer to hold off on reupholstering an heirloom chair until they’ve got the perfect spot for it or advising against stitching drapes from fabric that’s too flimsy, Ambrose and her staff strive to demystify the custom-design process and empower customers to find pieces that are as beautiful as they are useful.
In the spirit of approachability, Ambrose conceived a shop with a sewing workroom anyone can wander into from the retail area. “I wanted it to be like a restaurant with an open kitchen, where you can see things happening,” she says. “I think there’s tremendous inspiration in seeing people make things.” The all-female workroom team, led by veteran seamstress Teresa Palmer, fabricates cushions, throw pillows, and custom window treatments, and refreshes furniture with upholstery and slipcovers. New stitchers start with pillows, while learning how to work with the industrial sewing machines and thick, home-décor fabric needed to make curtains and furniture covers. Finding skilled workers is a challenge. “There’s not a whole bunch of apprentices waiting in line to learn these old-world crafts,” Ambrose says. Right now, “stitchers are needed just as much as plumbers and electricians.”
ABOVE Customers are welcome in the workroom at Portland’s Home Remedies, which is set up like a restaurant with an open kitchen. In the airy work/design space, they can see stitchers in action, peruse fabrics and trimmings, plan projects, — and expect to receive honest advice.
The workroom is also educational for customers. “Custom-anything can be really complicated,” Ambrose says, “and there are a lot of decisions that people need to be guided through because they don’t do this all the time.” She’s upfront about the fact that custom work is not cheap and reupholstering is not a money saver (a reality that makes sense after seeing her stitchers’ painstaking work). If you love the lines on a piece of furniture, find it supremely comfortable, and have a place for it in your home, it can be worth reupholstering. “But if it’s not comfortable, reupholstering is not going to affect that,” Ambrose says. “Sometimes, people say, ‘I want a new couch, so I’m just going to reupholster this one.’ And it’s like, well, it’s still a lumpy couch with giant arms that you bought in the mid-’80s. Changing the fabric is not going to help that.”
In these cases, she suggests investing in a new sofa — Home Remedies stocks a variety of quality, American-made furnishings — in an interesting neutral you won’t tire of. Use pillows, throws, and ottomans to change up a room’s look, along with quality window treatments to protect everything from fading. “Sun is the absolute worst,” Ambrose says. “Worse than pizza-eating husbands and dogs and kids.”
While she may turn away an ill-advised project, Ambrose hopes that, in exchange, she’ll gain her customers’ trust. And when the right project comes along, they’ll find her team “approachable, friendly, and ready to help.”