Three years ago, Ella Hall was on the phone with yet another interior designer griping about a failed custom upholstery project. In her then-role in client services at Homepolish, a design company connecting end clients to interior designers (which, as of this month, has shuttered operations), her job was to act as the middle-person – a position that primarily involved troubleshooting projects before crisis struck.
This call, like so many others she regularly fielded, was due to a miscommunication of material specs from client to designer to textiles fabricator. Lead times would in turn be extended, build-outs incomplete, photography dates pushed, clients unhappy. She was fed up.
Hall finally started offering to fulfill custom upholstery orders herself. She had a sewing machine, and it made her day job incredibly more efficient to absorb the workload of super simple (though precise) projects like custom-sized pillows or bench cushions. The designers she worked with loved the idea, so she continued offering it, essentially keeping the operational step "in-house" by just doing the work herself. The burden of the complaint phone calls slowly lifted as she found more and more designers lining up for her services, which all around met their needs, made them look better in the client's eyes, and expedited their projects.
Custom pillows developed by Stitchroom. Photography by Claire Esparros.
Eventually, she was sewing nights and weekends to keep up with the orders – and an epiphany struck. "I saw the complicated process of getting custom products made, and an opportunity to solve a widespread problem," Hall said. The need for easy, transparent upholstery customization was overwhelming, and she had the skills and the chutzpah to officially do something about it. "I just had to take action," she recalls.
Hall was living in the East Village with her now-husband and another roommate at the time. The industrial-grade sewing machine she'd acquired, along with the piles of pillows and lanky rolls of fabric, was consuming her apartment. She soon moved to Brooklyn, where she found a place with a nook that accommodated her machinery and fabrication materials, and built Stitchroom out of her apartment. Not too long after, she moved operations to the company's first studio and office space in an industrial building in Greenpoint. Stitchroom has since expanded to take over two spaces on one floor, and next week is moving to an even bigger space in the same building in order to rejoin operations under one studio roof.
Stitchroom team on the job
Custom cushions and upholstery for a sofa project, by Stitchroom. Photography by Claire Esparros.
One of the biggest innovations Hall implemented was a technology-driven system of transparency. What Stitchroom digitized "would allow clients the ability to value engineer their custom projects" through formulated systems of information captures (such as custom dimensions requests) and live price updates. "Transparency in communication, pricing, and lead times are very important for me," said Hall, and she brought that priority to life in the Stitchroom platform. Through it, clients create an account online, upload their product specs, and can live track their project every step of the way through order draft to fabrication progress through payment and shipping.
What essentially began as a pillows side-gig has now also grown to include the rest of the upholstery industry: Hall recognizes that there are existing textile fabricators who have been around for a while and may have outdated client services models. Though her whole mission is to update the process of customization so it's entirely unintimidating, she by no means wants to displace these older-school businesses.
In addition to its staff of sewers, Stitchroom has recently rolled out a contracting system where the company acts as the relationship manager, bringing new work from new client bases to existing upholstery studios. Through this model of relationship management, which is designed after her position at Homepolish, Stitchroom is applying the conveniences of communication-through-technology to the traditional fabrication studio model, so that project statuses are available to maker, intermediary, client, and end user in one fell swoop.
Hall shared that Stitchroom's services have been particularly useful for millworkers and furniture makers who are incorporating textiles into their designs. She offered up a story of a millworker-architect team, who before now hadn't even considered conceptualizing upholstered surfaces into their build-out designs because sourcing reliable vendors had been a pain point in the past. "Once you realize that you have full control over the process of creating custom upholstery, it changes everything," Hall says of the design process. Now, the boundaries of how the millworker and architect can together envision a space – and, in turn, present it within the scope of a project – are incredibly expanded. For a recent project, they pitched banquette seating to a client, and were able to offer the upholstery element as a joint line item versus a separate vendor cost. They spec'd the cushions through Stitchroom, received them in-shop, and joined them to the seating, conveniently delivering a finished product custom built to the client's space.
Custom banquette bench and backing cushions for a commercial project, by Stitchroom
Stitchroom is still a relatively new company, so its services have their limitations. For example, the ability to work on larger-scale upholstery projects, such as unconventional sofa or bigger lounge chair designs, is sometimes dependent on geographic location and accessibility to the New York studio.
Bluestone Lane cafe - Photo credit Nick Glimenakis
The company has come a long way, though, since 2016, with Hall's fabrication equipment displacing her roommates from their shared living area. As Stitchroom continues to grow, and continues to respond to designers' needs, it's moving the industry further from avoidable miscommunication, unnecessarily extended lead times, and unhappy clients. Stitch-by-stitch, it's forging ground for an altogether seamless upholstery process.