Simion Hawtin-Smith’s future in interiors can be traced back to his early childhood. ‘My first foray into furniture restoration was as a child stripping my bedroom furniture,’ remembers Simion, who now runs the successful Reloved Upholstery from his studio in Stockport, Greater Manchester. He also regularly appears on the BBC’s Money for Nothing and writes a monthly column for Reclaim magazine. ‘I specialise in restoring vintage chairs,’ says Simion, ‘particularly iconic designs from the likes of Parker Knoll and Ercol.’
A passion born from traditional skills
After studying design at college, Simion found himself working in a bar before eventually opening his own café in Chorlton, designing all the interiors and seating himself. He followed this up by renovating a house in France – this proved to be a defining moment, leading him to his love of restoring vintage chairs.
‘The owner had a beloved chair that needed restoring, so I took on the challenge and ended up meeting one of the most important people in my career: the inspirational furniture restorer Dennis Gilligan.
‘Dennis was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. He was an upholsterer from just 14 years old, an Olympic wrestler and a true gentleman. He was my friend and upholstery guru, teaching me everything he knew and leaving me with the traditional upholstery skills that I use at Reloved today.
‘He came to my studio every week and taught me the sort of things that can only be passed down from one generation to the next, knowledge that has influenced the quality of my work and ultimately cemented my lifelong love affair with restoration.’
Chairs are so much more than furniture – they are holders of memory
‘Chairs are one of the best ways to show off fabric patterns and colours, and I Iove their history; how they are full of stories and memories. It’s always amazing when you strip a chair back to its frame and discover a message from the maker. I run various courses and encourage my students to carry on that tradition – one just added a message to her daughter on the frame. It’ll always be there for prosperity which is exciting.
‘As you might expect, I regularly find old coins and other bits and pieces, but one of my most poignant memories was when a chair that was owned by an ex-RAF pilot came into the studio and I discovered his address and rank had been inscribed on the frame. It makes you realise how many lives each piece of furniture has been part of.’
How to get the best from your upholsterer
‘For me, each interior scheme starts with the chair. A face-to-face meeting is ideal, but as I work across the country that isn’t always possible. In those cases, pictures of the chair and the room it is going to live in are key; it’s always good to see the setting, as it helps with fabric choices and colours. It’s interesting that many people who have created rooms often need help with their chairs; sometimes it just takes another eye. I would advise customers to try out a selection of swatches in situ and look at them in the daytime and evening. This will give you a really good feel for what works and what doesn’t in different light.
‘At Reloved Upholstery I always strive to develop long-term relationships with my customers. One couple recently travelled across the country to make sure their chairs were exactly as they wanted before we delivered them. For me, it’s that personal touch. Every time I work on a chair, I make sure that the quality is what I’d be happy with in my own home.’
Your favourite fabrics and why everyone should use them
‘In terms of collections, my all-time favourite is Lana – there are lots of bright colours and it’s made from recycled wool, which as an eco-conscious brand is really important to me.
‘Before starting to work with Linwood I wasn’t really a fan of velvet, but I’ve been converted by the Omega range. Once again, the colour choice is unrivalled and it’s very supple, so it works well for upholstery.’
‘I like the fact that Linwood is a family business and that everyone from my Sales Rep, Steve MacDonald, to the Sales Team are experts. My customers are always happy with the speed they receive samples and the fact that fabric arrives in recycled packaging.
The furniture everyone needs to know about
‘Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair is one of my all-time favourites, but it’s becoming increasingly harder to find them. More affordable design houses that I work regularly with are that eternal favourite in many homes, Parker Knoll, who has been designing sofas and chairs for more than 150 years, and Greaves & Thomas, again a great British brand who specialise in mid-century furniture with clean lines influenced by Danish and Scandi design.’
Which colours are going to be big in 2021?
‘Blues and greens have become the new neutrals, replacing grey. I think the current craze for houseplants has made everyone favour green. A lot of my customers have also been ordering bright yellow – in these hard times, it’s so joyful.’
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Images 1, 2 & 6 by Daniel Walmsley