With the everlasting reign of vintage and the new imperative for one-of-a-kind furniture pieces to fight the Amazon-mass-reproduction blues, 2020 could prove to be upholstery shops’ moment in the sun. Enter Tiffany Sterling, owner of Upholstery Girl in downtown Sherman.
“We provide all aspects of furniture upholstery from (the) frame up,” Sterling says. “We have a fabric consultant on staff that meets by appointment to help our customers select the perfect fabrics for their furniture style, interior decor, family lifestyle and performance. We offer throw pillows, bench cushions, patio furniture upholstery, custom bedding and limited drapery services, too.”
A seamstress is also on staff to provide clothing and formal dress alterations. In tandem with her side gig, Meet Your Match Handbags -- which churns out handmade leather bags and accessories -- Sterling has virtually cornered the market for unique and highly sought after artisan goods.
For Sterling, though, Upholstery Girl is more than just a business, it is a tradition and a means of survival.
“An unintended continuation”
“Upholstery Girl is an unintended continuation of a legacy,” she explains.
Her grandparents, Ray and Minnie Sterling, were the proud owners of Squirrel’s Hobby Shop in Frisco for more than four decades.
“It started with a before-and-after pair of chairs in the window of an insurance company on downtown Main Street,” Sterling recalls. “They retired around the time I was born, and I grew up knowing that all the furniture in my grandparents’ home they had built or reupholstered with their own hands.”
Life goes on, as they say, and after heading off to school, becoming a full-time mom of three and moving to the “Big Apple,” Sterling was undoubtedly caught off guard by a divorce that seemed bent on sending her life into a tailspin. She then returned home to Texas.
“My grandmother, who was 99 at the time, asked me how I intended to support the kids and still be a mother now that I had to go back to work full time,” she says.
Though she had a plan to start her own upholstery business here in Texas, it would take ages, she thought, to save up for an industrial upholstery sewing machine. That’s when fate intervened.
“She sent me over to my uncle’s, who had fully restored the machine she had used all those years ago (in the hobby shop),” Sterling says, “and so Upholstery Girl was born.”
The art of upholstery
Customer reviews laud Sterling and her staff’s quality craftsmanship, attention to detail and professionalism.
“I learned the trade in New York under the mentorship of Michael Sirois at Capital Upholstery,” Sterling says. “He was very supportive and ... encouraged me to branch out on my own when I moved back to Texas. Surprisingly, he still answers my ten billion questions like he has all the time in the world for me.”
Now, Sterling has become a mentor in her own right, acknowledging that communicating with new employees is among one of the most challenging aspects of owning a business.
“You have to start upholstery by learning it backwards,” she explains. “You must learn to tear something down properly before you can learn to build it back up. Most people want to hurry up and dive right in ... but that takes experience and knowledge that takes years to gain and the practice to make it quality work.”
Sterling hopes to pass her experience on to her daughter, Olivia, as well, who is currently studying interior design at the University of North Texas. They created Meet Your Match Handbags together about a year ago to help offset Olivia’s tuition costs.
“The premise is to choose the leather components to create a one-of-a-kind wristlet, handbag or cosmetic bag,” Sterling says. “We have added other leather goods to the line such as wine caddies, eyewear cases, credit card holders, koozies, coffee sleeves, drink coasters and full-sized, hair-on-hide rugs.”
Here to stay
Though Upholstery Girl has had a somewhat tumultuous history with zoning and rental spaces in recent years in nearby Van Alstyne, Sterling says Sherman has welcomed her with open arms.
“I ended up in Sherman because I needed more space for continual growth,” she says. “I intend to stay as long as they’ll keep me and as long as the rent stays affordable for small businesses. I love the community feel (and) all the great activities that Sherman offers.”