Justin Dueck has been the sole owner and full-time staff at Top Stitch Upholstery Design for less than five months, but he's already designed, built and upholstered some incredible work. He spends about half of his time re-upolstering older pieces for businesses like Scandinavian Modern (known for their meticulous attention to detail) and the other half doing custom upholstery. His latest undertaking, a huge job for brand new The Merchant Kitchen, showcases his exceptional talent. As you enter The Merchant, you'll notice a long, red, floating bench; along the windows inside the restaurant are other benches of ebonized wood; and between the expansive bar and kitchen are what Justin refers to as daybeds - low, upholstered bench seating in a patchwork of colours. They're trendy and yet simultaneously reminiscent of a familiar patchwork quilt. Finally, opulent, tufted booth seating draws your eye to the far corner wall. In a deep red, they are impressive in both their richness and comfort. All of this is Justin's handiwork.
FBWS - What about this job would you like to highlight? Is there anything you're particularly proud of?
JD - The daybeds. There's really nothing else like them in the city. The low backs create a really social environment and putting together the different pieces of fabric was a lot of fun.
FBWS - How did you get into custom building and upholstery?
JD- I worked in the workshop with my dad. He was a master brick layer up until around the time I was born. And then, because brick laying's more of a seasonal job, he would do side jobs that included a lot of woodworking. So I watched him, and had a full workshop at my disposal. After high school, I went to Germany for six months. I came back and started working in construction doing framing for buildings. But I still had the travel bug. So I went back and worked in Sweden. I was doing building restoration there and actually ended up doing a bit of upholstery. I learned some of the basics. After my time in Sweden, I cam back to construction in December and minus 30 temperatures. My boss kept giving me time off [because of the weather] so I started working for a furniture building company. I was developing good relationships with clients and they really liked working with me, and I thought rather than communicating what they wanted to the upholsterers, I could just do it myself.
FBWS - How did you become Top Stitch Upholstery Design?
JD - I started out as an employee. The plan was always for me to buy the business from the owner then. It started as a five-year plan, but got accelerated to a two-year plan. He was ready to move on to other things.
FBWS - So does that mean you did all of the work here at The Merchant on your own?
JD - No, no, I hired five different part-time workers to help me at different stages of the process. That's actually been one of the hardest things about this business is finding people who can do the work. I would love to grow and take on more work, but it's hard to find people.
FBWS - Are there other aspects to your job that you find challenging?
JD - Creating a piece that isn't only nice to look at, but is comfortable to sit on. That's always the challenge.
FBWS - So I know you've only owned Top Stitch since January, but do you have a vision for where you want things to go? Are there some types of work you're drawn to more than others?
JD - I really love the diversity of doing different kinds of projects. I love doing big projects, like this one with Merchant, but I also like to just work on a single chair. I just finished a love seat for Scandinavian Modern and it was a four hour job. It's nice to be able to start and finish in one day.
FBWS - I imagine too that's it's nice not to have to do creative work all the time. You have the opportunity to use that part of your brain with custom jobs, but you can also learn from what others have done with re-upolstery.
JD - For sure. When I was in high school, I was interested in graphic design, and my plan was to pursue that, and I love that as well. At the time, my dad did some work with publishing and there were clients who had content, but didn't have a cover, so my dad said, "My son can design a cover for you." So I designed covers for low-budget books. Which was fine; I was in high school. But in the end I decided that field wasn't for me. As a creative, you can work really hard, a client will tell you, "Bring me five ideas," and then go, "No, none of these." So this work has times where you're creative, but other times you're following the paths of the old masters, replicating what they've done.
FBWS - What's next for you?
JD - I've got some smaller reupholstery jobs on the go right now, and a few new restaurants have expressed interest. We're still in the development stage, with more work to come in the fall.
You can check out Justin's work at newly opened The Merchant Kitchen (inside the brand new Alt Hotel). While you're at it, sip a cocktail and try out the Asian-Latin fusion cooking.