Not just bums on seats: meet the man who puts the fun into upholstery


Ever looked at an old piece of furniture and felt overwhelmed by childhood memories?

Simion Hawtin-Smith is a bespoke upholsterer and vintage chair specialist who knows how to help turn those old-fashioned items into unique pieces that can make homes look more fashionable whilst also preventing waste.

You may have seen Simion appears on BBC One’s ‘junk makeover’ show Money for Nothing.

“We go to the recycling centre and we take something out – it could be a chair or a set of drawers or anything. I do the upholstery on the show and then we sell it and say ‘look, we’ve made this from something you threw away.’”

He has had a passion for interior design for as long as he can remember, going through old magazines for inspiration.

He started off running his own cafe/art gallery then did some art work for a café in Chorlton and later became interested in vintage chairs.

A lover of all things quirky, he became inspired and embarked on a journey to become an upholsterer. After working on Money for Nothing, Simion gained the confidence to start teaching and now hosts his own upholstery workshops at the Old Granada Studios.

The workshops teach you the basics, such as hand stitching, but also go more in depth for anyone who wants to learn how to do the piping that goes underneath the footstool, or create their own buttons to match the fabric that they’re using.

“I’ve structured my courses so that they are a bit therapeutic, with the hand stitching in there. The stress of a normal upholstery course is taken away by me pre-cutting everything out and the classes are quite small. It’s not about bums on seats. It’s more like come and enjoy yourself.

“It’s all about going away with something that you can use and that you’re proud of,” says Simion. “And I guide people and help them through it, so they can create something that I would’ve been happy to have finished.”

When trying to find inspiration Simion goes to what he calls his ‘fabric memory bank’. “It’s all about the fabrics to me. I look at a chair and start thinking what fabric would sit well on it. It’s all about making a statement chair that would sit nicely in someone’s home with the rest of the furniture.”

Simion is also trying to educate people on recycling and reducing waste.

“There’s a reason you buy stuff from stores now and they don’t last very long and it gets thrown away – hence the half a million tonnes worth of landfill every year.

“We live in such a throwaway society and we don’t have to do that anymore. It’s about longevity. There’s a reason these chairs have been around since the 30s, 40s, and 50s – because their structure is good.

The courses only started in February but have already been very popular, with people coming all the way from London to attend. He is also planning to do a live upholstery event  at Grand Designs Live in London next month.

Many of his clients bring a piece of furniture which has been handed down to them and has personal memories attached to it such as their gran’s chair or their mother’s coffee table.

“We can update it so it compliments their house and it’s nice to have a piece of furniture that has history to it.

“I want people to see my courses as a way of having fun and getting away from their busy week at work. I think people need to have a release from their normal day to day life and that’s why we’ve seen a surge in these creative, kind of artisan courses.

“There are a lot of courses out there that are more serious, which is great, but it takes a long time to become an upholsterer. I want people to go away and think they had fun doing what they did rather saying ‘oh god, I wasn’t quite sure of what I was doing there’.  I want to put the fun back into it.”



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