Punk Upholstery at Out of the Dark

A chair. But not just any chair. This is a chair that has the power to transform lives. It was made (by me as it happens) for a silent auction to be held at the May Design Series to raise money for Street Dreams.

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Street Dreams is a charity run by the furniture company Out of the Dark, a charitable social enterprise that recycles, revamps and restores salvaged furniture as a means to educate, train and employ young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

They take old chairs, tables and sofas that would often otherwise end up in landfill and paint and recover them in what I think is best described as Punk Upholstery. You can see some of their work here .

Last week, I was invited, along with several other bloggers and designers, to a workshop at Pitfield, London, to learn how to reupholster a chair that will be auctioned at The May Design Series  to raise money for Out of the Dark to continue their work. The maximum bid for each chair goes to the charity and the May Design Series has pledged to match each winning bid thus doubling the pot.


It was great fun and harder work than I thought. Jay and his assistant, Yasir, had brought along a bunch of dining room chairs for us to work on and they were handed out at the start. I got the one that I had identified as soon as I walked in as being the one I didn’t want! But, as it turned out, I rather loved it in the end.

Jay talked us through the techniques of what we would need to do and then we chose our material (all of which was donated to Out of the Dark) and off we went.

a work in progress

There were lots of staple guns, electric foam cutters, spraying glue and the odd glass of champagne thrown into the mix. And there is my nearly finished chair below. I’m rather chuffed with it. Anyone going to the show can bid for them there in the silent auction, the rest of you will be able to bid online during the event. The link will go live during the show.

listen and do

Jay Blades (pictured sitting on my chair) grew up in Hackney, east London, and spent his teenage years getting into trouble. His wife Jade was in Instanbul behaving in a similarly unconventional fashion. When they met they decided they would use their experience to help other kids.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph last year, Jade said: “We both went a little off the rails as teenagers, but if our parents couldn’t cope we were saved by our extended families who helped keep us on the straight and narrow.

“Unfortunately too often today, young people are more isolated from stable adult role models and, in many areas, the extended family is no longer there. We try to provide that in our workshops, providing training, employment and self esteem for young people who can then go on and make something of their lives.”

One of the Street Dreams projects teaches young people, aged 12 to 18 who are often on the brink of permanent exclusion, in pupil referral units, prison or NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) about healthy living, drugs, gambling, crime and criminology as well as starting a business. After six months life skills training there was an 80 per cent decrease in youth led violent crime in one area.

One of those who took part said: “They made being an active member of the community enjoyable. And my mum is proud of me.”

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Buy a chair. It doesn’t have to be mine. There are eight to choose from.

Here I am with my finished chair. The picture’s a bit blurry. It’s probably better that way.

The other designers and bloggers were Ariana Trapani and Carole King, editors of Heart Home magazine (where you will find the home of yours truly featured this month), Yasmin Chopin, Tina Bernstein, of colourliving blog, Kate Burnett, of the Schemer, Laura Almond, web editor of Achica Living and Denise Mahmud of Trendease.

Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.

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