I first met Stephanie Sharke when she started working for my friends Alison Chamberlain and Stephen Gibson of Original Finish. Stephanie has now started her own business and workshop, her work is exquisite.
This is her story…. so far.
Why and how did you get into upholstery?
Well, first I studied to be a photographer and supported myself by working for a large Paris department store. But I didn’t want to spend all my time in a darkroom and so around 1990 an opportunity came to work in graphic design. I did that for about 10 years. At the same time I travelled the world over and lived for months in different countries, and discovered people and things about life, culture and things about history. I have always loved old furniture and objects that have a history. I spent a lot of time at Paris flea markets. One day I found an old Louis XV armchair that lived a good life and I wanted to give it another chance to be useful again – so I bought it with the idea of resuscitating life. But I found the task more difficult to do. The armchair was made in the traditional way using material such as steel springs, natural fibre, horsehair, wool, hessian, stitches etc. Surprise, surprise not so easy. All of a sudden everything seemed very complicated. Indeed, imagine me to create volumes and shapes – possible yes for a professional or even an amateur with more than just first experience. So, if I wanted to give this chair a second life, I needed to find a place where I can learn the rules of the art in traditional ways. So I took evening classes for one year to be able to achieve my goal. I finished my course and succeeded with my first experience – re-upholstering my Louis XV chair in traditional way. I felt enthusiasm and satisfaction to bring life to that piece of artwork. It was at this time that I discovered a passion for this work and decided to make it my professional career.
How old were you when you did that?
I was in my late 30s when I enrolled and graduated from L’Ecole Grégoire in Paris. There I met fellow students who felt like I did, very passionate about our art. We got on very well. We decided to unite to find and share a workshop atelier. We found our place near the world’s largest antique flea market called Marché des Puces, at Porte de Clignancourt, Saint Ouen – commonly known as “Les Puces”. Big name designers and dealers all over the world go there to buy antique. We were in amongst a community of designers, architects, artisans and tradespeople.
So how did you come to be in Australia?
My husband and I met a long time ago in the Pacific during my travelling. We were both travelling. No romance or anything like that. We just stayed in touch. We caught up again 10 years later and fell in love. He was in Paris and we decided to come live in Australia. He is a naturalised citizen. We stayed in Sydney for more than six months before returning to Paris. While in Paris my husband was asked to work in Niue, in the South Pacific. A big shock for me going from 2 million people in Paris to 1600 on the island. I kept up my passion and performed upholstery work on furniture and furnishings on the two houses at our fruit orchard farm residence. We lived in Niue for 2 years and returned to Australia after his contract ended.
Where did you work when you got to Australia?
I worked for Alison and Stephen at Original Finish Newtown. This was a great story because they entrusted me the opportunity and chance to achieve in my area of work. It is hard to work under someone because this is my passion, than just a job. I was very lucky to meet Alison and Stephen. It is not about how quick you can get the job done but how well is the quality of the work. At Original Finish, I worked at my own pace to produce what I believe to be my best at trying to get quality finishing for our client’s treasures. When Original Finish closed down, I opened up my own workshop. I continue to share a great relationship with Alison and Stephen.
I offer similar services to my clients. Quality is important and I try to offer more than expected because the client deserves to be rewarded too for bringing life to their treasure. It is after all a passion and I need to be satisfied that the quality of the work is something I am proud of. On my website I have examples of work I have done here in Sydney for Original Finish and also from my studio in Paris.
Do you think about the planet and sustainability in your work?
Yes I agree with planet and sustainability. I lived on an island, I know about the rising sea levels and the need to find solutions in how we manage the challenges facing our planet. In my work I try to conserve energy and turn off machinery if not used or try to work efficiently and resourcefully by what I material I use and how I use it. I try to use products that are environmentally friendly. I recycle things that can be reutilised and dispose of things responsibly if utility expires. Personally, I walk everywhere if possible. I don’t use a car. I don’t follow fashion trends. In working to refresh and renew things, I am recycling, I am reducing waste, I am reducing my carbon footprint.
I appreciate working with things that have a story and history to them. Furniture and furnishings have a story to tell and sometimes their history is visible to see but sometimes not. It is lovely to give these things a new life. It is important for the planet to resuscitate the life of these treasures and not let them become destroyed and end up in the rubbish tip.
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