The well-planned workroom

A few years ago, as we were preparing to remodel our 1950’s kitchen, I checked out a stack of books on kitchen design and layout. Kitchens are a super functional part of the home – we essentially WORK there. So a kitchen that’s poorly designed  is extremely aggravating.

I was surprised to discover that a lot of what I read made perfect sense for the upholstery shop.

No matter how aesthetically pleasing it is, a poorly designed workroom will impede and frustrate you. A well designed workroom, on the other hand, will make your all your days more enjoyable and efficient.

If you haven’t looked around your workspace for awhile (or are still in the process of setting one up) here are a few thoughts to pin on your vision board. . . .

1. Bigger isn’t necessarily better.

Though we all imagine a giant kitchen as the key to culinary bliss, the truth is that there are real perks to a smaller space – everything is close at hand, for example. It also forces us to prioritize:  small kitchens have. no room for tomfoolery.

Likewise, the small upholstery shop is under more pressure to be fiercely well planned. While more space can be a benefit, I’ve been in many a large shop that simply used the extra space to store non-essentials. I actually sought to have a relatively small space for teaching – it helps me manage project storage, which can quickly become a problem.

We cannot give away space that we do not have.

If you’re a small shop, this is a plus for client services as well – it gives you a really good reason to have strict policies. When that walk-in asks, “Please oh please can I leave my settee here? I’ll pick fabric this week, I promise!” you can fairly and rightfully say, “I’m sorry, we just don’t have the space, but once you’ve made a fabric selection and paid your deposit, I’d be happy to get your name on the waitlist.”

2. Protect your prime real-estate

Look at your counter at home. What’s there? Probably a coffee pot, maybe a dish rack, a pile of mixing bowls? Whatever it is, I hope you use it daily.


Because that’s prime real-estate. 

Most people don’t have cookie cutters and a waffle maker sitting on the counter – we keep them, but they’re stored away so we don’t have to constantly navigate around them.

And yet, it’s not at all unusual to see an upholstery shop give prime real-estate to some obscure item. Why would we trip over something daily that we use twice a year?

I’m not (necessarily) saying get rid of your bins of springs, your giant framing stapler, your U-Cut foam saw . . . You may have random stuff that’s worth hanging onto. But be very selective about what you keep close at hand.

3. Support the annual purge.

Speaking of random stuff, I want you to look really, really hard at anything that hasn’t moved this year.

Most upholsterers are driven in part by a desire to keep things out of the landfill. Believe me, I’m right there with you.

But there’s a very fine line between rescuing and hoarding – most of us like to tap dance all over it.

adolescent adult black and white casual

Assuming you’re paying for your workspace (and we’re all paying one way or another), every stored item is actually costing you money. And if you have enough of them, they’re also costing you productivity as you lose time rearranging and bumbling around.

Repeat after me: It’s a workroom, not a storage unit. 

4. Workflow and areas

Think for a moment about how work travels through your space, and you around your work.  Where does work come in? Where does it go out? Does your shop layout support ease of movement throughout the upholstery process? Does it make SENSE?

Kitchen design talks about. “the triangle” of sink, stove and fridge. Question: do you keep your dish soap in the vegetable crisper? I hope not.

Now think about the areas of your workroom:  Cutting, sewing, tear back, consult, whatever – Are tools and supplies in the appropriate area? Running around is a preventable waste of time.

This seems (and is) obvious, but one thing that might trip you up is trying to use furniture that you already have. That giant rack you rescued from a friend is only great if it’s the rack you actually need.

Think about what you use where – THEN consider how best to store it. If you can use found items, great – but don’t invent reasons to keep an ineffective cast-off. Throw it on Craig’s List so it can find a better home.

5. Going up!

One of the best ways to get more bang for your buck is by looking up and down – where can floor space do double duty?

Some example are to store fabric flat under the cutting table (did I mention – PRIORITIZE A PROPER CUTTING TABLE even in a small space?) and to store extras up high – sheets of foam, cases of staples, extra cotton and batting.  Use your imagination – it’s what upholsterers do!

Words to the wise, though – out of sight can also be out of mind. I’ve definitely stored things up high, then forgotten about them and reordered more. And you don’t use awkward storage for anything you use daily – prime real-estate, remember?

6. Automate your space

Imagine that you’re setting up shop for someone else. How would you help them navigate? Put things in logical locations. Make friends with your label maker. Use pegboard to make key tools visible and quickly accessible.

Since ours is a teaching space, we’re extra motivated to make it user friendly – if students can figure out a few things on their own, it’s a win-win. But when you start organizing  for others, you notice how nice it is to locate things at a glance.

The next time you’re hunting for a tool or supply or random piece of hardware, think: Could I do something to automate this process?

On my 2019 list is to put all our random screws and nails into labelled bins so I can stop digging through stacks of boxes.  (Santa, if you’re reading this . . . )

This topic could go on forever, but I want to keep things brief, in hopes you’ll remember at least one of these suggestions. I’m actually a terribly disorganized person, but making the effort to organize my shop makes every day there better.

Upholstery is HARD. Being in a well-planned workroom helps me focus on the task at hand instead of being distracted from it.

“Organization isn’t about perfection; it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money and improving your overall quality of life.”

Christina Scalise

The Funky Little Chair

4 thoughts on “The well-planned workroom”

  1. Love this and will reread and use as time goes on. I repurposed a bedroom in my house to get started upholstering at home and planned the layout using thoights similar to these earlier this year –

  2. Oh my gosh this post is fortuitous!! I’ve been working in my super cluttered and completely disorganized basement workshop for a year. My thought was always to rearrange it in a way that was more user friendly but I’ve had so much going on I just have huge piles of stuff everywhere just because that’s where it fit at the time. Now I have a gap in my schedule over Thanksgiving to rearrange and organize my space so it actually works for me! Yay!!

  3. This post is EXACTLY what I needed! Do you have any suggestions as to where to find a proper cutting table? Build one myself? I can’t seem to find any that are large enough.

    1. thefunkylittlechair

      I built my own, it’s pretty basic but big enough for my taste 🙂 Many workrooms use a ping pong table if you can find one of those . . .

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