By Lisa Shrewsberry
All this, inspired by conservation over conflagration.
Richard Newsome, known as Boda to most, is a wholehearted West Virginia University fan, and a would-be couch burner’s best friend. Apprenticed by a 35-year upholstery master, Boda developed an appreciation for the work going into quality home décor and was suddenly torn. He couldn’t stand the thoughts of torching a full-sized sofa with potential, nor could he forsake his fellow Mountaineers with a penchant for arson: to celebrate victory, to agonize over defeat, or just for the heck of it. “So I started making these mini couches.”
The idea was all in fun, so that students and fans could take to burning scaled-down furnishings in a controlled environment and avoid the felonious — upholstery’s sacrificial virgin. “That way, they wouldn’t get in trouble.”
For a while, variations of couches emerged — mini sofas with cushions lifting to reveal jewelry compartments, one fashioned to hold (and not get ignited by) a votive candle. Then, he began paying tribute to the blue and gold through another type of inspired upholstery, WV emblems intended for display, expertly secured and edged with covered boat welting cord, the same materials he uses for his restoration of watercraft.
Within his creative digressions, he discovered a fairly inexpensive subspecialty — customized upholstered wall art. By taking thin but sturdy plywood called luan, using a little fiber fill, nearly any variety of fabric and a good deal of handicraft with a staple gun, Boda has diversified to filling client requests for finding that perfect piece to fill the blank expanse of wall in a particular room.
If the fabric of time were tangible, Boda could staple it onto something. By fashioning a stencil, converting it to wood and covering it, he creates near instantaneous art without wielding a paintbrush. An upholsterer for seven years for Sitting Pretty, his fabric stretching wiliness serves a higher calling by also repurposing materials into art.
“He took this old frame from a piece of art my daughter had and recycled it by covering it in fabric. He just treats the frame like one he’d prepare for an oil painting, only covering it in fabric instead,” explains Jeannie Richmond, Interior Designer and owner of Interior Concepts, Beckley, where Sitting Pretty is housed. The canvas-style art joins a limitless variety of popular motifs, peace signs and yen and yang symbols, covered in an equally limitless variety of colors, textures and teen-popularized animal prints.
“The raindrops from the cloud are held with fishing line,” Boda explains, demonstrating a custom piece like he’d design and monogram for a baby’s room. On a far wall in Interior Concepts hangs a rectangle of honest-to-goodness original and contemporary art — another of Boda’s brainchildren.
“It’s a chair frame, and the pieces inside it are scraps of silk from a discontinued fabric sample book,” describes Jeannie, admiring his innovation.
29-year-old Boda was trained in the craft of upholstery by veteran seamstress, Sue Nunn. The pair operate in unity, with Boda doing the labor-intensive stripping down of furniture, rebuilding, if necessary, and stapling the fabric sewn by Sue.
Boda is himself an in-demand original, representing a new generation of a design trade still handed down by generations of practiced crafters. There are but a handful of professionals in the upholstery trade available within an hour of him.
“I love doing upholstery. It’s fun to see how the fabrics make-over different styles of furniture. Sometimes you think ‘Oooo, that’s going to be really ugly. Then you get it on a chair or a frame and it’s beautiful.”
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