Student Stories – Johnny Brophy


This week we speak to one of our ex-students Johnny Brophy about his work and his time at SDR.

When did you study at SDR and on which course?

I started with the leisure courses about 4 years ago.  I picked up a pair of beautiful dining room chair frames for the grand price of £20.  Then got busy every Tuesday night trying to get them finished.  Oh and I just recently sold them for £280!!

Then two years ago I did the certified AMUSF Stage 2 course, which ran for a year. I’m chuffed to say I passed with a high distinction and won the Liberty Art fabrics prize too.

Johnnys' Stage 2 armchair which won him the Liberty Fabric prize

Johnnys’ Stage 2 armchair which won him the Liberty Fabric prize

 What led you to study Upholstery?

I’ve always been a lover of well-designed, functional furniture and have been obsessed with textiles for as long as I remember.  After leaving high school my dream was to study fashion and textile design at art school, but a job in London catapulted me into the industry so I started working straight away.

One day when visiting Columbia Road flower market I saw some flyers advertising upholstery classes, so I called to arrange a meeting with the lovely Louise.  We met in the pub and chatted about upholstery and the classes on offer.  I’m always interested in learning new skills, especially practical based skills that I can utilize in my set design projects.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I have a company called Johnny Buttons.  We provide art direction and creative services to the fashion industry.  Projects include the design and fabrication of sets for fashion shows, product launch events or special commission based projects for brands like Club Monaco or Tourne De Transmission.


Johnny’s set design for the Tourne De Transmission show at LCM.

For the show-stallations at London Collection Men I’ve produced textile-based installations, which become the backdrop for the show. The largest textile based work I’ve produced was 6m wide by 26m long – one huge, hand painted patchwork made from cotton canvas and calico.


Textile works in progress.

We’ve just worked on a campaign shoot for River Island where we created a 12m x 12m floor based textile landscape plus oversized patchwork backdrops.


Chrome and rosewood chair in tweed for a private client.

Chair-wise I’ve just finished a stylish chrome and tweed number for a private client.  I ended up making an extra lumber cushion, as it needed a little colour to finish it off.  I restored the arms back to their original rosewood, which looks amazing with the polished chrome frame.

What did you come away with from the course and did your learning inform your other work?

For me the Stage 2 certified course gave me a strong foundation of the basics of upholstery.  Before this I wasn’t very confident using the industrial sewing machine.  But, since then I’ve been using textiles within my set-based projects as much as possible.  The course has reignited my love for textiles and given me the confidence to explore and exploit their use throughout my current and future projects.

I also came away with an addiction to buying chairs, folding screens and bed frames.  One day I’ll find the time to restore them to their former beauty.  I hope.

Did the experience open your eyes to new things?

The experience confirmed how much of a perfectionist I am.  But I think we all were.

I met some wonderful people too.  It was an inviting and relaxed way to learn.  I wish I was able to do the Stage 3 course and might get round to it sometime.

What was the most challenging piece you worked on?

Egg chair in mustard tweed

Egg chair in mustard tweed

By far the most challenging piece was a modern, egg-shaped chair for a private client.  He recently restored and redesigned a huge houseboat.  I thought to myself ‘this will be a good practice project’…  Never again!!

We wrestled, I bled, I cried, I drank, but I eventually finished the damn thing!  Then one day the houseboat design project was in the Metro with the mustard tweed egg chair in pride of place.

What advice would you give to new students – things to do alongside the course or ways to extend your learning?

Before starting the certified course I would recommend doing some leisure courses or sample courses first.  Upholstery can be physically challenging and there’s a lot of complex techniques to master.  So try it out first and see if it’s for you.

Explore other skills like sewing, weaving, natural dying or embroidery if you have time too.  They all cross over at some point.  Definitely visit galleries and design exhibitions.  Start to keep a journal of designs, textiles or details that you like.  Open up your blinkers before you start the course.

Favourite fabrics? Your favourite style of furniture….

Vintage French and Italian heavy linens/cottons are a favourite of mine.  I love vintage textiles that have been repaired, stained or patched up.  I find a lot of these at antique/vintage fairs in the UK and Europe.  I can’t stop buying them!!

The Cloth House in Soho is my favourite fabric shop in London.  They import beautiful things from around the world and have a great selection of natural fiber textiles.

I’m a big lover of Bute Tweed and Kvadrat have stunning colour palettes to work with.

Finally, I’d like to thank Louise and the SDR team!  I had the best time x


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