Imagine being a happy freelancer, doing what you love, and then from one day to the next, all contracts stop and you have no idea when work will pick up again. Yep, it happened to many this year, as we all know. Ryan Godwin was one of them, a theatre set builder from London, now living in Valencia. Like everywhere in the cultural sector, all work suddenly disappeared when Covid arrived, and not just in the UK but across Europe. How does a theatre set builder reinvent himself in times of a crisis?
From flipping burgers to West End shows
“I always liked making things, being creative,” Ryan says, as we sit down in his big rough and ready workshop in the area of Cabanyal, near the beach. “I actually ended up as a set builder in the theatre world totally by accident. I was flipping burgers at an event, and got annoyed by stuff strewn on the floor of the van. So I just built some shelving to tidy it up. Turned out the owners of the burger place were West End actors. They were impressed by my carpentry and introduced me into the theatre world in London. That was the start of a 10-year career. I since worked as a set builder for many West End shows, major TV/film productions and events, including the London Fashion Week and the X Factor. It’s been a fascinating job.”
“In 2019 I fancied a change though, and with set builders from the UK having a good reputation across Europe, I managed to secure some big jobs in Spain and Italy for 2020. So I was looking forward to continuing my trade, but now based in Valencia. Unfortunately the pandemic threw a spanner in the way.”
“I was faced with a sudden harsh reality of sitting at home, in Spain, with no work, a loss of identity and feeling quite depressed as a result, to be honest. I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was no work for any of us in the industry. I heard of colleagues back in London being contracted to build coffins instead. It was grim. It’s only been a few weeks or so that I am beginning to pick up the pieces.”
Spice racks and bedside tables
This Autumn, Ryan decided to go back to his trusted carpentry skills and start making things for fun. Usable stuff for the home, made from scrap wood, which he finds in the street. First just some shelves, but people like his work, and he has already been commissioned to make a set of bedside tables. He is now making coffee tables, spice and wine racks, bookshelves and other unique pieces of furniture, from his Cabanyal workshop. In a corner of the large brick, industrial looking space, stand a number of cool looking pieces of furniture, made out of recycled wood. One of them a coffee table made from slats, on top of an old metal single bed frame.
Upcycling old wood and telling its story
“It feels good repurposing old wood, it balances things out for me.”, he explains. “You wouldn’t believe how wasteful the set building industry is. I once worked as a set builder at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and remember being horrified by the sight of four articulated lorries stuffed full of wood that had been used for the food stalls. None of the material could be reused, and was taken straight to the dump, only because it was covered in some food or oil. There are companies who take stuff away for recycling, but half the time it just ends up in the incinerator.”
Ryan finds usable wood and other materials left next to bins and in skips in Valencia, on the streets, anywhere, and keeps it from going to landfill. He takes stuff apart, cleans it, cuts it to size, sands it down, finishes it, and turns it into beautiful designs. “It’s fun creating things. I am a big fan of history and love the fact that something has a past. I try and leave the patina, so you still see some of that history in the wood.” He is slowly expanding his collection, trying to find out what people need and like, and then making it. An online shop is in the making too.
Ryan decided to name his new venture Made in Valencia. But perhaps it should be called re-Made in Valencia. After all, it’s not just the wood that’s been given a second chance.
You can find Ryan’s upcycling business in Valencia currently on Facebook. His set building work can be found on his website.
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Mid-century modern furniture is often so beautiful and timeless, that it needs very little more than a clean and a polish. Sleek lines, minimalist looks and striking features, even after so many decades, those Scandinavian style sideboards, coffee tables and armchairs from the 1950s and 60s still look gorgeous. But some pieces become even better when someone with a good eye gets their hands on them. Caroline George of Roc Studio in Edinburgh, is one of those people. Her signature style includes strong geometric patterns to enhance the shape of the furniture. Today I am interviewing Caroline to find out more about her creative business.
Caroline, tell us more about yourself! What is your business and what do you offer?
I am the founder of Roc Studio and I bring unloved pieces of furniture back to life with my surface pattern designs. I source furniture myself, often mid-century classics like G-plan or Ercol, or customers can bring in their own pieces for a contemporary update. My business is in Edinburgh, which is also my home, where I live with my husband and two children.
What made you want to start this type of business?
I started my own business upcycling furniture already 11 years ago. First it was called Trash furniture, but it has since evolved into Roc. My degree is originally in fashion and textiles, but after working fashion for a bit I fell into interiors. I worked as a visual merchandiser at Habitat which fuelled my love for all things decor. After that I worked in property, staging and designing show homes for an upmarket developer. In 2009, I decided to turn my passion for vintage furniture into a business and I still love it. I am passionate about using what we have, being sustainable and creating an eclectic home and this is very much in the spirit of Roc as well.
What do you love most about your work?
The freedom of working for yourself is great, I kind of make it up as I go along, but it means I can pick my kids up from school and be there for them. It is not always easy juggling everything, but I wouldn’t change it.
How do you choose pieces and what is your creative process with them?
Most of the pieces I work on are a bit battered and in need of some TLC. A client might come to me with a piece of furniture or sometimes I already have a piece in my workshop, which needs an update. I don’t like to overdo the furniture and am quite minimalist in a way. I tend to work with the lines of the furniture, so if it has round handles for instance, then the design might feature circles. I always try and use colours for my designs that really bring out the beautiful warm tones in the Mid-century teak wood. Often, the client will also have an idea of the designs they like, a colour scheme in the room it sits in, or sometimes it’s just a piece of art work that they like that I can take some inspiration from.
It is quite a process from start to finish and can take many weeks. It’s not just a lick of paint and a few new drawer knobs. Usually I strip the piece of all the old varnish and if anything needs fixed then that gets done too. The doors might come off for painting, or the drawers stripped for new felt. There is always more work than you think, but the end result always makes me happy and my customers, which is the most important thing.
How has the 2020 lockdown affected your business?
At first, it was all such a shock for everyone. But I tried to keep going and then suspected I had the virus, which put me out of action for a couple of months, as I was very ill. I recovered though and still had a couple of commissions to do, so I have just continued working. Luckily my clients keep asking for furniture, so I am still surviving! I just need to keep my fingers crossed that it continues into 2021, but I stay positive.
How do customers find you, and what are your business challenges?
During lockdown, I built my new website, and I was really proud of myself that I got it done. I have an online shop on there now too, which is a new thing for me, and something I would like to build on next year. I am on all the usual social media channels, and I am trying to get better at PR and putting myself out there! Time is also always an issue. There’s never enough of it to fit everything in, so that is definitely an ongoing challenge for me. And knowing my value. Creatives are notorious for undercharging and over delivering!
What is the next step for Roc?
My goal is a bigger workshop next year with space to make my life easier. I would also like to take a holiday, haha! And I have been saying it for a long time now, but I would love to design some new products that are not quite as big as the furniture. And although most of my clients are in the UK, and especially in Edinburgh and London, I recently shipped furniture to the Netherlands, and I am now looking into shipping to Italy.
You may spot some Roc pieces where you are soon. If you are interested in seeing more of Caroline’s designs, have a look at the Roc website.
OK, 2020 can go in the bin. Out with it. Let’s start again. Most people will agree that this year was just weird, and gave most of us an unusual amount of stress and anxiety. We don’t know yet if the first half of 2021 is going to be any different, but we can prepare ourselves better, for sure.
Here are my Christmas gift suggestions for a calmer, smoother and happier New Year. For your loved ones, or as gifts just for you. Because, WELL DONE for getting through it all! You are an amazing human being.
For a calmer mind
I love notebooks. I have about four on the go right now. Do I love a notebook as a gift? You bet! But what do you do with all of these scribbles when done with them? This Etsy Seller has the perfect idea: plant them! This notebook is size A6, £6 and 100% compostable. The cover has been embedded with five varieties of native British wildflowers, all classified as ‘plants for pollinators’ by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Journaling never felt so good. Shop for more handmade notebooks on Etsy.
Scented candles and essential oils
Smell can have such a calming effect on the mind. I love burning a scented candle or some incense. Candles are always a great gift at Christmas, or at anytime. Instead of buying mass-produced candles from the supermarket of high street store, which are often full of chemicals, support a crafter and order some natural, handmade ones. Shop for natural, handmade candles on Etsy.
A quality online yoga course
Once you got those candles burning, why not add a high quality online yoga course to the gift? Sure, you can find all kinds of free yoga on Youtube these days, but why not take the stress out of searching and buy a full course that you know is good? I can recommend Yoga by Jennison, a California girl living in Valencia, who offers a fabulous, healing yoga experience online and offline (she kept many of us sane and fit throughout lockdown!). Check out her online yoga courses.
Organic CBD oil
CBD oil has become a popular natural go-to remedy for providing relief for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also used to promote sleep. No more stress and insomnia in 2021 please! Part of CBD’s popularity is that consumers can reap health benefits from the cannabis plant without the high you would experience from smoking the stuff. So it’s totally safe, even for granny. Nordic Oil is a Spanish company that ships across Europe within 7 days.
For a calm home office
Working from home is not going anywhere next year (excuse the pun), so items for the home office make popular Christmas gifts for him and her. Here’s a few ideas.
The perfect weekly planner for a clear head
I bought this sturdy A4 size weekly planner for myself recently and it is great. You don’t have to print it out like many others on Etsy, it comes ready in the post and is backed with cardboard. You can create a clear layout of your tasks for the week, while it also leaves space for private appointments and other commitments. The weekly planner costs £9.00, a great Christmas gift for 2020 and you’ll sure make someone (or yourself) very happy. For more options (or US based, if you need something closer to home), check out these planners on Etsy too.
A wooden laptop stand
With everyone working from home this year, sore shoulders, arms and wrists are on the rise. Working long hours on a laptop is not ideal health wise and investing in a laptop stand to raise the screen is important. With a separate screen and mouse your work station becomes a lot more ergonomic. Find this one and other gorgeous handmade natural wooden laptop stands on Etsy. They sure make a good and thoughtful Christmas gift.
Gifts to keep healthy
If we’ve learned anything this year, is that we need to look after our immune system the best we can. That means eating healthily, exercising more and generally doing more wholesome stuff than scrolling down your Facebook feed and getting all worked up about the state of the world. If we keep fit and healthy, we have little to fear from any virus.
Organic gardening starter kit
Even if you only have a balcony, you can start a little garden. Use pots, baskets, trays and start growing your own herbs, vegetables, salad leafs and more. It’s nurturing for the soul and nourishing for your body. This organic gardening kit by small UK based business Wyld Bank contains: 78 open-pollinated seeds, a ‘How to Guide’ on growing and seed saving, hemp twine, six pretty muslin seed bags, notebook and pencil, six plant labels and a mini illustration of the picture on the cottage garden box. Oh, and apparently also a little surprise on opening. At £15.00 this sounds like a great Christmas gift to me.
Gifts for better sleep
Sleep is super important for healing, moods, concentration and keeping a strong immune system. Let’s invest in great sleep this coming year, starting with the best pillow. And pillows are no longer just reserved for your head; neck pillows, knee supports, front sleeping pillows and body pillows, there are many pillows to help you find the most comfortable position to rest in. Check out Kally Sleep, for the best solutions for getting quality sleep.
And when you get up…time for a wholesome, healthy breakfast in some beautiful bowls made of coconut shells. Each of these coconut bowls are crafted from a real coconut shell. They are 100% natural, safe, ecological, and environmentally friendly. Find more coconut bowl sets on Etsy.
Eco-friendly Yoga wear
Support a small UK business and buy your beloved yogi a natural rubber yoga mat, free from PVC. Make it into a beautiful gift set and add some matching eco-friendly yoga wear, in material made from recycled plastic bottles. Super luxurious soft fabric, blended with spandex. High-waisted fit for maximum comfort. Check out the yoga wear collection from Planet Warrior.
How long have we been in this crazy situation now? Right. Since March. And we’ve seen it all, haven’t we? I know everybody is trying their best to keep the virus at bay, or they are just implementing what they’re told, but some rules make you wonder about people’s sanity. And I mean common sense here. I want to share some things that just made me laugh. I mean, can you imagine your reaction if we had told you during summer 2019, that we would be all be walking around like surgeons this year? Not being able to hug our grandma, being fined for going out after midnight and getting excited about a new face mask in a fancy pattern? It’s bonkers! It’s mad! We got to laugh, right, or else we’d be crying. Keep up the good spirits, folks, we’re all in this together. What’s the most ridiculous rule you have come across this year?
Disinfecting the streets
Maybe it’s a Spanish thing, but I am truly amazed by the obsession of this country to spray bleach across the asphalt. Perhaps they did this before the pandemic, but they’ve certainly ramped it up this year. And people actually want this! They send angry letters to the council to tell them they want their pavement disinfected, because god forbid; germs. I’m not sure about you guys, but I don’t generally go around licking and touching roads. And have you heard of anyone getting covid from a wheely bin? Me neither.
The 1-mile pool walk
It was August and it was HOT here in Spain. We don’t have a pool, so off we trotted with the kids down to the local communal open air swimming pool one afternoon. On arrival, they asked me for 1) my proof of appointment and 2) all our ID cards. After a 10-minute admin stint, we got in. Stop! Held at gun point! Well, thermometer gun point. All good. Shoes had to go through the sanitizer mat, hands gelled, and we entered. Phew.
Then came step two. They did a good job splitting the artificial grass up into squares with red and white tape, and made it clear to us that we had to stick to our little private patch. No problem, all good. The boys jumped in and splashed around. Oh! Child one needed the toilet. Face mask back on, and off he went. On the way back, however, there was absolutely no way he was allowed to just quickly run back to our grassy patch a few steps away from the toilet block. There were arrows to follow, señora! Poor kid had to turn right, and walk a rather long and pretty ridiculous circular route around the whole of the pool, in bathing costume, but with a face mask on, to finally arrive back at base. Because god forbid he may have passed someone on the way, in the fresh air, with a face mask on. Because that never happens in the street, right? No point at complaining. Rules are rules, especially in Spain.
The taped off toilet cubicles
Social distancing. An important technique to stop a virus from spreading and drilled into each one of us this year. But can anybody please explain to me how a virus could spread through the partition wall of a toilet cubicle? It truly baffles me, each time I see a queue of people waiting for a row of toilets, because every second cubicle has been closed off. Surely we’re all more at risk gathering in a narrow corridor? You tell me. We can all sit beside each other on the bus or metro without partitions, but clearly toilets are a danger zone.
Booking a time slot at the zoo
Sounds good, I thought! I hate crowds with a vengeance, and a dedicated time slot to avoid those sounded like a perfect solution to me. I imaged a nice, relaxing day ahead of me with the kids; wandering around in peace, watching the giraffes, the elephants, the meerkats, with very few people there. Only, they forgot to kick out visitors who had booked for the 10am slot, and so they were all still there at 2pm. So there we were, standing in a bloody queue for the gorillas. Not sure who looked more grumpy, me or those gorillas who clearly also had enough of endless hordes of visitors. Hundreds of people, being squeezed through narrow pathways to catch a glimpse of an animal, all for the price of €23 a ticket and a pretty pointless exercise of trying to limit crowds by offering time slots. I had a large glass of wine that evening. I have since learnt that the zoo got sanctioned for not taking enough care that particular bank holiday weekend. Oops, zoo.
Shoulder to shoulder on a plane
I know, I know, I didn’t have to risk it. I didn’t have to get on a plane. But not seeing my parents since last winter was becoming too painful, so I flew solo across to the Netherlands for a few days to be with them. Just me. The airport was very quiet. No queues, easy security control, pleasant first leg of the journey, it was a breeze! “Please wear your mask, keep 1.5m distance at all times”. All pretty doable. Until we got on the plane, that was. Fully booked. Not a seat empty. So there I sat, jammed in a seat next to a total stranger for two hours and twenty minutes. People in front of me, behind me, across the aisle. At least my neighbour took protection very seriously and was wearing two face masks. And then, 45 minutes later, the stewardess came round with refreshments and all masks were hungrily removed at once. Hmmm, coffee! Luckily the air on an aircraft gets refreshed every six minutes. They even say it is much cleaner than the air in restaurants, bars, stores, or your best friend’s living room. OK. We can breathe.
Nose against the football fence
Football matches are without audiences this year, stadiums are weirdly empty. This is no different for the local village team playing their Saturday game. Seats are taped off, nobody is allowed to watch inside the club’s playing field. However, you can’t keep the Spanish away from a good match, and so they found the perfect solution; they can watch it all through the fence, can’t they! So there they stand, whole (masked) families, shoulder to shoulder, snacks in hand, looking through the tall chicken wire fence of the football field, shouting at the players. At least the sports centre can claim they are following the rules.
Closure of play grounds
I was hoping that by now there would be enough evidence across the world to show that children under 12 hardly pose a risk of infection at all. Whenever there is a class quarantined, it’s nearly always because a teacher has covid. None of the pupils catch it in class. Because of wearing a face mask? Nah. I doubt it. You can’t tell me that a 6-year-old is protected from the virus by a wet, dirty piece of cotton strapped in front of his mouth, that he also touches regularly throughout the day while cuddling all his classmates. I am waiting eagerly for the news that my kids can go to school without a face mask on for eight hours a day. Anyway, different topic.
The play grounds in Valencia city have been closed for two months now. It’s the saddest sight ever, those tied up swings and red and white tape around a climbing frame. However, most neighbouring towns kept them open. Why? No idea. The play areas in our municipality are open, but the ones in the town that borders it, are not. Plenty of families in our school come from the neighbouring town. Are you seeing the logic? Because I don’t.
Follow the arrows in an empty museum
Why museums are closed in many countries, is beyond me. Unless you are wanting to visit Rembrandt’s finest in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, you are likely to wander around large airy rooms by yourself or a handful of others, with plenty of space to ‘social distance’. Here in Valencia, the galleries are open right now, and I treated my creative eldest son to an ‘art date’ with mummy this weekend. We went to the modern art museum and entered gallery number 1 where we were greeted by a guard, explaining the lay of the land. “Please follow the arrows and stay in your half of the room, and on the way back you will see the other half.” Alright. The gallery consisted of three large spaces. There were literally five people in it. But hey, rules, right.
I know these constitutions and organisations all try to do their bit, but I have raised many an eyebrow the past eight months. I wish we were all being drilled about the importance of taking vitamin D, about staying mentally sane and physically healthy, so we have strong immune systems and can fight off all viruses. The emphasis is so much on following arrows and disinfecting streets, rather than what you can do yourself to prevent disease in the first place. I am not anti-mask just now (even though it’s uncomfortable) nor anti-vax for vulnerable people, once it becomes available. But, blimey.
The world has gone mad this year, and people are becoming suspicious of one another, even reporting each other for not following rules, to the extend of ‘online shaming them’ in local Facebook groups. People are scared of germs, and petrified of visiting their relatives, even in the open air, in case they “kill granny”. Meanwhile, granny is deteriorating alone in her nursing home, longing to see a loved one after another endless, quiet day at the tail end of her life. I sincerely hope we will soon see the end of this madness and start looking after ourselves and each other again, in a normal, healthy way. By all means, keep washing your hands and stop snogging strangers you just met on Tinder, but just calm down and keep the perspective. This too shall pass. Stay sane.
So you walk into a charity shop or second hand store or you inherit an old chair from your grandmother and have grand visions of it looking totally cool in a new piece of fabric. But it can be a bit daunting, the prospect of doing it yourself – if you even have the skills – or finding someone to do it for you. What fabric is suitable and what will look nice? And what to choose so you will still like it in a few years time, rather than a quick funky makeover that you might only like for a little while?
A vintage Lloyd Loom chair I transformed for a customer, using Farrow and Ball paint and a gorgeous piece of purple and grey patterned fabric.
I have revamped a number of chairs for customers and to sell in the shop. In some cases I did it totally myself (the more straight forward type of seat) or I would come up with the design and hand the actual job over to a professional upholsterer. It is amazing to see a smelly and tatty old chair being transformed into a fabulously stylish piece. My advice? Go for it. There are just a few things to keep in mind.
Pros and cons of doing upholstery yourself
There are pros and cons for both tackling a project like this yourself or getting someone else to do it. If you are on a tight budget and have lots of time, then it might be worth-wile learning how to do it yourself. It will be a fantastic achievement and something to be really proud of. On the other hand, especially when you have little patience, some things are better left to people who make a great job of it and spend that bit extra to get the result you are after. After all, ask yourself how much you would spend on a new chair in a high street store. Probably not even of the solid quality of your old vintage find.
For a more complicated vintage wing back chair I selected the fabric and designed the new look and asked a professional to reupholster it for me. I painted the feet in a graphite chalk paint to match the fabric.
The cost of professional upholstery
People are sometimes surprised by the cost of getting a chair reupholstered. Yes, it probably costs as much as buying a new chair, unless you simply go for slip covers and do a quick makeover. It is a mistake to think that just by buying a second-hand chair that needs new covers, you are going to save lots of money. Apart from the amount of time and material it takes to bring a chair back to life, it’s not about saving money really. It should be regarded as a different, far more interesting and exciting option. Plus you are saving something from being thrown away by giving it a new lease of life. How cool is that?
Here’s a quick comparison of doing it yourself versus handing the job over to someone else:
Doing it yourself:
Pros: you will be learning/practising new skills, potentially saving some money, get a feeling of great achievement and have a fab creative project to work on.
Cons: it will probably take you a long time to do, it is quite technical when trying to tackle a big chair such as a wing back. You may not get the professional looking result you were aiming for.
Paying a professional:
Pros: they know what they are doing, using the right materials (fire retardant etc) and make your chair look amazing. They have the knowledge and expertise to advice on fabrics. They work a lot faster than you!
Cons: it is more costly than doing it yourself.
An old rocking chair I revamped using Ikea fabric, which is now living in the Dell of Abernethy holiday accommodation in the Cairngorms!
Choosing fabric for upholstery projects
When choosing fabric for an a chair or sofa, make sure it is suitable for upholstery. For smaller seats such as kitchen chairs it is OK to use curtain material or fabric you would use for making cushions, but for the bigger chairs it needs to be suitable for upholstery and fire retardant. If in doubt, just ask a specialist fabric retailer.
There are of course millions of fabrics to choose from and it is totally up to you whether you want to go wild and patterned or choose a more classic and timeless fabric such as plain wool. I love the furnishing fabrics at Ikea. They are fun and inexpensive and most are suitable for (light) upholstery. Ideal for a quick makeover of kitchen chairs or box cushion seats. John Lewis also has some great fabrics, ranging from around £11 per meter for some of their printed cottons to well over £50 per meter for a quality wool. Keep in mind that for a wing back chair you will probably need around six meters of fabric, so the fancier your material, the more costly your project.
I love the fabrics by Scion (Harlequin), which come in fabulous graphic patterns. This is Scion Axis Tangerine.
Other sources for finding fabric I have used are good old eBay (you can often find some good value remnants of wool, linen and other quality materials) and Fabric Rehab, a great website with beautiful patterned fabrics, which you will love if you like the Scandi look like me. Always try and get a sample if you can when buying online, to prevent getting a roll of fabric that is not what you were after. Webbing and foam
Mid century armchairs, including those made by Ercol, often have rubber Pirelli webbing rather than traditional webbing, which is fairly easy to replace, using the metal clips that come with it. The rubber straps are quite costly, so make sure you measure up how much you need before ordering. Pirelli webbing can be found on eBay or online shops specialised in upholstery. Furniture from the 1950s and 60s also often has foam blocks inside the seats (as supposed to horsehair filling used in traditional, antique furniture), so this is another thing that is pretty straight forward to replace. You can get foam in various thicknesses and density. For an armchair seat I usually buy a 4″ thick block, for a kitchen chair 1″ or 1.5″ is often enough. A useful website to buy foam from I find is Easyfoam.
Two Pirelli webbing projects I tackled myself: a small sofa and an armchair
Paint or strip wooden seat frames?
Then there is the question of what to do with the woodwork. Strip it, paint it, leave it the way it is? I stripped a chair once (see picture below) and it was a LOT of work. I was super pleased with the result, yes, but it is not something I would want to tackle every week. Still, much better than the horrible shiny mahogany stain it had before. Painting is an option if you really don’t like the look of the wooden frame, but if it is a nice oak or teak then it is best to just give it a good oil or wax and polish and it will look just fine. (Please don’t ever ‘Annie Sloan‘ a mid century piece!)
A £12 vintage find at an auction, stripped bare to a beautiful light wood, oiled and reupholstered in a black Marimekko fabric.
Conclusion? A revamped vintage chair is money and time well spent. A chair with a story to tell beats any mass produced seat any day. Whether you do it yourself or ask a professional to do it for you, the choice is yours. You will have a unique statement chair for years to come, that’s for sure.
Get beautiful slip covers for your Ikea furniture
If you fancy a makeover of an old chair you bought from Ikea, you may want to check out Rockin Cushions, a small US based business, designing and making lovely slip covers for many popular Ikea chairs and sofas.
As a big fan of sustainable design, reducing landfill and creative upcycling, I was excited to recently speak to Michelle from Rockin Cushions, in Los Angeles. Michelle contacted me to collaborate, and I was very keen to feature her on my blog. Her creative buzz, amazing ideas and energy are contagious. I asked her about her business and plans for the future. Slip cover vending machines at Ikea, being one of them! Let’s hear more about her work.
Beautiful solutions for ‘disposable’ furniture
Michelle, tell us about your business. What is it you make?
I design and manufacture slip covers for IKEA furniture. The fabrics I choose focus on current decor trends, such as Scandinavian, Farmhouse, Boho Chic, etc. We fill the gap between buying a new upholstered piece of furniture and the current IKEA cover offerings. We hope that a new slip cover will save your “disposable” piece of furniture ending up in landfill. I feel strongly about reducing waste and with my covers I aim to offer people a very easy and affordable way to stay current without a big financial commitment.
What is your background? Have you always been creative?
My parents immigrated to Australia from South Africa when I was a year old. My dad was a self-taught leather craftsman. I was taught to sew as a child and worked in our family business, which grew into a small manufacturing company in Australia. I studied graphic design and fine arts at University, but was also acting in commercials on the side, and pretty soon the acting became much more interesting. I decided to move to LA to pursue my acting career shortly thereafter.
The old rocking chair that sparked my business
What made you start your Ikea slip cover business?
After moving to LA, I encountered the Fashion District in downtown, and my passion for creating was reignited. There are so many people creating, making, sewing and producing there. It is really inspiring. At one point I was given a traditional rocking chair as a gift and decided to make a cushion for it, because I couldn’t find anything I liked. I put my design on Etsy and people really responded positively. The seed was planted. I then started getting a lot of requests for IKEA slip covers, and slowly things grew from there. Eventually about 5 years ago, I decided to ditch the acting and run my business full time.
What do you love most about your work?
I really love to source new fabrics and I definitely have a need to spend a few hours a week creating something. I just started my craft channel on Youtube, which I’m really enjoying. I also love receiving photos from my customers who are really happy with their purchase. That just makes my day.
How do you choose pieces and what is your creative process?
The IKEA pieces I choose to work with are simply the most popular ones. It’s a little tricky taking a chance on something new because you don’t know if it will stay in the catalogue for very long. And it costs a lot of money to create the covers in all the different fabrics, so that’s why I stay safe with the furniture that has been around for decades, such as the Poang and Ektorp sofas. The process is pretty simple – I either copy the original slip cover, or create a new design. My Poang covers for instance has been modified from the original so that it fits all the different Poang cushions universally. After we design the covers, it’s just a matter of getting it into production with all the fabrics we offer.
2020 has been a crazy, but incredible year for business
How has the 2020 lockdown affected your business? Did you have to adapt or work differently?
This year has actually been the most incredible year for me. In April, I made some face masks for healthcare workers and set up a FB donation page. I was interviewed on a local morning show and not only did we raise our donation target, we sold over 30,000 masks in a month. It was the most crazy experience! I was also able to get business funding and some grants, which had been impossible before.
And even though sales have been slower than normal for the slip covers, I’ve been able to focus on my Youtube channel and start a subscription box service, with six (gift) products that have been 100% upcycled from our waste materials, such as table / kitchenware, home decor items, fashion accessories and bags. I really believe there is more opportunity than ever right now for an entrepreneur.
How do you reach your audience, what do you do to promote yourself?
I have a Shopify store and we do email marketing. We’re also on the socials – Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube and we’re about to start live streaming tutorials on Twitch. Content creating is a lot of work, but it’s the new normal for every business right now.
What is your biggest challenge in your business?
Right now I’m targeting the commercial market, such as “IKEA for Business” customers, so finding the right sales people is difficult. I’m not technically in the furniture industry, so I’m working on making those connections. Also cash flow is always a huge challenge. Staying on top of bills etc when times are slow is tough.
What is your next step in your business? Are you looking for world domination?
Lol, yes and no! I would love my brand to live alongside IKEA, I dream of being able to make a significant difference in reducing landfill. I have a crazy idea of having Rockin Cushions vending machines in the IKEA checkout /warehouse section! Designing covers for furniture rental companies to help keep their products in use for longer, is also something I’d love to be doing. And then I have another dream of hosting a DIY/ home makeover show because it would be so fun! But, at the end of the day, I really just want to have a financially secure future and time to do things I love.
Rockin Cushions is based in LA, United States. They also ship internationally, mostly to the UK, Europe, Australia. They support the non-profit DAYS FOR GIRLS by donating fabric and participating in sewing workshops in LA to produce menstrual kits to girls in developing countries, many of whom would otherwise not be able to attend school.
I am not a patient mother. I am also not an attachment parent and have never been a dedicated stay-at-home mum. My kids mean the world to me, but I also value my own freedom. A lot. And sometimes the two clash a little, especially when I am busy. Mum-guilt! I end up raising my voice, losing my temper, saying things I regret later. I know when children play up, it’s mostly because they want your attention, but some days I just don’t have the energy. I am only human. Do I sound familiar? Still, children do not always recognise that mum still loves them, even though she gets angry or impatient with them. How do you explain unconditional love to a sensitive child?
My eldest boy, nearly nine, is a worrier. He has always been a little nervous and anxious about things. On the surface he is a very active, happy and social boy, and he easily makes friends. He is not shy, is very creative and gets on with most people. But at home, he tells me he worries. About whether his writing is good enough, whether he looks OK and if we love him enough. “Mr Worry is bothering me again”, he says.
Figuring out the meaning of relationships
At this age, he is very much figuring out emotions, friendships, family relationships – and the meaning of love. He is especially confused about the difference between ‘liking someone’ and ‘loving someone’. I had to explain several times that I may not like his behaviour when he misbehaves, but I will always love him, no matter what. He worries about many things, but lately he worries that mummy will stop loving him when he is naughty. It breaks my heart to think he would even doubt my love for him, so I knew I had to come up with something.
How do you get through to a child with such anxiety? Where do these feelings come from? Is it my own fault? Does he need more guidance? It’s not as if we don’t show him affection at home. We cuddle him, play with him, spend time with him, read to him. Does he need more of it? Surely I don’t need to tell him I love him every 5 minutes? Or do I? His younger brother doesn’t show any of these insecurities, instead is cool as a cucumber, and very independent. The eldest one wants reassurance ALL. THE. TIME. How do you deal with that without going nuts? Oh, parenting, it ain’t easy, is it.
My love is a permanent marker
Last night, the worry was back. “I just think that you won’t love me any more in the future and I’m worried about that”, he said in tears. The boys were both in bed, it was about 9pm, and I was about to do the bedtime stories. I sat next to him, held him close and dried his tears. “Mummy loves you always” I told him, “That will never change. My love for you is permanent, it will always stay, even when you’re a grown-up. I will love you until the end of my life, I promise”, I told him, and of course ended up getting all tearful myself. “You mean, like a permanent marker?” he replied, obviously trying to make sense of the word ‘permanent’. “Yes, sweetie, like a permanent marker. It never rubs off. It will always stay on.” What a brilliant metaphor I thought! “So just remember, being angry, worried or scared is only like writing in pencil. You can rub it out, those feelings don’t stay forever.” He looked at me and smiled. “And mummy’s love you can’t rub out.”
This Monday morning we were rushing as usual, trying to make it in time for the school breakfast. Mr Worry was back. “Will we be late mummy, will we miss breakfast? Will we be late mummy, are we late?” my son kept asking in a panic. Normally I snap at him, telling him to stop asking the same questions over and over again, because surely I already told him it was going to be OK and can he please just be quiet. Today I stopped in the middle of the pavement, looked at his face and asked him:”Do you just need some more permanent marker on your cheeks, sweetie?” “Yes”, he smiled, quietly. I held him, covered his face in kisses, and he was happy. I squeezed his hand tightly as we walked into the school playground, calmly, and lovingly.
A lot of us have been hit by the 2020 crisis. The pandemic made many lose their jobs and thousands of employees are still on furlough, not knowing when they can go back. As a freelance content writer I too lost big clients this year and suddenly my income was cut in half. I had to think hard and really up my game online, or else it would hardly be worth continuing. I have now started increasing my income, just by using some of the tips below – and I am exploring others too. As I know many of you are in the same boat right now, I am sharing some ideas to maybe inspire you to start your own online business and become your own boss. Being your own boss is ace, I fully recommend it!
Do you believe earning money online is not for you? You can do this too, I promise. Here is how you can start your own online side hustle or business, even if you have never done this before. You could take your job everywhere, if you work online.Imagine the freedom!
What skills or expertise could you start monetising?
You may have done a boring office job for the past ten years, but everyone has skills that they could pass on in an e-course, an e-book or a blog. Think outside the box. Be creative. You may know exactly how to organise your week, house, and plan meals. Do you know how many women feel overwhelmed by clutter? Perhaps you are an absolute star at sewing, DIY or money management.
And don’t think that just because you’ve been a school teacher, you could only ever stand in front of a classroom. You will have built up valuable expertise, and perhaps have developed your own unique way of teaching kids to read or do maths. Don’t keep this to yourself. We want to hear about it!
There is space for everyone online
If you could share your insider knowledge or are very passionate about something, there sure will be a captive audience out there. “Oh, but there are so many others already doing this“, I hear you say, “Why on earth would anyone want to buy my course, e-book or read my website?” Don’t worry, there is space for all of us. The world is your oyster. And your knowledge is worth sharing.
Try and make a list of all the things you care about, know about or are very interested in. Business coaching, healthcare, party planning, cake decorating, hiking routes, mindfulness, fitness regimes, vegan living, upcycling. Anything. You will quickly discover topics that may be suitable to turn into a way of earning money online.
I always thought you had to be a ‘proper’ author to publish a book, any book, also an e-book. Turns out it is easier than ever to make a professional looking e-book. And you can earn money online by selling them. Designrr is one of those online software programmes that lets you create professional looking e-books from your existing blog posts, or you can design a book from scratch.
Making an e-book is a great way to pass on your specific knowledge to a worldwide audience. The more ‘niche’ the better. If people are searching for something online, your e-book will come up, if you use the right keywords. Do you know lots about fermenting vegetables and making kombucha? There is bound to be an international audience out there, searching for this on Google. Am I giving you ideas yet?
With Designrr you can simply pick a template, insert stock photos from their editor, or upload your own, and start writing. Check out their special offer of $27 for lifetime access to the standard system. Pay a bit more for the $97 pro package and you’ll get additional features, including publishing straight onto Amazon Kindle and other book selling platforms.
A natural result of the pandemic lockdown has been that many people worldwide are spending a lot more time online. New online stores and businesses are popping up all the time. This also means that entrepreneurs need blog content, help with IT stuff, accounting, videos, social media and marketing advice, graphic design, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), sound engineering, you name it.
If you happen to have those skills, or are willing to learn, you can easily start finding clients on platforms like Fiverr or Upwork. Just register, create a good-looking profile, show off your experience or portfolio, and start attracting clients. I have recently got new long-term paying clients just by promoting myself on these sites. You can also find freelancers to help you build your own business of course.
Online courses are a big winner this year and not likely to leave the stage soon. What better way than learning about something new from the comfort of your own home? Got a skill? Start teaching online! If you get nervous about videos, like me, then creating educational podcasts may be a more comfortable idea. Just voice, no face! I discovered Listenable recently, and they offer bite-size audio lessons of about 5 minutes each, in a series of up to 10 lessons in total. You could do that! Record 10 lessons (you could even record them on your mobile phone!) about something you are passionate about, and start getting paid for it. Browse their audio courses to get an idea of topics.
If you are interested in a Listenable subscription to benefit from the hundreds of audio courses yourself, I am able to offer you an exclusive 30% readers discount code on the annual Listenable membership. 30% DISCOUNT CODE: ninaeggens
Create an online course with Teachable
If you are comfortable creating videos and tutorials yourself, you may want to look at Teachable as a way to earn money online. Many artists and makers now offer online courses to earn additional income. On Teachable, like with the audio courses, courses range from business and marketing techniques to making sourdough bread and everything in between. People search for lots of weird and wonderful topics and you can offer them just what they need. Prices start at $29 for the Basic plan, so you can start creating your course.
You could also start a blog, and fill it with informative, useful articles about a certain topic, and include affiliate links to relevant products or services. A bit like what I am doing right now in this blog post: I tell you about the different platforms you could explore to make money online, and if you decide to click on one of the links and pay for those services on the partner’s website, I receive a commission.
Earn money while you sleep
Yeah, right, earning money while you sleep sounds way too good to be true. Well, it’s not a complete lie! Affiliate marketing can be very lucrative, but only if you choose a partner company that offers a high commission rate and you make sure you use the right keywords in your copy so you get found online. It takes time to put it all together and to fill your website with quality content. You may also need to pay for a domain name, a website and payment features. But once your site is attracting plenty of traffic, you can literally take a step back and receive your passive income while you are spending time on the beach. Sounds good, right?
Blogs about beard oil and baby clothes
Other than promoting professional online services, like I am doing in this blog post, you could promote physical products to your niche audience too. Perhaps you have a blog about crafts. Then you can choose to be an affiliate for craft products. Or cooking equipment. Travel items. Beard oil. Baby clothes. Etc. Etc. Etsy, Amazon and Ebay are big platforms you could become an affiliate for and you can pick and choose products you love. If you have a blog with enough quality content, you can also apply to become an affiliate through Awin, which allows you to join hundreds of specific well-known brands. That way you can fully tailor-make what you want to promote, what you like promoting and what suits your niche business. Try it! What have you got to lose?
Need help with a website or content?
If you are taking the plunge to build your own online business, don’t hesitate to contact me if you need well written SEO content, blog articles or product descriptions. You can contact me here on the Nina’s Apartment blog with questions or have a look at my Fiverr profile.
Whatever your reason to want to be moving to Valencia, Spain, it is an exciting plan that equally causes plenty of stress and worry. That is why you are looking for blogs and information online! Well, I won’t claim I know it all, but I am one of those people who took the leap and jumped! We moved to Valencia from the UK at the start of 2018, and we have not regretted it.
Buy the brand new E-book Moving to Valencia, Spain with children
Your must-have guide!
> 46 pages of useful tips about schools, neighborhoods, healthcare and what to expect, when moving to Valencia with children. Including a list of international schools and other schools worth checking out.
My brand new 46-page E-book is an excellent place to start, to make you feel a little less insecure and more ready to make your dream reality. As a mother of two young children, who’s gone through the process, I am sharing my knowledge and first-hand experience as an expat in Valencia.
Because really, it all seems impossible….until it’s done!
I receive a lot of emails from people who are thinking of moving to Valencia from the US, or the UK, and are full of questions. Many come as a family with children, so there are obviously a lot of concerns to do with schools and family-friendly neighbourhoods in Valencia and its suburbs. After having lived here now for more than 2.5 years, I have a pretty good idea of what would work best for new arrivals, even if you have never been to Valencia before.
List your criteria
The biggest question is usually: which neighbourhoods in Valencia are good to live in? First: Valencia is a very safe city. It is the third largest city of Spain, with about 800.000 inhabitants in the city itself, but you will quickly know your way around and feel right at home. So no neighbourhood is awful, but there are some that are more attractive than others. And of course, it is very personal. If you come from a big house in the suburbs, then you may find it unappealing to move into a shoebox city flat, and likewise, a city dweller may not like the idea of living in an out-of-town village. Think about what your criteria are as a family in terms of living space. Then compare them to the various neighbourhoods to get a better idea of what would be a good match.
Which neighbourhoods in Valencia Spain have good schools?
Another question I get asked all the time: Where should we live to find a good school for our children? You can read more about schools in Valencia on my blog post Choosing schools in Spain. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to find a good school and neighbourhood in Valencia:
You can’t apply for a public or semi-private school if you have no address
You can of course select a school and try and find a home nearby
It is common for schools to be full. The ayuntamiento or district council, will then have to find you an alternative school closest to your address
It is advisable to visit schools in advance to get an idea. Schools are very personal and what suits one expat, doesn’t suit another.
It is very common to change schools here in Spain, so don’t worry if you change your mind after a year
It is a good idea to rent an Airbnb for a month on arrival and explore neighbourhoods and schools while you are here
Official school applications always happen in May, but you can get in throughout the year if there is a place
Most out-of-town private and semi-private schools have bus transport arranged from the city centre
The 11 km riverbed that was developed in the 1980s as a green park surrounding the city centre, is one of the best features of Valencia. If you base yourself near to it, you’ll always have access to a fantastic outdoor space for your daily exercise, play park visits and picnics with friends. There are cycle paths all along the park, that eventually lead you to the beach. It is lovely, year-round. Different sections with different flowers and trees, cultural buildings, fountains, sports fields and midie15th century bridges. Plus, the wonderful iconic Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias, at the very end, together with the biggest aquarium of Europe: Oceanogràfic. If you are looking to meet other expats quickly, you can find numerous exercise classes by English-speaking teachers on weekdays all through the park.
The list of different neighbourhoods of Valencia, Spain.
Good city centre neighbourhoods in Valencia
Russafa Often called the hipster neighbourhood of Valencia, Russafa (or Ruzafa, in the Valencian spelling), is a lively area, just south of the historic centre.
El Carmen If you want to live amongst pretty old buildings, ancient towers and windy old streets, and hear the cathedral bells, El Carmen is the place to be.
Ensanche The posh brother of Russafa, Ensanche lies right beside it, and centers around the beautiful market building of Mercado de Colon.
Cabanyal The now pretty much gentrified old fishing village, right on the beach, is characterized by its colourful tiled facades and little bars in side streets.
Arts and Sciences If you prefer bright, modern and comfortable over characterful and old, you may want to look at the areas around the City of Arts and Sciences.
Which towns and suburbs around Valencia are good for families?
Now this will make the whole search area a lot bigger of course. Many expats choose to live in the suburbs or towns within a 30-minute drive of the city, and many go north because of where schools are located. International and private schools in Valencia are more easily accessible if you live in these areas, although most schools provide bus transport from the city centre as well.
La Eliana For some a bit too far out, for others the perfect place to live La Eliana, just off the CV35 road to Lliria. It is a nice, quite large, town about 30 minutes drive from Valencia. It does have a metro connection too.
Godella/Rocafort/Campolivar I live in this area and I think it offers the best of both worlds: just 10 mins on the metro to the city centre, but still with a very village-y feel. There are lots of schools dotted around here, ranging from public, to Catholic concertados, to English private schools and everything in between.
La Canyada This is a quiet residential are, or urbanización, mostly consisting of villas with pools and gardens. There are international schools nearby and it has a metro station.
Patacona Perhaps not the ideal location connection-wise (it has no metro station – but it does have a bus), but it is my favourite beach.
Monasterios This urbanización is about 30 minutes out from Valencia, but located in a very pretty spot, just at the foot of the mountains of La Calderona. The American School of Valencia is located within the urbanización, and it is therefore quite a popular area among expats.
A good bit of advice? Order a large map, stick it on the wall and pin your short list areas on it. Knowing the map will make you feel you know the area, before you have even moved here.
The face mask. The awful face mask. It has become a staple in our household now, here in Spain, and I am washing more masks than bras these days. No, I can’t say I’m a fan. But hey-ho, nothing is permanent, and this too shall pass. So while we can think of enough negatives around wearing a face mask, such as feeling claustrophobic, getting a skin rash and just looking rather unattractive, we forget about the benefits of wearing one. Number one, of course, you have less chance of catching or spreading a virus. Obviously. Are there any others, you may ask. Oh yes, there are! I found seven. Let’s look at the bright side.
1. You don’t have to speak to people
Yes, I am speaking to you, introvert! I bet you secretly would want to wear that face mask all the time from now on, when going outside. If you have children, you know that feeling at 9am, when you drop off the kids at school and you have dozens of parents greeting you and you feel obliged to make small talk before you have even had a coffee. Just. No. Or that feeling when you are minding your own business doing the grocery shopping and your overly chatty neighbour spots you in the bread aisle. No longer, folks! That face mask makes you incognito. Combine it with a hat and sunglasses and you could rob a bank without anyone even recognising it’s you.
2. No more cold noses
It’ll be winter soon and that means freezing noses! So many times I have wondered why there wasn’t a solution for having a cold nose in winter. I mean, we put on hats, gloves, ear muffs, scarfs. But noses, no, they stay out in the cold. No more! Knit yourself a thick woolly face mask or cut one out of fleece material and your nose will be toasty warm.
3. You save on makeup
I hardly put on makeup these days, wearing a face mask. Especially combined with sunglasses, there is really no point. The only thing I use is a moisturiser in the morning. Saves a lot of time and money!
4. But…you could really go to town on the lashes
I now understand women in some Arabic countries who wear the full hijab. Have you ever noticed how gorgeous their eyes are? If you only see the eyes above a face mask, you may as well make them pop. Saving on lipstick means you have spare cash for a high quality mascara or a set of falsies.
5. You can play ninjas
OK, this is only if you are 6 years old and love being a superhero. I did find myself tapping into my inner child though, when going outside with my two little boys, who immediately pulled up their hoodies and starting doing kicks, shouting ‘Wayaaaa!’. Face masks are instant ninja outfits. Do you know the mobile game Clumsy Ninja? It’s fun.
6. No more stinky breaths
Standing in the metro next to someone whose breath could kill. Been there, done that. Ugh. Face masks have a little perk of taking the edge off smells. Stinky breaths, pissy alleyways, full bins in the heat of summer. Not a bad thing for a happy life. Sure, you’ll also miss the nice smells like fresh flowers or pine trees, but just head into the woods on the weekend without a face mask on and you’ll get your fair share.
7. You don’t have to kiss strangers
No matter how I love the Spanish culture and custom of hugging and kissing each other all the time (hence the high infection rate no doubt), I am not a big fan of kissing a total stranger two times on the cheek when being introduced. Yes, it is air kissing, but still. Wearing a face mask? You’re safe! We’re not kissing now anyway, it’s elbow bumping. I’m OK with elbow bumping.