Walking into Griffin Upholstery at the south end of Noble Street, one gets a feel for history and a bygone era.
A multitude of meticulously refurbished vintage armchairs and sofas adorn the showroom as the sound of an air stapler, a tool that brings worn furniture back to life, echoes one of the backrooms.
Employee Xochitl Norton said every chair is like a piece of history.
“Each chair has its own story, where it has been, where it has lived, who made it, who upholstered it, who carved wood with their hands, how they found wood. There is often so much context to the story of a chair – it could be the 1800s, it could be the 1950s, and you never know who might have been sitting in it, ”Norton said.
Third-generation business owner DeLane Griffin was busy in the back room with Norton and another employee, Silvestre Bautista, nailing, measuring, repairing and evaluating upholstery. In addition to Bautista and Norton, who are full-time, he also employs two people on a part-time basis.
Griffin Upholstery, a mainstay in Anniston for 67 years, was founded by the owner’s grandfather in Moultrie, Georgia.
“He was big at renovating mattresses back then, cotton mattresses, I still have his old cotton gin in the back, there awnings and furniture,” Griffin said.
“After the war he came here, probably in the early 1950s and around 1954, the date that remains in my mind, he had a business on 6th Street here for several years until the late 1970s. , and we had a business until the ’90s, and I came here, I’ve been here for 35 years, “Griffin said. (The curve Griffin refers to is the” hotshot curve “south of Noble Street so that she leans towards the railroad tracks.)
Griffin said refurbishing mattresses was a big thing in the 1940s and 1950s.
“But it got to where, like everything else, mattresses were made cheaper than they could be refurbished. In the 1950s, my God, dad was reworking a mattress, a cotton mattress that was completely hand-sewn, he could remake them for $ 12.50.
A mattress would be collected in the morning from a client.
“My brothers, we were in high school, in college, we were going to pick them up in the summer, they had to be finished, renovated and back home that night, that was his big deal,” Griffin said. “He was a good upholsterer, in the 50s he was, my God there were several big stores, upholstery was a big deal in the 50s and 60s.”
“Back then, cotton beds were used in the summer for sleeping, in the winter you would put the feather bed on top and sleep on it,” he said.
“The mattresses were big back then, my grandfather made awnings, mattresses and upholstery in Moultrie. Dad grew up in this business and then he taught me and my two brothers this to me, my two brothers went to other jobs and I stayed and helped dad in the upholstery business, c ‘It’s all I’ve ever done, ”Griffin said.
Griffin said customers who lived in rural areas would bring their mattresses to his father to have them remade.
“This cotton came out of their cotton fields and they wanted to sleep on their cotton,” Griffin said.
The mattress days are long gone, and today most of Griffin’s bread and butter is stuffed into antique sofas and chairs.
“The only time we’ll make a mattress here, maybe once or twice a year, someone wants an old cotton mattress, me and my brother probably are, I guess they’re the only ones who know how to make them , we made one last year, a lady from Montgomery wanted one for an original antique bed and we did it for her, ”he said.
“In our shop, we’ve always re-upholstered, where everything is stripped down to the frame, the joints are checked, the springs are checked, everything is padded,” Griffin said.
“What we do is upholster furniture, restore furniture, mostly antiques and vintage furniture, modern items,” he continued.
Griffin said that by 1980 furniture makers had gotten pretty good with production.
“One room was built so much cheaper, with pressed lumber and plastic and junk inside, they built them to last three to five years and they could sell it for a certain price,” said Griffin.
“So our work became more personalized, we became more interested in antique furniture and designers and decorators who wanted a certain piece of fabric with a certain look, sometimes we build a custom piece of furniture from sketches,” added Griffin.
Griffin said he custom-made all kinds of furniture, including ottomans and headboards.
Like most businesses, Griffin’s has been affected by the pandemic, but not in a way you would expect.
“Last year has been the best I have ever had; I guess people were sitting at the house and saying, “Well, I waited to decorate, I want to paint my walls”, the people upholstering had all they could do, and that sort of thing ” Griffin said.
But the pandemic has also delayed the flow of tissue, and Griffin said he has a few things overdue.
“This year it has been difficult to get it, you have to wait for it, all the factories were closed last year and they are trying to catch up,” he said.
“What’s made elsewhere, in Southeast Asia, Vietnam or China, it’s all hanging off the coast of California somewhere waiting to get to our fabric distributors,” Griffin said.
Griffin has used many fabrics over the years to renovate furniture, but one of the most expensive fabrics he has ever touched in his shop was rare silk.
“Probably the most expensive piece of fabric I have worked on in the past year was a Schumacher silk that went on an antique sofa. The lady paid $ 325 a meter for it, ”Griffin said.
As a result of the pandemic, prices for fabrics in general have increased.
“Prices are skyrocketing right now,” he said.
Griffin said the normal for the fabric is currently $ 20 to $ 30 per yard.
Tapestries and velvets range from $ 60 to $ 125 per yard, he said.
The most difficult fabric to work with, according to Griffin, is silk, which requires special tension, and cowhide leather.
Much to Griffin’s disdain, this is known as “recycled leather.”
“All that is… is junk; they take old belts and shoes, send them to China, chew them up and thin them out and stick vinyl on them and they call it recycled leather, ”Griffin said.
Griffin said recycled leather does not last at all long compared to genuine leather.
“I got stuck when I remade a bunch of parts for a church because it was highly recommended, 30 parts, three years later, everything was coming off, I had to replace everything”, he said declared.
Griffin said he only sells premium cowhide and leather from the cow.
Compared to recycled leather, Naugahyde lasts up to 20 years.
“It was premium vinyl, every now and then we’ll have a track here, my guys will take the cover off, the back will say ‘US Naugahyde’ on the back, stamped on it. my dad’s name is signed, and the vinyl on it will still be good, ”he said.
Griffin has worked with needles and sewing machines all of his life, but only pricked his finger a few times.
“You only do it once or twice, you’ll stop doing it, you’ll stop sewing on your finger,” Griffin said.
Griffin said his youngest son worked together for a while and eventually opened his own custom furniture store.
Griffin’s other two sons grew up in the trade. Now one is a luthier and the other works elsewhere, but comes in from time to time to help.
Griffin has been told by people all his life that upholstery is a dying profession.
“I don’t think he will ever die because there is always a need for it, the problem is it’s probably like a lot of other manual trades, if the kids can’t do it on the computer, they’re just not interested, “Griffin said.
Tools of the trade were on display in Griffin’s back room. On Monday, he demonstrated a cushion wrapper and how the mechanism works to stuff the cushion fabric.
“Today we’re lucky to have zippers, you can just close them, back in the days when you had to take a curved needle and close it meticulously,” Griffin said, referring to a padded cushion. .
Another major improvement in the upholstery industry was the pneumatic stapler, which uses compressed air to nailing nails, instead of using a tack hammer.
Griffin said he was not an interior designer, although he had previously attended design school.
“I tried this and it wasn’t my bag, what gives you the most pride is having a piece of furniture and you know it’s good and it’s ready to go to the landfill and you go through it and you restore it and you bring it back to life, that’s what gives me the most pleasure, ”Griffin said.