Revival of the Fittest Furniture
WORDS Byron Beck PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden
Leland Duck is inspired by the past; so much so that it influences much of what he does today. At his NoPo-based Revive Designs and Upholstery, which he owns and operates with his wife, Duck specializes in heirloom furniture, including vintage re-upholstery, mid-century antique commercial design and bespoke product. Portland Interview’s Magazine spoke with the Wyoming-born designer about his passion for places for “people to sit” and here’s what he had to say.
When did you fall in love with furniture and furnishings?
Antiques were where it started for me. I’m a history buff at heart and always enjoyed period-correct restorations. My grandparents lived in a beautiful Craftsman home, so I was surrounded by interesting things from a young age. I used to work at an antique mall in Wyoming while I was going to trade school. I started my furniture buying habit there, (always with the intention of reupholstering—just never had the time) which has followed me ever since.
Do you remember the first item you reupholstered something and why?
My first upholstery project was a motorcycle seat for my dad’s 1977 Harley Davidson. I was in trade school and needed a project, and my dad luckily had enough trust in me to let me upholster his pride and joy.
What do you love about furniture?
It serves a purpose, and there is no right or wrong way to get to that purpose. I like the fact that many different trades can create and collaborate over furniture. And at the end of the day, people always need a place to sit.
Are most people’s furniture worth re-upholstering?
Yes, almost 100-percent of the time. Furniture has a history and a story behind it, especially heirlooms. Plus, if you love a piece of furniture it’s an amazing way to give it a little lift, instead of discarding it for something new that might not be as good.
Isn’t it cheaper to buy new furniture?
Not necessarily, older furniture is usually built to last, that’s why it’s been around for decades. New can be cheaper, but the life span may not be as long, and the environmental cost always takes a toll. People talk a lot about the “Fast Fashion” problem, and I think that we can also say that Fast Furniture is a problem as well. Re-upholstering may not always be the cheapest answer, but it’s a worthy investment.
What is the average life span for a piece of furniture?
A good quality piece of furniture can last a lifetime. However, I would say 20-30 years before requiring reupholstery if good quality materials are used.
How do you help customers understand your process: Is it hard to get people to try something new?
We like to walk our clients through pretty much every stage of the process. One of the most enjoyable parts of reupholstering is being a part of the design. Our clients pick the fabric, pick the feel of the cushions, they choose the little details that they would love. It can be challenging to get people to try new things, but we try really hard to show them our passion which I think really helps people see our final vision.
What comes first in your mind: the fabric or the frame?
Frame dictates the fabric for me, I am always looking for a unique shape or form.
Do you strip the furniture before you recover it?
A good quality restoration starts from the frame up. This gives you the opportunity to assess broken springs, cracks, distress to the webbing and so forth. Our goal is to never recover over anything that will fail over time.
What has been your favorite project and why?
It’s hard to name a favorite in the ten years I have being doing this. My first real design piece will always be in my top 5. It was an army canvas couch that I re-upholstered for my booth display at the Portland Bazaar. We were just starting to create and make our own pieces to sell and it’s a scary thing to do. I poured a lot of myself into that couch, thinking if it didn’t sell, I would be able to take it home – but honestly, we really needed it to sell! I will never forget that Grace Bonney from Design Sponge loved it enough to have it shipped back home with her to NYC. It was crazy, I was shocked and amazed that someone loved something that I made, that I designed and that I really loved as well. It was an amazing moment for me and my wife. It was validation, it was like I was in the right place doing exactly what I should be doing.
How long does a project take from start to finish?
This is all dependent on the project, our current schedule and when fabric or materials are in stock—but we usually say 2-4 weeks is a good rule of thumb. It all comes down to scheduling and my trustworthy team that makes it possible.
What do you do for fun when you are not working on a project?
My favorite thing to do is treasure hunt at any estate/garage/antique sale I can find. I also love spending time with my wife and our shop dog companion, Fozzie. I love to reorganize my garage and play with my countless sewing machines whenever I get the chance.
Is Portland a good city for what you do?
Portland is an amazing city for us. I first started Revive out of my basement, which was great, but it wasn’t entirely practical. Portland was this magical place then, and was creating these amazing maker communities, out of necessity, but they were a fantastic launching pad for new businesses. It was one of these communities, Beam and Anchor, where Revive really started to take off. I will forever be grateful to the people there who helped me get started and allowed me to collaborate and really find my way. I’ve met some of the best people here in Portland and I can’t imagine having started this anywhere else.
If you didn’t end up in your field, what else do you think you might be doing?
I would have liked to work for the National Park Service, or maybe I would have owned a hot rod shop. I do know my retirement plan is an Antique and oddity shop owner, but that’s a long way away.
Does someone need an appointment to meet with you?
Yes, an appointment is always best, that way we can give you our full attention.
Do you pick up and deliver?
We do, although it is an extra cost. We prefer to use trusted courier services, especially for large scale projects.