“My family has a history of recycling,” says Debra Miller of Tribeca Upholstery & Draperies, a fixture in Tribeca for more than two decades. “My uncle started the first recycling center in my hometown of Torrington, Connecticut. I look at this as being like recycling. It’s rewarding to fix up family heirlooms or pieces that people are simply attached to.” Miller prides herself on the close attention every job receives. “We do our own work on-site and maintain high attention to detail with quick turnaround. A lot of bigger chain businesses often produce jobs with mistakes and lower quality. Many other people don’t oversee their work like I do, with me being in the showroom.”
How did you get into this business?
Do you want the long version or the short version? After five years of being in the printing business, I didn’t want to work in an office anymore. I took classes in sewing, decoupage, and race-car driving, and I thought to myself, Which one can I make a career out of? I quit my day job and started working nights at restaurants. A friend wanted a slipcover, so I learned by watching a guy do it. I was staying home in the East Village [she now lives on Charlton], making slipcovers, when I decided to try to apprentice with an upholsterer—which led to finding out about a trade school in Long Island City. After that, I was really in business. Then people started asking if I could do drapes….
When did you open this studio?
Getting furniture up and down five flights of stairs was hard, to say the least, so I sublet some space from an Italian upholsterer in the West 20s. When I had trouble with something, he helped me with it. Then I shared a basement space on Duane with another upholsterer, followed by six months upstairs there, before getting a lease on Reade in 1989. Twenty-six years ago! [UPDATE: It has since moved to Broadway and Franklin.]
What are you known for?
We do high-end residential custom upholstery, draperies, and slipcovers. We take on jobs both large and small, for interior decorators and architects as well as for clients who don’t have a designer. We also make new furniture from architectural drawings, and we repair woodwork and furniture.
Most expensive or complex project?
I did some museum-quality chairs that were probably worth $100,000 each. I regularly work with fabric that’s upward of $300 a yard.
Where does the furniture in the window come from?
I spent many years making yard sale trips to Connecticut on weekends and looking for street pieces in the city. I still do a bit of it. (I love yard sales.) But now I mostly put fabric and a lot of remnants outside.
Tell me a good customer story.
When I was starting out, I did the backseat of a friend’s Rolls-Royce in canvas, for his dogs.