Friday Five Interview: Ollie Clueit
For this edition of our Friday Five interviews, we are really pleased to introduce William Whiteley ambassador, Ollie Clueit. Ollie is a professional upholsterer and expert restorer on Channel 4’s Mend it for Money.
What inspired you to get into the world of upholstery?
In a previous life, I worked in the music industry. I started off in a band myself and then worked in Radio PR, whilst also DJing and running my own club nights, before eventually ending up managing a couple of very successful artists. It was a crazy ride but, after 15 years, I decided it was time for a change. I’d always had an interest in vintage and antiques from a childhood spent being dragged around car boots and antique fairs every weekend and had a dream of one day retiring and running a little shop somewhere. I’d been buying various pieces of furniture and stuff for a few years.
Anyway, after turning my back on the music industry, I also decided to leave London and move to sunny Margate. Margate is full of vintage and antique shops and I realised I needed to do something a bit different, not just buying and selling but restoring in some way to add value to pieces and that’s how I stumbled upon Upholstery. I did a bit of research and just decided to go all in. I found the Upholstery Skills Centre in Essex which was the only place that would allow me to train 5 days a week, so I went for it. I did all 3 stages of the AMUSF course in under a year and qualified with distinction.
As soon as I had qualified, we moved to Margate and I set up a shop and a workshop in a 20ft shipping container in a crazy antique / artist yard called Fort Yard Road. There was an 8ft stuffed bear guard at the entrance and it was a real hub of Margate’s Old Town, filled with a rag tagged band of fantastic furniture dealers, artists and even The Libertines’ Pete Doherty who had the container next door! It’s been 3 years since then and I haven’t stopped working since. The company is growing and we’ve got some great plans for the future!
How did the opportunity to be involved with Mend it for Money arise?
From my time working in the music industry, running a music blog and putting on my own events and gigs, I was always pretty on it when it came to promotion and social media. I’d been growing my Instagram since I started training and it’s now developed into one of the main sources of business coming in.
The guys at Mend It For Money had seen my Instagram and got in touch asking if I was up for potentially being one of the restorers on the show. We had a couple of video calls and I think I impressed them and then it was up to Glasgow to get cracking!
What are your favourite items to re-upholster?
I’m pretty much obsessed with chairs. I have two 40ft containers filled to the brim with them. I love anything from classic French or Victorian pieces, Art Deco/Nouveau. I love and then anything mid-century modern is right up my street.
When I started, I decided I didn’t want to just be upholstering boring chairs with boring uninspiring fabrics so I’ve always tried to work with clients who are up for something a bit different. I love a bold pattern, a splash of colour and really taking a piece to a new level. I’m about to start work on a stunning art deco lounge chair that I’ve had in storage for years for a client who’s decided to go with an amazing zebra print fabric. It’s going to look incredible! I love that mix of classic styling colliding with something new and exciting.
What is your most memorable project?
I’ve been lucky to work on many wonderful pieces. I guess the one that sticks in my mind was one of the first commissions I got after moving to Margate. At Fort Road Yard, they sold an amazing array of ex fairground stuff – signs, lights, parts of rides etc. Joe there had a knackered old waltzer that he wanted to get back into a useable condition. It didn’t even have a floor! I spent a week in the glorious Margate sunshine working out how to get it apart and fix it up, thank god the weather was nice as I couldn’t fit it into my tiny workshop. It turned out looking great and Joe sold it to a customer the next day. Thinking back, I should have charged him a bit more for that job but hey ho!
What are your preferred crafting tools?
As well as a chair addiction, I’ve got a bit of a tool problem too. I’m constantly on the hunt for vintage Upholstery tools – hammers, scissors, webbing stretchers and even old sewing and stitching needles. The old stuff is just made so well, something that has survived 50+ years of heavy use is built to last!
I’ve picked up some lovely pieces, I sourced a 100 year old box full of antique needles and tools that belonged to a German upholsterer which I use all the time. I’ve got a great vintage button press that I found clearing out a retired upholsterer’s garage. One of my favourite pieces, though, are my William Whiteley Shears. I can’t remember where I found them but Andy who’s worked for the company since he was 14 is confident they’re late 50s to early 60s in age from the hand stamped Thomas Wilkinson mark. It looks like the bolt has been replaced over time but I had them cleaned up and sharpened and they are fantastic