Finish Pros
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    By: Finish Pros

    Behind the Scenes at Finish Pros: A Day in the Life of Our Craftsmen

    Introduction to the Team at Finish Pros

    At Finish Pros, we have dedicated our lives to the art of furniture refinishing, repair, and custom upholstery. Our journey began solely in the realm of furniture refinishing and repair, driven by a deep passion for the history of furniture design. In my early 20s, I worked as an appraiser, visiting homes to provide assessments of art and fine furniture. During these visits, I discovered that clients were fascinated by the detailed information I could provide about their pieces. This sparked an interest in not just appraising but restoring and refinishing these beautiful items.

    Over time, clients began entrusting me with their dining sets, bedroom furniture, and occasional tables, seeking refinishing and restoration services. Each piece came with its own story, often believed to be from a certain era or origin. I found great joy in uncovering the true histories of these items and sharing them with their owners. A common scenario involved a client explaining that a particular piece was brought to the United States by a great-great-grandparent in the early 1800s. After some investigation, I would discover that the piece was actually produced in the early 1900s, typically around the New York area. These revelations added immense value to the pieces and deepened their sentimental significance.

    As my reputation grew, so did the requests for refinishing and restoration. I founded Finish Pros to accommodate the increasing demand. Initially, I worked alone, but as the workload increased, I began hiring an incredible team who shared my passion and dedication. In the early 2000s, clients started asking about reupholstery services. I teamed up with a local upholsterer, Bill, who was equally passionate about high-quality workmanship. After working closely together for a year, I invited Bill to join the Finish Pros team permanently.

    Understanding the importance of continuity and having a backup plan, I searched for additional upholsterers. Today, Finish Pros is known not only for expert furniture refinishing and repair but also for custom reupholstery. Our team consists of several master upholsterers, furniture repair technicians, expert finishers, and a support staff of designers and customer service representatives. We are proud to represent the craftsmanship done at our workshop in Raleigh, NC.

    Personal Stories from Our Team

    The team of master upholsterers here at Finish Pros all had different backgrounds. A uniting similarity between all is a mathematical mind, constantly calculating pattern repeats and evaluating compressions of foam and padding. Each was trained by older upholsterers either as apprentices through high school and into their twenties or by working with their fathers and grandfathers. Yes, that’s right, most are either second or third generation upholsterers. Each piece of furniture has different lines, and each material may stretch and pull differently while the foam or padding combined with the springs and webbing provides variations in compression. This gives constant challenges in balancing centering a pattern material and ensuring a comfortable end result where pleats, folds, or tufts are balanced. This is where the array of backgrounds and experience come into play. The term “master upholsterer” is not a term we use loosely. Each has twenty-plus years of experience in not just applying material to a frame but has a complete understanding of how to tie eight-way hand-tied springs, properly build a down feather cushion, and ensure that a waterfall skirt lays as perfectly as possible over the edge of a sofa to the floor. Since nearly every single piece that we are reupholstering is unique in the material that is being used, I am constantly standing back and observing teamwork at its finest as the upholsterers work together to achieve the desired results. This teamwork and the understanding that the goal is not just to complete the project but to complete the project so the client loves the results and most of all the piece will be admired by others who see it. This is our pride, and this is why we do what we do!

    Unique Skills and Qualifications

    We are constantly learning and are humbled on a daily basis. The biggest qualification each of our team members has is the willingness to learn and improve from the lessons each day. As new members join our team from different backgrounds, we encourage the sharing of ideas and techniques. I learned this at an early age and can recall a specific situation where I was challenged in filling a gouged mahogany panel. The other furniture touch-up technician that was working on the project came over to provide assistance. At 18 years old, I knew I had a lot to learn; however, I never imagined this tech would share his secret of using women’s eye shadow in the touch-up to provide the depth and iridescence needed to conceal the gouged wood. I can’t share all of our knowledge, but I will say that we are always continuously learning to be better at our jobs to achieve great outcomes for our clients. Over the years, we have had the opportunity to work on large and high-profile projects, including the NC Governor’s Mansion, museums, and legacy furniture at the Triangle’s leading universities. These projects each had their own challenges, but what I am most proud of is the Finish Pros team meeting deadlines.

    Overcoming Challenges

    As our operations manager says, “failure is not an option.” Our core values can be turned to when challenges are faced, and the pursuit of excellence and teamwork typically are the solution. With this being said, understanding why we do what we do and who we do it for is also key. Our office and design team understand that our clients must have a great experience. We listen to understand our clients’ needs and effectively communicate this to our team. Certain factors may be out of our control, including material limitations; however, we are all working toward anticipating problems and only promising what we can deliver on.

    Daily Operations in the Workshop

    The past several years have been challenging for everyone, and the COVID-19 pandemic tested our resilience. One of our proudest achievements was retaining nearly 90% of our team during these difficult times. Each project at Finish Pros begins with a careful examination and preparation phase. For upholstery projects, Santiago, who has been with us for nearly 13 years, is the keystone of our upholstery operation. He meticulously prepares each piece, making necessary repairs and reassembling items for the upholsterers.

    On the refinishing side, Milton, a team member since 2018, prepares pieces by removing glass panels, handles, and hinges from case goods. He labels each part and documents any loose joints or additional repairs needed. The furniture is then hand-stripped and block-sanded. If further restoration is required, our shop foreman Lynn, who has been in the industry for nearly 40 years and with Finish Pros since 2015, handles the repairs.

    Once the items are ready for finishing, they move to our spray room, where our master finisher Max takes over. Max joined our team in 2013 and has a keen eye for color matching and blending finishes to achieve near-perfect results. Our upholstery team includes several seasoned upholsterers who have learned the Finish Pros process and rediscovered their love for the trade by focusing solely on their craft.

    Detailed Step-by-Step Process

    Our typical refinishing or reupholstery project begins with an initial consultation with the client. This involves understanding the client’s needs and preferences and assessing the piece of furniture to determine the best approach. Once the project is approved, the piece is carefully transported to our workshop.

    Initial Examination and Documentation: Each piece is thoroughly examined, and detailed notes are made on the client’s work order. This includes identifying any repairs needed and selecting the appropriate materials.
    Preparation and Stripping: For refinishing projects, the old finish is removed using our overflow stripping system. This method is safer and more efficient than traditional methods, reducing exposure to harmful chemicals and preserving the integrity of the wood.
    Repairs and Sanding: Any necessary repairs are made by our skilled technicians. This includes fixing loose joints, replacing missing veneer, and filling in cracks. The piece is then sanded by hand to ensure a smooth finish.
    Finishing: The piece moves to our finishing department, where it is stained or painted according to the client’s specifications. Our state-of-the-art finishing booth and air assist pump sprayers ensure a flawless finish.
    Upholstery: For reupholstery projects, the old material is carefully removed, and the frame is inspected for any repairs. The new material is then meticulously applied, ensuring that patterns are centered and pleats, folds, or tufts are balanced.
    Quality Control: The finished piece is carefully examined and compared to the work order. If any issues are found, they are immediately addressed. We also get feedback from clients to ensure their satisfaction with the results and overall experience.

    Ensuring Quality Control

    Quality control is managed by each member of our team by documenting notes on the client’s work order. Once a project is completed, it is carefully examined and compared to the work order. If something was missed along the way, it is immediately addressed. When problems arise, we work with clients to understand their concerns and resolve them to the best of our ability. This was a hard lesson many years ago when Angie’s List first became popular. I thrive off of client feedback, which is generally very positive. However, this new platform of reviews allowed clients to publicly post comments. The first negative feedback was absolutely crushing. It took some time to see that it was actually an opportunity to become better. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a client was, “Don’t let your client be the quality control.” From that moment, Finish Pros began using checklists to ensure every item that leaves our shop is up to our high standards.

    Tools and Materials

    Upholstery materials used in the shop are the best available. This includes the quality of the thread used, the equipment we sew on, and the padding in each cushion or frame. On the refinishing side of the shop, the equipment, process, skills, experience, and knowledge of refinishing are critical. The first step in the refinishing process begins with the removal of the old finish, which should only be done professionally with proper safety equipment. Our team utilizes an overflow stripping system, a large tray that pumps chemical stripper through a nylon brush head over the item. This method drastically reduces the time required compared to the old-fashioned pail and brush method and differs from a dip tank stripping that is commonly used in the industry. Dip tanks, which require a piece to be submerged in liquid stripper, can loosen wood joints, raise the grain of the wood, and damage veneer.

    Our overflow stripping process limits the exposure an item has with the liquid stripper while the operator is safely protected from harmful fumes and chemicals with the appropriate personal protective equipment. The safety of our team members is of utmost importance.

    Repairs are made with expertise, and the sanding is done by hand as it has been for centuries, with the added bonus of vast improvements in abrasives and sandpapers. Our skilled technicians are trained to sand just enough for proper staining. I have found that DIYers often sand off the old finish rather than stripping it and also over-sand, damaging the patina of the wood. Once an item is ready to be stained, it moves into our finishing department. This is where Max, who has been with our team for over a decade, takes the reins to achieve the client’s desired results. The Finish Pros spray room is equipped with a state-of-the-art finishing booth and air assist pump sprayers that perfectly atomize the lacquer finishes to achieve better-than-factory results. Additionally, our shop is equipped with the best and safest woodworking equipment, allowing us to reproduce parts as needed for our clients’ cherished projects.

    Anecdotes of Unusual or Challenging Projects

    We have encountered numerous unusual and challenging projects over the years. One memorable project involved a set of antique dining chairs from the early 1900s. The chairs had intricate carvings and had seen better days. The client wanted to preserve the historical significance of the chairs while making them functional for modern use. This involved carefully stripping the old finish, repairing the intricate carvings, and reupholstering the seats with a fabric that complemented the original design. The end result was a set of chairs that honored their past while being ready for future family gatherings.

    Stories from Our Craftsmen

    Our team has worked on many memorable projects over the years. One of our all-time favorite projects involved a kitchen table passed down to a second-generation owner. The table, an oak pedestal piece, had served the family for nearly 30 years before being handed down to their daughter. The daughter, now with children of her own, wanted to keep the family tradition alive but needed the table to match her modern decor. Our refinishing team stripped away the yellow varnish and refinished the table with a weathered gray stain on the top and a black lacquered finish for the pedestal base. Now, the family can continue to enjoy meals and create new memories around the same table.

    Another notable project was a fainting sofa from the mid-late 1800s, a family heirloom. Santiago, while removing multiple layers of material, discovered horsehair padding and even two pairs of butterfly jeans and a calico dress stuffed into the piece for added comfort during the Depression. These discoveries add a unique historical dimension to our work and are cherished by our team and clients alike.

    Historical Significance of Restored Pieces

    Recently, we had the pleasure of repairing and reupholstering a Thomas Day empire sofa. The large S-curved arm dramatically capped each end of the sofa. We were only the second upholsterer to have ever worked on the masterful piece since its original creation in the late 1840s. I hold this as an honor to have been part of the restoration and reupholstery since Thomas Day was a North Carolinian man of color and had one of the largest furniture cabinet shops in the mid-19th century. He is known as the master of mahogany, and his furniture is considered the finest furniture created. Recently, his workshop in Milton, NC, has become a North Carolina state historic site.

    Client Reactions to Finished Products

    When a client receives a finished product, the reaction is generally one of pleasure and a job well done since they have been updated throughout the project. There are typically few surprises; however, in some instances, clients are only provided sneak peeks prior to receiving the finished product. This always ensures an awesome reaction of astonishment, especially when the piece received by Finish Pros is in complete disrepair and the overall finish was changed to a painted lacquer or updated stain tone. One memorable reaction was from a client who shed tears of joy when her parents’ pecan china cabinet was refinished to a painted lacquer in Finish Pros Integrity White paint tone in a satin sheen.


    The Journey of a Piece of Furniture Through the Restoration Process

    Each piece of furniture that comes into our workshop begins its journey with a detailed work order created by our project manager and designer. During the initial consultation, we listen to our clients’ goals and offer suggestions to ensure outstanding outcomes. Throughout the process, clients receive updates via emails or text messages, including any fascinating discoveries we make along the way.

    Types of Finishes and Fabrics

    We offer a wide range of finishes and fabrics to suit every client’s needs. Finishes can range from traditional stains and varnishes to modern lacquers and paints. The choice of finish can greatly affect the look and feel of the piece, and we work closely with clients to select the perfect option. For fabrics, we offer everything from luxurious velvets and silks to durable linens and leathers. The selection process involves considering the piece’s use, the client’s style preferences, and the durability required.

    Common Misconceptions About Furniture Restoration

    Our business is nothing short of extremely labor-intensive. It may seem that pieces are turned around quickly, and when this happens, it is a testament to proper planning, incredible project management, hard work, and long hours. However, in many cases, having an item refinished or reupholstered may take weeks. I want to assure you that items are not sitting around in a warehouse while you may be dining at a temporary folding table in your kitchen or having to sit in a chair that is not as comfortable as your favorite chair being worked on. From the time an item arrives at our shop, the process begins with a careful examination followed by the prep work needed for the craftsmen to get started. Some steps of our process may call for certain cure times between different steps in the furniture refinishing process, while upholstered items may require countless hours of painstakingly removing old staples and tacks.

    Environmental Benefits of Furniture Restoration

    Restoring furniture has significant environmental benefits compared to buying new furniture. By choosing to restore and reupholster existing pieces, clients are reducing waste and the demand for new raw materials. This helps conserve natural resources and reduces the carbon footprint associated with manufacturing and transporting new furniture. Additionally, restoring high-quality, well-made furniture ensures that these pieces can continue to be used and enjoyed for many more years, preserving their craftsmanship and historical value.

    Passion for Craftsmanship

    At Finish Pros, our passion for furniture restoration and reupholstery is evident in every project we undertake. From antique furniture restoration to custom upholstery, our team is dedicated to preserving the history and craftsmanship of each piece. Our workshop is a place where tradition meets innovation, and where each craftsman brings their unique skills and expertise to the table.

    Importance of Preserving History and Craftsmanship

    Our upholstery team has all been mentored by other upholsterers in the past. Whether fathers, uncles, or grandfathers, we have found that at some point, they were given a chance. Most of all, these artisans put in the time to learn, starting from the beginning of the trade and working to become Finish Pros craftsmen. In the same way, Finish Pros trains future craftsmen and women in the same method. While in today’s age, as in the past, only a select few hang in long enough to really become the experts who would be considered master craftsmen or upholsterers.

    Staying Updated with New Techniques and Trends

    At Finish Pros, we prioritize staying updated with new techniques and trends in the furniture restoration and upholstery industry through continuous learning and professional development. This includes attending industry workshops, participating in online courses, and collaborating with other professionals in the field. By staying current with the latest trends and techniques, we ensure that we can offer our clients the best possible service and results.

    Although we stay attuned to changes in fashion and design, we also keep abreast of advancements in the technology of materials and finishes. Over the past decade, significant strides have been made in the performance of textiles, many of which have been developed right here in North Carolina at North Carolina State University. These innovations include materials that perform better in terms of wear and abrasion resistance, green-certified nanotechnology stain repellents, antimicrobial upholstery materials with silica finishes, and fade-resistant fabrics enhanced with UV inhibitors.

    Such advancements extend to wood finishes as well, with major leaps in waterborne finishes that often surpass the quality of traditional lacquer finishes. Unlike many lacquers, which can yellow or amber over time, modern waterborne finishes maintain their clarity and beauty for longer periods. While we still use lacquers and focus on non-yellowing lacquers, waterborne finishes may be a better option for certain projects.

    At Finish Pros, we understand that the finishes used for different projects can be quite technical. Our team is here to guide you through the decision-making process, ensuring you select the best materials and finishes for your needs. Despite these technological advancements, our core foundation remains rooted in traditional methods of finishing. We continuously learn and strive to improve our offerings to provide exceptional results for our clients.

    Incorporating these advanced technologies alongside our time-honored techniques allows us to deliver superior furniture restoration and custom upholstery services. Whether you’re searching for “furniture refinishing near me” or “custom upholstery near me,” our commitment to staying informed about industry innovations ensures that our clients receive not only beautiful but also durable and high-performing results. We take pride in being one of the leading furniture restoration services, offering expert guidance and exceptional craftsmanship to restore furniture to its original glory.

    Motivation and Commitment

    What motivates us to continue doing this work is the satisfaction of seeing a beautifully restored piece of furniture and the joy it brings to our clients. The process of transforming an old, worn-out piece into something beautiful and functional again is incredibly rewarding. Our commitment to preserving the history and craftsmanship of furniture drives us to continually improve and strive for excellence in everything we do.

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