Who makes the comforts we sit, sleep, lounge, and entertain in? The couches, patio furniture, breakfast nooks, and car interiors. What makes these things not only inviting but visually appealing? A tactile mix of fabric, color, texture, cushions. And who creates these functionally exquisite combinations? Upholsters — mostly men behind closed doors in cities far away.
This is the story of a different sort of upholster. One who, you could say, is swimming upstream. An upholstress, working and living in Santa Barbara. Challenging the status quo of fast furniture and IKEA throwaways. Homing in on a trade that demands incredible skill, artistry, and hustle.
This is a story about Joanna “Bea” Shultz, owner and operator of Bea Furnishings.
Born and raised in the Santa Ynez Valley, Bea played goalkeeper on the soccer team, attended Hebrew School and Torah Practice into the evenings, and, despite loathing dresses, found herself homecoming princess.
At Santa Barbara City College, she discovered interior design, which led her to San Francisco State University and a degree. Realizing the field was not the hands-on hustle she desired, she embarked on a trade tour of carpentry, welding, and upholstery, which eventually brought her to an upholstery trade school in the onetime furniture capital of the world: High Point, North Carolina.
“I was most definitely the anomaly of the class,” Shultz said. “The only woman, the first to get there and the last to leave. Definitely the one who traveled farthest to attend. I was starved to learn, and it was an absolute dream situation.”
Without the demand of the once-thriving American furniture factories nearby, and the trend of production going overseas, Shultz soaked up the last bit of wisdom Guilford Technical Community College had to offer.
You know how it goes from here: Santa Barbara and its rubber-band effect plays out on yet another innocent young resident, and Shultz returns with foreign knowledge, fresh drive, and a novel approach to an elusive trade.
Cut to today, and there’s a football flying through the air outside her upper State Street shop against a backdrop of slender palms and the static roar of the 101. Shultz catches the ball. Willie Glover, a MarBorg sanitation engineer, revives an old touchdown dance in celebration. Worn out, they slump into none other than a dumpster-turned-sofa upholstered in tufted velvet.
It’s a supreme, jaw-dropping juxtaposition — the red velvet royalty mingling with the society’s rubbish receptacle. An expedition into the frontier of furniture design and upcycled comfort. To Shultz, the Dumpster Sofa is a rite of passage from laborer to designer, and also a celebration of Glover, a fellow member of the blue-collar family.
Embosomed in the dumpster’s embrace sit these two Santa Barbara natives, united through their respective trades that too often go unseen and unappreciated. What a moment. What a couch.
Check out Shultz’s hands-on hustle at beafurnishings.com. Email her at BeaFurnishings@gmail.com for your custom furniture and upholstery needs. Oh, and make sure to give Glover a wave in MarBorg Truck 145.
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