Living in a Material World
photography by laura chang quintana
Luther Quintana Jr., operations manager at Luther Quintana Upholstery, discusses the quality and attention to detail that are synonymous with the company his father founded over thirty-five years ago.
Tell us about your father:
It’s a phenomenal story. My father came to this country from Guatemala in 1982 with very little. His story was fraught with many challenges, as you can imagine: he spoke very little English and had very few resources. Within five years, he decided that he wanted to start his own business. From there, he built one of the most highly regarded upholstery shops in New York City and possibly the country.
What have you learned through the business?
Patience. It’s a very intense industry. We make high-end luxury custom furniture for a very demanding clientele, which includes some of the most well-known names in architecture and interior design. I grew up seeing my dad always wake up very early to go to work and come home late. We follow his lead—we work very hard, and we’re very passionate about what we do. The best part? Every day I get to talk about furniture and work with my best friend, my dad.
What inspired you to take this career path?
During my first week of college, the financial collapse of 2008 happened. It was a dark time for the upholstery industry. We had very little staff and very little capital. My father said, “I need your help, and I can’t pay.” From that moment on, it was a no-brainer—I wanted to grow this business. I finished college because it was a dream of mine and my parents, but I then dove headfirst into our company. Luckily, we did ride out that storm. It was tough; it took about seven years to fully recover.
Where do you get your materials? How much do you handcraft?
We procure our springs and other materials here or overseas. We get a couple of thousand feet of lumber from Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, cut our frames from them, and then add jute webbing, springs, and burlap. We do the entire frame fabrication and upholstery process ourselves from start to finish.
Are your clients mostly based in the New York tristate area or across the country?
The tristate area has always been our bread and butter, but because of Instagram and media, we now have clients from coast to coast. Charleston, South Carolina, has been a surprisingly fertile hub of interior designers for us.
What are your most popular styles?
It ebbs and flows, and it depends on the home and the interior designer. Some of our designers are modernists and others East Coast traditionalists, so we gear them toward the school of furniture that fits. If they’re modernist, I like to show them something with a square arm and exposed legs, but if they’re traditionalist, I’d want to show things with a scrolled back and scrolled arms, like English rolled arms, and maybe an ornate skirt.
What is your process?
Once I provide a proposal and get a deposit, I usually set up a meeting to discuss every specification. After that initial meeting, it’s pretty much a go. We start cutting frames and laying fabrics, and the client procures trucking. When they place an order, the home is probably halfway built or renovated, so they’re not that demanding in terms of time. We can set wait times anywhere from twenty to twenty-four weeks, which fits perfectly for clients because they can budget appropriately.
How do you get new clients?
We don’t advertise. Not a single dollar. We do donate some pieces to some of our clients’ charitable events, but that’s because we love to help. For example, one client, Miles Redd, does Design on a Dime every year in New York for homeless shelters. It’s a no-brainer for us because he’s an amazing client and person, and it’s a great way to help contribute to a worthy cause. But, otherwise, we’ve had thousands of orders, and all our clients are through word of mouth. I’m always very grateful for that.
What percentage of the business is reupholstery?
Reupholstery accounts for about a quarter to a third of our business. It used to be a lot more, but because of the boom in real estate and new construction for high-end homes, a lot of our business is custom upholstery. That said, one of the coolest, most gratifying parts of my job is when a product we made eight years ago comes back for reupholstery—that means that the client and homeowner have used our product to its maximum and they’re ready to have it refreshed and used for another eight to ten years.
How much is upholstery a form of art?
Very much so. Everything we do is custom, so it’s very rare when we make the same thing over and over or for an extended time. For example, our upholsterers start with a frame and then make the piece what it is, whether it has a scroll arm or a square arm, scroll back or square back, or a cushion that’s Turkish corner, kiss pleat, or box borders. The fabric will vary, too: some fabrics have very large prints and others a tiny repeat pattern. They could be plain, or maybe they have stripes. It’s never exactly the same, so it’s almost like a commissioned piece of artwork every time we get an order. In fact, it goes beyond art: it’s also math and science.
What does the quest for perfection mean to your company?
Nothing can be truly perfect, but we strive for the absolute best custom upholstery any client can get. When you go to a big-box store, the cords and other adornments are out of proportion: they’re too big and tend to be sloppy. If the cord isn’t crisp and neat, it can throw off the whole piece. So we make sure that even the most minute detail is crisp by using painstaking, time-consuming techniques such as Greek stitching, where you have to sew the whole edge twice over to give it fine detail. Also, as I mentioned earlier, we carefully and precisely screw, glue, and bolt everything together—even things underneath that the client will never see. We also get hit with every form of style, from modernism to traditional, art deco to Bauhaus, and even postmodern furniture.
We do everything, and we’re expected to be good at everything. Whatever our clients ask, we must deliver. Perfectionism, passion, and quality are the forces that drive us.
Does this say a lot about your staff?
Yes. Our staff, especially on the upholstery side, is very versatile. They’re amazing because they can handle anything on our clients’ checklists. And they love what they do. You can go into some workplaces and see that people just want to clock out, but in our company, everyone’s very happy. Every Friday after work, people go out to have a couple of beers and have fun. It’s a beautiful thing.
Do you think your dad will ever retire?
No, he will be doing this to his last breath. He still loves being here working every day, even at age sixty-five. I’ve just been lucky to have had a front-row seat on his incredible journey.
For more info, visit lqupholstery.com