Specializing in custom and restored Green upholstery
Almost anyone can paint a piece of furniture or add new fabric, but when you hand your old chairs and tables over to Jen-Lan Lou, expect a complete transformation inside and out. Lou’s Los Angeles based business, A Circle Home, offers sustainable furniture restoration, along with ready-to-order and customized furniture, including adorable doggie beds.
“I stumbled upon upholstery while I was exploring different classes to see what my second career should be,” Lou says. “I had been avoiding it because of how laborious it seemed, but most of the students were retired senior citizens! They were using staple guns and picking up heavy materials, and I realized I had been misjudging my abilities.”
That class sparked a love for giving furniture a second life. As Lou says of her business, “It’s not really a job—it’s something that I truly enjoy because it links art, creativity, and lifestyle.”
Lou’s high standards for the quality of her work and commitment to her customer’s and her own artistic vision is part of what makes A Circle Home so unique.
Lou can style a new piece out of an old one based on projects already shown on her website, or a picture a customer brings in. She won’t take just any piece, though.
“If the frame is good enough, I’m happy to do it,” she says. “But if it’s mass-manufactured or low quality and it won’t be beautiful in the end, there’s no point in my doing it.”
In the process of transforming a piece of furniture, the frame is just about the only thing Lou leaves alone. She adds new fabric, paints, removes staples, fills holes and cracks, and does any other necessary repairs. She also makes a point of always replacing old cushion filling with natural, nontoxic materials.
“I didn’t realize that while most [reupholstered furniture] looks brand new, they just cover it up,” Lou says, recalling an incident where she found used, urine-soaked carpet padding inside a chair she was reupholstering.
She also notes that the filling inside conventional foam-filled furniture can be harmful. Often, it contains toxic brominated flame retardants like PBDEs and chlorine tris. While these chemicals may prevent furniture from catching fire, they don’t stick to the foam, so they offgas and instead settle in dust around the house, where they can be inhaled or ingested. Both can cause learning and memory impairment, hormone disruption, and behavioral changes.
“It looks nice and pretty, but what you can’t see is the danger and loss of money—that’s what you’re paying for. It’s like trying to rebuild the car without thinking about the engine,” she says.
After learning the ugly truth about what lurks inside cushions, Lou discovered healthier, more durable stuffing alternatives. She uses a combination of natural latex, coconut coir, steel springs, hemp strings, and more, depending on the shape of the cushion and the design of the overall piece.
Lou says that natural latex is her favorite material to work with because it’s petroleum-free, biodegradable, and comfy. She buys all of her materials in downtown L.A. within a 30-mile radius of her workshop, avoiding shipping fees and reducing her carbon footprint.
True to its name, A Circle Home operates on the belief that just because something breaks doesn’t mean that its life is over. Reupholstery allows a piece of furniture to begin a whole new cycle, with materials constantly being added and taken away to be part of another project and start another cycle of their own.