Studio Tour: Back Alley Furniture
Ask Derrick Chen what piece of furniture he’d be if he were a piece of furniture, and he chooses a midcentury modern sofa. “Simple, but with character, not too complicated, clean lines, easy and free.” Or, he says, “I’d be a distressed leather Chesterfield sofa — classic, refined, masculine, respected, warm, bold.”
We think the owner of Back Alley Furniture (and our vendor collaborator on our gorgeous blush palm frond pillows for the Flea Style Collection) has the makings of both. He and his wife, Chandra, started their business in 2011, after renovating and furnishing their own home and realizing that there weren’t enough upholstery shops that make it comfortable and affordable for the average person to get furniture reupholstered. At first they met customers at Chandra’s grandparents’ home. Business grew until they were able to open a 2,700-square-foot space off Midway Road near the Galleria where customers can pick up and drop off their items, as well as see a small inventory of finished pieces.
Take your imagination to his North Dallas showroom, whether you’re hauling in a vintage club chair to get a face lift or want to shop his small but well-curated selection of pieces to rehab. Either way, once you walk in, Derrick helps you figure out the details — proper fabric, where to align the pattern, type of welt, tufting or no tufting — and then he and his team transform furniture pieces from castoff to crazy good.
It’s been a few years (and babies) since the father of three young kiddos has appeared at our show, but he’ll be back next month at Fair Park. Be sure to drop by his adorable family’s booth. Before you do, get to know more about them here and read his tips for deciding if you should reupholster.
What is your relationship with Flea Style?
We had the opportunity to connect with Brittany years ago, in the infancy of our business, and participated as a vendor at The Dallas Flea. We easily connected with Brittany with our shared creative minds and appreciation of vintage furniture. We have mutual artisan friends dating back to our undergraduate years at Southern Methodist University.
What’s your favorite thing about your space and why?
In addition to being an easy-access location, our space is in the heart of Dallas furniture shopping and a concentration of upholstery fabric stores. We don’t sell or supply fabric. Our customers source their own fabric, which gives them more flexibility. It also allows us to keep overhead low (we don’t need a large space to store fabric) and charge less for our labor.
Do you do all the work yourself?
I personally don’t do the upholstery work. We contract with a local guy who has a team of three or four upholsterers and a couple of seamstresses.
What’s your goal for Back Alley?
We plan to continue doing what we’re doing, providing great upholstery and customer service to as many local customers as possible. Growing our customer base is a strong focus. When someone thinks of furniture upholstery, we’d like them to think of us. We’ve kept our niche to homeowners so far, but are considering branching out into commercial work — restaurants, hotels, bars.
Best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
This may sound cliche, but the sales mantra of “the customer is always right” has brought the best and most loyal customers we can imagine. Being genuine with and getting to really know our customers, their personalities, their expectations, etc. has been the best part of the business. They’re not just an invoice number for us. We treat our customers how we would want to be treated if roles were reversed. The mindset of “the customer is always right” reminds us to always focus our efforts on the customer.
Derrick’s Tips for Deciding if It’s Worth It
It’s easy to decide whether to reupholster a cherished family heirloom, but how do you know if an estate sale sofa or a curbside chair is worth the effort and money? We had Derrick redo our office chairs (above) from boring black to a happier vintage blush palm frond print, and we couldn’t love it more. Here’s are a few things to consider before you upholster, according to Derrick.
How heavy is the piece? Quality furniture is solid wood, and solid wood weighs something. If you can easily lift that sofa yourself, it’s probably not worth it.
Who made the piece? Is there a tag? If so, google the manufacturer. Reputable companies that have been in business a long time make better stuff.
Do the legs screw off? If so, it’s not that great of a piece.
Does the bottom dust cover zip or Velcro? If so, again, it’s not a quality piece.
Do you love it so much? If you can find something like it that’s new in a fabric you love, buy that. If you can’t — if it’s a truly unique design that makes your heart sing — go for it!