Rachael Rosenblum is Brooklyn’s own fairy godmother to tattered old furniture, giving the Cinderella treatment to family heirlooms and musty mid-century armchairs that long-gone roommates left behind. A former accessories designer who also spent a stint at a textile mill in Italy, Rosenblum started Double R Design with 20 years of design experience—she see the potential in your cat-scratched sofa or that beloved desk chair that’s seen better days. Her goal is to take something you love, and transform it into something you love even more.
Refresh your memories
“A few years ago, I inherited an armchair from my grandmother that I used to love when I was a kid visiting her house. I knew its intricate caning and over-stuffed, wine-colored cushions by heart,” Rosenblum recalled. “I didn’t realize the armchair’s potential until I brought it back to Brooklyn and decided to remake it. I got so much pleasure from creating a new beginning for this piece that was so familiar and meaningful to me. That got me thinking that re-envisioning pieces of vintage furniture was a good use of my talents and my knowledge of textiles. I also saw an opportunity: I figured a lot of people had older pieces that could use a makeover.”
As the mother of two small children, Rosenblum thinks a lot about preserving family memories for the future and also about creating less waste. “Let’s face it—furniture was much more carefully and thoughtfully designed and crafted 100 years ago than it is today. The pieces I work with were built to last, and by refinishing the wood and giving the piece a new color scheme, we’re giving the piece 100 more years of life,” Rosenblum said. “In fact, this summer, I stopped a guy on the North Fork of Long Island who was hauling some old pieces to the dump. He gave me two great pieces. Sure, I had to get the insects out of them—literally—and repair some of the wood because they’d been stored partially outside, but you should see those pieces. They’re beautiful now. And I feel good that I was able to make something beautiful out of stuff that was headed to the landfill.”
Sustainability… and what’s worth sustaining
Reupholstering reuses old furniture by dressing it up in new textiles, and those textiles can be environmentally-conscious, too, using organic materials and natural dye processes. “One of my favorite collaborators, a fabric designer called Moonshadow Goods, uses 100 percent sustainable practices in creating her designs,” Rosenblum explained. “She had never done upholstery fabric before and we worked together to find a base fabric that was heavy enough for upholstery but also sustainable.”
But can any old piece of furniture be reupholstered? Reupholstery—especially when using sustainable fabrics from an independent designer—means investing in a piece of furniture, so how do you know if your piece is worth the expense? Rosenblum offers three questions to ask about the piece at hand:
“Is it an heirloom? Reupholstering an heirloom is a way to keep memories alive and keep a piece of furniture in the family.”
“Does it have cool or unique details? Elements such as carved wood details, intricate canning or uncommon mid-century designs are hard to come by and are worth preserving.”
“Is it made of solid wood? Believe it or not, a lot of furniture today is made of compressed wood, which just doesn’t last as long. Even if it needs slight repair, a solid wood frame makes a piece worth salvaging.”
If the answer is yes to any or all of these questions, upholstery could be your solution. “But also, if you love the piece or it just fits perfectly into your space, there’s nothing wrong with reinvesting in a Room & Board sofa or something from West Elm or Restoration Hardware,” Rosenblum added. “I actually plan to have my Restoration Hardware sofa reupholstered—it’s a great piece. If the shoe fits then let’s freshen it up!”
Textiles and technique
Personally, I never knew I could get so excited about textiles until Rachael Rosenblum showed up at my apartment with a box of fabric samples for my bench seat, pictured above. I had scoured online fabric stores and Etsy textile shops without finding anything I loved, but when I saw Double R Design’s fabric selection, it was hard to pick just one.
“We work mainly with independent textile designers which means that our textiles are designed by artists and produced on a smaller scale. The designs tend to be more unique, more color driven and just a bit more off the beaten path,” Rosenblum said. “I want to offer people exciting fabrics that evoke emotion and ultimately will make them smile when they walk into a room.”
Rosenblum focuses on finding the perfect textile for every project, and she partners with local upholstery craftspeople to do the actual upholstery work. “When I first started this business I thought that I would be doing the reupholstery as I did on my grandmother’s chair, but I quickly learned that reupholstering requires precise skills, which my team have learned over decades,” she said. “Reupholstery also requires a lot of time and I wanted to focus more on the design aspect.”
Upholstery for your budget
After spending so much time cloistered at home, many of us have new appreciation for high-quality furniture and home accessories that bring joy. It’s a lot of fun to work with a seasoned designer to create a unique, personal piece that is built to last, but upholstery isn’t necessarily a cheap furniture fix.
That said, you can definitely start small: “Pillows are a great way to liven up a space and add some color and interest on a budget,” Rosenblum said, noting that Double R Design’s relationships with textile designers make it possible to get small cuts of fabric that would be hard to source elsewhere. Pre-made pillows from their collection are priced at $125-$135, while custom pillows cost around $175-$200. On a slightly larger budget, a custom pouf or ottoman could also add personality to a space. “Custom ottomans are great because they’re functional, can transform into a coffee table and can easily move around a space or to a different room.” Rosenblum said, adding that ottomans start around $675, excluding fabric cost.
On the next price level, an upholstered headboard could add pattern and extra coziness to a bedroom. “I recently did a headboard project with three different headboards for each of my client’s kids. They already had the bed frames and wanted to make the headboards signature to each child,” Rosenblum said. “I’m working on a Moroccan-inspired headboard with nail head trim that reflects the client’s family’s heritage and whole vibe. It’s going to be super special and one-of-a-kind.”
Wingback chairs also make great accent pieces. “I recently completed a wingback my client inherited from her grandmother. When she opened the door at delivery her two-year-old daughter plopped herself down immediately and made herself at home,” Rosenblum recalled. “Watching that chair literally pass through generations brought tears to my eyes.” A wingback chair project starts around $800, while a larger piece, like a sofa, would obviously cost more.
A query from cat owners
To offset the cost of reupholstering an entire couch, our in-house cat owners wondered if there’s anything Double R Design could do to solve the problem of cat scratches on a sofa without reupholstering the whole thing. “I actually have had a few people ask me if there is scratch-proof fabric or how to prevent their cats from clawing the heck out of their furniture!” Rosenblum laughed. “One thing that I’ll suggest is to consider reupholstering the cushions or the arms where the scratches are in a coordinating fabric. I really like the concept of mixing fabrics between cushions and the frame. Cats can be brutal though and if they really want to scratch a surface then I would say you need to consider your priorities!”
Rachael Rosenblum of Double R Design is working with clients in NYC, the East End of Long Island, upstate New York, and beyond. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on by phone at 440-371-5846. Follow her on Instagram @rrdesignnyc to see more of her work and to see when she’ll available at the weekend market near Fort Greene Park or at the Brooklyn Pop-Up market.