Nicole Crowder turns treasured furniture into modern masterpieces.
nicole crowder upholsterer minneapolis portrait
Credit: Kevin A. Taylor

For Minneapolis-based upholsterer Nicole Crowder, writing a new chapter for a well-loved piece of furniture is a slow and reverent process. She imagines the piece's mood, finds a fabric worthy of its frame and history, then meticulously fashions a personality that's both unique and revelatory. Over the summer, Crowder opened a studio space for her design consultations and custom upholstery business. In January, she'll launch a furniture collection at World Market, so you can enjoy her signature modern-eclectic style— bursting with bold, contrasting prints and patterns—in more ways than ever before.

In a few words, how would you describe your design aesthetic?

Modern eclectic. I love using bold prints and patterns and contrasting them together to give furniture a new personality.

How do you honor the history of a piece when reupholstering a beloved heirloom so it can be enjoyed today?

I try not to be too harsh on furniture, especially the wood, because it's survived generations and various transitions and climates. The fabric might be old, but it has its own story, so I try to be a little sensitive when I'm ripping it off and sending some gratitude toward it for the families that it took care of. And then I take my time reimagining its design. I never want to be haphazard when choosing fabric; even though it may seem like it's just cosmetics, fabric really expresses the character and personality of the piece, as well as the person it belongs to. I try to extend the storyline of a piece of furniture by giving it a fabric worthy of its frame and history.

What inspires your designs, and how do you translate concepts you spot on the runway or in a magazine into bespoke yet functional furnishings?

Inspiration comes from so many places that can't be qualified. Sometimes it's through a song or a photograph, a piece of art that I saw, a word that someone spoke to me, wallpaper or jewelry. When I'm considering fashion as an inspiration—people I see on the street, editorial images for magazines or details found through photos I've scrolled online—I'm considering the mood and materials that were used to create such a piece.

In the same way fashions I love reimagine how an article of clothing can look or fall, I feel inspired to approach upholstery work by creating something new and revelatory. Usually, I let an image roll around in my brain for a while as I picture what part of a chair could mimic the leather or print on a dress or a shirt. I will assess whether the laces on a pair of sneakers or the button on an elaborate coat could be brought into a chair design in a way that feels seamless and unique.

What fabrics or patterns attract you?

Jacquard is one of my favorite styles of fabric. I love how rich and saturated colors look with the weaving, and I love the feel; it's luxurious and has a great weight to it, and it instantly elevates the style. I'm a big fan of pronounced weaving and anything that has a little bit of a glint or shine, so jacquard is the perfect fabric for upholstery in that regard. It can snag a little bit more easily, but I think that makes it feel more precious, like I want to care for it.

How do you let go of the need to rush when working in a fast-paced world?

Slowing down came as I got older and realized my inspirations don't happen suddenly. My energy management goes in cycles, and it ebbs and flows, so why was I rushing myself to produce or finish? And once I started working within that versus trying to push through and always be producing something, I was more imaginative with dreaming up my own designs. And on a personal level, I think it has made me a much healthier and present person.

What's the most rewarding part of reimagining furniture?

When a piece comes to life in the way I envisioned. It's rewarding when the elements I sketched and sourced and designed come together to reveal a piece that has a new soul and makes me inhale when I look at it.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.