Krysta Henry-Holland has made a life out of something most of us take for granted when visiting bars and restaurants — the seating. A profile I wrote on Krysta Henry-Holland for the Oklahoma Gazette. Read it on the Gazette website here.
You may not think much about the booth you slide into when visiting your favorite restaurant, but you’re often sitting on a carefully handcrafted work of art. In Oklahoma City, it’s very likely you’re seated on the work of Krysta Henry-Holland.
Henry-Holland’s hands have transformed the aesthetics of hundreds of restaurants throughout the city, and like many arts performed by skilled tradesmen, the work blends seamlessly into the surroundings without calling attention to itself.
She began sewing and working with fabrics in her youth, picked up a job at Hancock Fabrics then moved into management at a drapery manufacturing company. She consumed as much information as she could, learning the fundamentals and igniting her passion in the field. Then she took a breath and a deep dive, founding All in One Piece Upholstery.
“I went into an upholstery shop and said ’I can do upholstery,’ which I couldn’t, but I faked it,” Henry-Holland said. “I would watch these old guys do upholstery and pretend like I was going to chat with them, but I would be intently watching what they were doing. Then I would just mimic it and they didn’t ever know. I became really good friends with the owner of that company and about ten years later, he asked, ‘You know why I hired you as an upholsterer?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘Because the way you shook my hand, I knew you were an upholsterer. That’s an upholsterer’s handshake.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s funny because I didn’t know shit about upholstery.’ He laughed and said, ‘I think you’re maybe one of the only human beings I could ever even imagine succeeding in that.’ Because it’s just not something you can just pick up, it is hard. That’s why you have a lot of apprenticeships and training in upholstery. I think it was very natural to me. I feel like I was born to do it. I was definitely born to work with fabric.”
Henry studied in London before finishing out her bachelor’s degree in fashion design in Los Angeles. From there, her career skyrocketed, winning awards and landing covers, but it wasn’t the life she wanted.
“When my partner and I won an award for fashion design, that was really radical stuff. It was like the upholstery on bodies, essentially, because that’s what I’ve always gravitated towards. It was art on the runway and it was a big deal. We were on the front page of the L.A. Times and the front page of the Chicago Tribune. I’ve been in every magazine that I’ve ever wanted to be in and I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like the ‘who you know, who you’re dressing’ aspect of it. If who you knew and who you dressed paid you what you were worth, then it would have been worth it. I was a well-known fashion designer and poor. That doesn’t make any sense. You’d have to really love it to go through those however many years it would take to start generating money in a place like Los Angeles, so the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze to me. And I don’t like that type of limelight, it kind of freaks me out, so I got away from all that. I moved back here and did upholstery immediately,” Henry-Holland said.
In her 22-year upholstery career, she has produced hundreds of booths for restaurants and businesses throughout the state, including Empire Slice House, Ponyboy, Summer Moon Coffee, Rock’ N Brew, Eddie’s and The R&J Lounge and Supper Club.
“I’ve done so many that it’s hard to pick a favorite. When I was asked to do the HiLo [Club], I was shocked but very honored. When Chris became the owner of Blue Note and called me for that project, I was even more excited about that because he wanted to really put a lot of love into it. I love when a customer wants to do that because then I get to really do my art and have a lot of fun. I love patent anything, so Burger Punk will always be one of my favorites. I love the black texture and the tufted bar top. I’ve always been really proud of Ludivine because it still looks exactly the same as when I installed it, which is hard to achieve,” Henry-Holland said.
The passion she has for her work is evident and hopes that others will carry on the tradition.
“I’m truly honored. Blue-collar work is underrated so badly, everywhere in the world, to be highlighted at all for it, because this is what I love. I don’t really feel like I have a choice in the matter. I’m not happy doing anything else. It’s something I work really, really hard to make look good and to give people a good product and make them happy as well. That’s half of the fun to me. The second I start forgetting that and just thinking about money, I’m miserable,” Henry-Holland said.
A lot of time, effort and meticulous craftsmanship go into the trade. The work that goes into skiving, binding and tufting different fabrics and forming cushions can be strenuous, so it takes a lot of training and physical strength to stretch the fabric and carry heavy pieces when building or restoring furniture. Factory-made upholstery, often seen in larger chain restaurants, is usually made by heavily underpaid workers or specialized machines, and the dwindling private industry is heavily dominated by men. Henry-Holland hopes to see more diversity and better wages in the field and stresses the importance of teaching trades and business.
“I’m not going to be able to physically do it forever, so I am trying to teach it. I want younger people to learn it, but you have to get ready to be poor to learn because nobody’s going to pay you very much to learn because they have to stop what they’re doing to teach. Plus, you have to be good at business and be good at upholstery. You cannot just be good at one. It took me a long time to be good at business. I was good enough at upholstery that I could do one piece a week, but I was bad at business, so I failed over and over again until I learned it. And we have to teach these trades, and more trades, because it’s getting to where nobody is doing them. We were all steered away from trades and told to go to college. Now we have all of these negative spaces where trades need tradesmen. We need electricians, we need mechanics, we need a pulse on upholstery because it’s really dying because of how complex it is. I know of ten upholsterers all over the world that are online, that I would give my furniture to, and that’s scary to me. Some of them are older and they’re great, but they’re not online to market themselves. Therefore, they’re not young enough to keep that business going. So it’s a very dying industry,” she said.