“Our customers are trusting us with their family heirlooms, with their memories, to do it the right way.”
Tucked away in an unassuming storefront on Main Street in Marshall is a furniture restoration, upholstery, and interior design business that has been there for over 40 years. Three talented artisans, including the father and son pair of Lawrence and Craig Andes, and interior designer Gina Krytusa, make up the team at Custom Upholstering and Total Restorations whose services include custom upholstery, comprehensive interior design services, and furniture restoration. For our home issue, we sat down with Lawrence, Craig, and Gina and delved a bit into what makes Total Restorations so valuable to their clients.
Lawrence, when did you start this business?
Lawrence: I grew up on a dairy farm in Bealeton, but farming wasn’t for me. My mom was a real good seamstress and I guess it kind of intrigued me. I bought my first sewing machine back in 1972, and I did upholstery out of my basement for five years. Then I moved to a storefront in Marshall, actually the building next door to where we are now, in 1977.
How did you learn this trade?
Lawrence: I took a home correspondence course. They teach you the basics, but then there’s a lot you learn yourself, through experience. I guess I always liked to work with my hands. When I was a really little boy, I had an aunt who said, “Someday Lawrence is going to earn his living with his hands.”
Craig, how did you come on board?
Craig: Dad taught me the basics, then it was the school of hard knocks. I was a corporate pilot until the company was sold to a company that had their own flight department, thrusting me into finding a position with a commercial airline. This happened just prior to 9/11 and soon thereafter a lot of pilots were walking the streets. I wasn’t having any luck and Dad needed help because the business was growing, and I said, “I’ll come help you till I figure out what I want to do.” And I ended up staying.
What services do you offer your clients?
Gina: We offer complete interior design, custom slipcovers, flooring, window treatments, and furniture restoration, everything you need for the interior of a home. But no job is too small; we had one client who just needed one blind on one window.
When did Gina come on board?
Craig: Well, it got to a point in the mid ‘90s where we were getting a lot of requests for slipcovers, and I had a hard time finding someone who did them really well, and our customers expected high quality. I was turning people away. I saw Gina’s work one day and was so impressed that I tracked her down at her shop in Leesburg, and she came in and cut a chair for us, and we hired her. Then we were having requests for window treatments, and she did those as well.
Gina: I’d been in the business since the mid ‘80s. I learned from the best. My father taught me; he was a slipcover man and he had his own shop in Bethesda where I got a lot of practice. There aren’t many people out there who cut custom slipcovers and do the job so well that you can’t tell it’s a slipcover, and that’s my goal.
Do you have a specialty?
Craig: We’ve worked on quite a few antiques, that’s actually our specialty. There’s no one else on the east coast that can restore antique furniture as authentically, back to the way it was originally made, as we do. I’m the one who mainly does that. We had a customer come in with some chairs that had a lot of history to them, they had been in a governor’s mansion. We restored them, and then they were acquired by the Smithsonian. When they looked at the chairs, they said, “whoever restored these restored them accurately, back to their original condition.” It’s hard to find someone to do that. I take a lot of pride in our antique restoration.
Tell me about the techniques you use to restore antiques.
Craig: It’s a lot of time to restore a piece back to its original condition. A lot of shops just want to throw a piece of foam in there and just cover it over rather than taking the time to tie the springs correctly and do it the right way. There’s a lot of hand sewing, and we use only materials that they used historically, instead of using synthetics. We use flax twine, and jute webbing, and real hair to pad the furniture, the way they did it back then. We use industry sterilized hog and horse hair today.
Why is historical accuracy so important?
Gina: Restoring it to its original historical condition maintains the integrity of the piece. That’s why we’re so busy; people are going to consignment stores and they’re finding old pieces that are well made, with frames that are structurally sound, and they’re bringing them to us to cover them. When they’re finished, they have a really good solid piece instead of a piece of furniture that’s made out of particle board.
Tell me about the woodworking.
Craig: There’s a lot of woodworking involved. We can actually make pieces that are missing if we need to. We do a lot of refinishing of dressers, tables, and other furniture, it’s not just upholstery. I have another stripping facility nearby where I do the big refinishing jobs.
Tell me about some antiques you have restored.
We restored a couple pieces that went across country in a covered wagon back in the 1800s. It was a chair and loveseat set. They stayed in the family through the years. When the family moved back to the east coast generations later, they packed them up and flew them back on a jet. We’ve restored a sofa that was in Abraham Lincoln’s law office, and we just restored 12 dining room chairs from the 1730s. That was tough because post bore beetles had gotten to them, and we had to replace some of the wood.
You mentioned this involves some psychology?
Gina: A lot of people bring things in not for the investment aspect of it but for sentimental reasons. They’ll say, “I remember these from when I was a little girl and I want to bring them back to their former glory.” Our customers are trusting us with their family heirlooms, with their memories, to do it the right way. And that’s gratifying in itself.
What is the most difficult piece you’ve restored?
Craig: There was a ball and claw table, an antique family piece from the late 1800s. It had gotten wet in a basement and had just fallen apart. The client was in tears when they brought it in…it came in in little pieces, in four milk crates and some of the smaller pieces in little baggies. It was like putting a puzzle together. When they walked in to pick it up, it just took their breath away.
Gina: Craig, you got a hug out of that one!
What do you like about your job?
Gina: It’s gratifying to see a finished product, or to see someone’s home evolve from just a house to a home. People move in to a new house and it’s just a blank slate, and they don’t know what to do with it. There’s a little bit of psychology involved. A lot of people ask their friends for advice, and we just need to give them the confidence to make those decisions for themselves. Whatever the end result, their home has to be a reflection of the client, not me, not their friends.
Craig: It’s gratifying to take a piece that doesn’t look like it has hope, and give it new life. And there’s always something different every day. I love the challenge, it’s never mundane, and like dad said, working with your hands, there’s a lot to be said for that.