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Business Insider: M Designs

Business Insider: M Designs

by Kristen Panzer

M Designs happens in a warren of rooms and outbuildings in an old Victorian-style farmhouse in Sheffield. A sticker on the door proclaims M Designs a hate-free zone. Warm and gregarious, Michael Subklew showed off his workspace. Interesting looking people are hard at work, bent over sewing machines, others fluff and fold and pack stuffing material just so, while others spritz spray adhesives and measure and cut fabric. This is custom upholstery at full tilt boogie.

Outside, and ready for packing and loading onto the delivery truck, sits a graceful bamboo patio set, with a curved frame and black lacquer-like finish on the wood. The cushions are covered in a durable canvas with bold black and white horizontal stripes, with piping and insets that complement the pattern and that allow the eye to rest and to appreciate. The effect is simple, chic, stunning. Michael points to another patio set, this one tired, older, faded from sun and weather, with lumpy cushions dressed in a frumpy floral fabric.

“Some people think they live in the country, they need to do a country fabric. Cabbage roses, you know. I can work with them to bring an element of modern design," says Michael.

The older patio set has the same graceful, bent bamboo frame as the first and it becomes clear that the two are the same set. Before and after. This is what Michael does, this is what he has to offer. It’s a total transformation and very impressive.

But Michael cautions that it’s not just about design. A good upholsterer knows that comfort is paramount. “What good is a beautiful chair if you don’t feel right in it?" Michael asks rhetorically.

Michael won’t say who his clients are, he won’t name drop, only that he has loyal clients from here to Miami. A following, if you will. Michael will happily work directly with the end client but he works mostly with decorators.

A little bit of history to put M Designs in context. Michael is a third generation upholsterer. His grandparents learned the trade in pre-war Germany before they had to flee the Nazis. His family resettled in Connecticut and opened shop. Subklew grew up in the apartment over the family upholstery business. He has been in his Sheffield location doing custom upholstery for fifteen years.

Also a fashion designer, Michael has come close to winning a spot on Project Runway these past several seasons only to be cut in the final round of auditions having beaten thousands of other contestants. However Michael remains good natured and optimistic through it all. He smiles as he tells the story of his last audition: how he crashed his clothing rack into the doorway on his entrance, how he did everything wrong, how he wowed the judges with the simplicity, beauty and elegance of his designs. They want him back to audition again this year. They called him and invited him personally. This is his year, he believes. Best wishes, M Designs!

Kristen Panzer is the author of the cozy mystery Thea Gallas Always Gets Her Man available at Oblong Books and

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