The Office: Alix Richards
I’m Alix. A mum, a serial procrastinator and oh yeah… an upholsterer. About 6 years ago I (re)met the love of my life and found out I was pregnant 3 weeks later. I used to work as a PA at an arts university in London. I genuinely loved that job; working with students, academics and being in a creative environment. However, once the new fees for students were introduced and redundancies began to happen it soon turned sour. I found myself being offered ‘redeployment’ whilst on maternity leave for a job I had little interest in.
I studied Textiles at university and after graduating I remember looking at doing the typical let’s-go-travelling-to-Australia thing and seeing ‘upholsterer’ on the skilled workers list. Never thought of it again until 10 years later when on a flight to Australia, (to meet my partner — Nick’s — family and friends with our brand new 2-month-old baby in tow… shit!) Nick asked me if I could do any job, what would it be?
And that was it, I never went back to the university. And here I am 6 years later. Two kids, a house in London, a very supportive and patient husband and my own upholstery business. And although it’s still very much in its infancy, I am albeit slowly beginning to earn enough to take the pressure off (as other DIFTK contributor Nicola Washington put it so well).
When we decided it was time to get on the property ladder, we specifically looked for somewhere that had side access or a garage so that I could work from home. Nick, who is also self-employed, rents an office for his business so we really didn’t want to have another outgoing to fork out for every month. After a few failed viewings, we finally hit the jackpot and found just what we were looking for. I have a workshop in the garden, and I also might have accidentally taken over another two rooms in the house.
Adjusting to working from home is definitely a bit of a double-edged sword. Being an upholsterer takes up a bit of space, it’s not just a small laptop on the kitchen table and you’re away – although there is a lot of admin involved too! It’s not unusual for there to be a massive pile of cushions stacked on the kitchen table or an extra armchair taking up residency in the lounge.
One of the things I’m struggling with most of all is learning how to disconnect from home life when you work at home. I’ll find anything and I mean anything else to do other than working in the workshop. Not because I don’t want to, but you know there’s breakfast pots to put in the dishwasher, there’s laundry to put on, there’s that thing that I don’t remember what it is now, but a minute ago I desperately just needed to look it up on the internet. I can’t exactly lug a massive armchair up the high street to the coffee shop with free wi-fi, so I really need to learn to start to get a grip on my office being my home.
I’m not always tied to the house. I do free house consultations so go round to client’s houses and check out their items of furniture to see what condition they are in and take measurements so I can give them an estimate. I like that. I love seeing inside other people’s houses and understanding their style, as well as finding out what they do for a living. I’ve met some interesting people and it’s nice to connect with others when you work solely on your own.
Ultimately, working from home fits our lifestyle. I don’t have to commute anywhere other than down the garden, so we do inevitably save a lot on time and cash, especially living in London. We know so many parents that don’t get home in time for baths and stories with their kids. So it’s great that either Nick or I, sometimes even both of us, are guaranteed to be there for them at drop-offs and pick-ups.
At the moment there are two chairs in limbo on the workbench in front of me, cushions waiting to go out later this week on the kitchen table along with fabric, a diary, phone, almost-no-longer-sparkling water, a half-eaten sausage roll, a Rough Guide to the Pacific Northwest travel book and a tape measure. Oh, and a chair currently parked in the kids play area waiting for a space on the work bench.
Whilst it’s cold outside, there is the quiet sizzle of my ceramic heater in the background, the start and stop of my air compressor, kids playing at the school across the road, me swearing about something related to whatever project I’m working on, all whilst my current month’s Spotify playlist belts out some whopper tunes (well I think they are anyway) and I can pull some sweet dance moves between ripping off old fabric and pulling out staples.
My workspace is not child friendly. There’s sharp stuff everywhere, heavy stuff, itchy stuff that gets in your eyes and some toxic substances to boot. The kids are just not old enough at the moment to sit with me whilst I crack on with upholstering. I don’t need to be rushing to A&E after one of them has stapled their finger to the bench. So if they ain’t at school, and Nick’s working, then it’s pretty much dedicated kiddy time, or possible telly time for them whilst I catch up on some overdue admin.
When I used to tell people I was a PA you’d get a simple ‘ohhh’. Now when I say I’m an upholsterer people tend to go ‘oh wow’! So even though at times it seems like there’s an army of chairs invading our home, or I sit here writing this piece about what I do rather than being out there doing what I’m supposed to be doing, I love my job and I love my ‘office’.
Photographs by Alix Richards.