Nearly 40 years after learning the trade of upholstery for a job, Larry Haynes continues to reconstruct furniture, but not for a job anymore, rather for the sheer joy of a job well done.
“It was a job to start with, feed myself, feed my family,” Haynes said, adding that now upholstery is a way of life for him.
Haynes said that his first exposure to upholstery was in 1973 when he started working at Henredon Furniture in Mount Airy and was required to obtain 120 hours of training in order to receive a certificate to work at the furniture manufacturer.
Haynes received his certificate through Surry Community College, and for the past 28 years he’s been employed by the college, teaching the same classes that he once took.
One of the frustrating aspects of working for a large manufacturing company, Haynes said, is that there’s no craftsmanship involved in the creation of products, what he called rather mindless tasks.
Haynes left Henredon Furniture after roughly 15 years and started doing upholstery on his own, which is what eventually led to his position at Surry Community College.
Haynes’ upholstery classes are taught in a facility at The Pilot Center and have been for the past four years, having originally been held in Dobson, and later in Mount Airy.
According to Haynes, his classes are always in high demand and due to the individual nature of upholstery, only 10 to 12 people can be enrolled in the class at a time, which means there’s a waiting list for the course. Haynes explained that one of his former students was forced to drop the class due to personal reasons and had to wait nearly two years in order to get another spot in the class.
Despite what appears to be a spacious facility, Haynes said that the current location of the classes is somewhat cramped and he and his students would benefit from a larger work space and perhaps a few more students could be squeezed into each class if additional space was available.
Haynes also worked on a side project for two years, building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Before going into upholstery, Haynes was a tank driver during the Vietnam War.
When working on project, he said he likes antiques better than more modern pieces. “I like the antiquity, the better wood quality and total restoration work, not newer pieces,” he said.
Having spent a considerable amount of time working in furniture manufacturing, Haynes attributed piece work, assembly in which workers are paid a flat rate for a finished product no matter how long the item takes to produce, to the decline of craftsmanship in furniture making.
Haynes said that in certain instances involving piece work, a single couch can be produced in six minutes and recliners in three minutes, noting that it would take days for a craftsman to make the same piece.
“A craftsman takes a piece of wood and makes the whole thing himself,” Haynes said of his definition of a craftsman.
The unique aspect of Haynes’ classes is that it doesn’t function as a typical class, meaning that instead of general lectures coupled with activities, each student brings in a project that they want to work on and throughout the course of the class, they complete their personal works.
Haynes starts every class with a general meeting in which all of the students show their work and receive advice and opinions from the other students before starting their work.
“It doesn’t matter what you come through the door with, we’ll fix it,” Haynes said.
Items that students have worked on in his class include an early 20th century barber chair, a late 1800s couch, and bucket seats from a 1968 Fiat. Haynes also mentioned a student who removed the bench seat from her truck for an upholstery project and drove home after class while sitting on a bucket.
“I tell the students to be creative,” Haynes said. “A lot of people have the ability and they just need a little direction.”
According to Haynes, one of his former students opened her own upholstery shop after taking his class.
“I’ve acquired different aspects of a craftsman over the years,” Haynes said.
Aila Boyd may be reached at 336-415-2210.