Furniture Restoration in Peace Dale

The art of turning old furniture new again

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

Drew Wheelan spent his childhood shadowing his mother, Grace, in the barn while she worked. It was her business, The Seating Arrangement, where he worked during high school to earn his spending money. Now, Drew has taken over the family business and we sit down to talk to him about furniture, fabric and the Kennedys.

What’s the best part about The Seating Arrangement?
The most gratifying thing about this business is the impact I have in helping to keep things out of the landfill. It’s about taking old items and making them beautiful again, supporting the local economy and re-using versus importing new things. Every job is different. There’s always a new challenge. I could be working on a 19th century Victorian settee or a mid-century modern Danish chair – it’s a learning process and there’s always a new challenge.

Do most customers want to totally revamp a piece, or do they look to preserve its style?
The majority of my customers want to keep the style of the piece. Others might come in with a contemporary Ethan Allen and want to customize it to what they already have. Still, some pieces I’ve done structural cut downs, reshaping of backs and taken the piece in different direction.

We’ve all heard of a statement piece and its value in a room. What’s your take on making a statement when it comes to furniture?
Much of my work comes from people trying to repurpose furniture that is structurally sound. With a solid foundation, there are many ways to change a piece and make it unique. Re-upholstery is one of those ways. I carry a wide variety of fabrics in the store. It’s a way for a customer to be brought into the process instead of just going to a store and having limited choices.

When did you learn to sew?
I actually started a snowboard clothing company when he was 17. That was when I really cut my teeth at sewing. Actually, I brought three sewing machines to my college dorm with me, it was pretty ridiculous. I still make my own snowboard clothing, but where I’m really at creatively is working to broaden The Seating Arrangement.

Where exactly do you want to take The Seating Arrangement?
My dream is to transition the business into an all-encompassing design and home goods manufacturer. Recently, we set up a new facility in the old Peace Dale Processing Mill, just up the street from our main location. We work on most of our large jobs up there and soon we’ll be setting up screenprinting facilities and a full work room. We’re currently working with a sewing house in Providence to produce several of our handbag designs under the label “artifact,” which is the name of our gallery in front of the shop. We just had our first big show, which showcased local painters, potter, sculptors and a furniture builder. It was a huge success and I’m excited for how the future is shaping up.

What’s been one of your most memorable projects thus far?
I was lucky enough to be home when my mom, Grace, was working on a project at Hammersmith Farm. The furniture we reupholstered was the Kennedys’ fabric – they actually sat on it! That was the most historically rewarding project and to do with my mom was very neat. My mom still consults with me. Even though she retired two years ago, she couldn’t stay away. I still hang out with her every day.

What should people consider before they call you to take on a project?
It’s good to consider what your furniture is really worth. It’s spending a bit extra for something solid wood that will last 30 years instead of five. Do you want to fill a landfill or fill your children’s homes with the furniture that your children had? We preserve family heirlooms and history and make solid furniture beautiful.

The Seating Arrangement, Drew Wheelan, Peace Dale, furniture, restoration, shop, art, so rhode island