Behind closed doors: Glasgow Guild

Restoring and reupholstering furniture might be a new career for the two men behind this venture, but they have already won a legion of admirers

John puts the finishing touches to a Swedish couch upholstered in Bayberry Strie fabric by Brunschwig & Fils.

John puts the finishing touches to a Swedish couch upholstered in Bayberry Strie fabric by Brunschwig & Fils.

Jonathan Conkey and John Cowie are gearing up for Doors Open Day. The owners of furniture restoration, upholstery and polishing business the Glasgow Guild, they’re also excited about the work they’ve been doing with the Austrian fabric company Backhausen. The 165-year-old Viennese institution has a huge archive of fabrics, among them pieces by Wiener Werkstätte designers Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann, whose fabrics the Glasgow Guild has used before. In fact, Jonathan and John share a real passion for the Viennese Secession art movement, revelling in its historic links to Glasgow.

The workshop in Renfrew Street is based in an old print factory that is shared by the Singl-end café.

The workshop in Renfrew Street is based in an old print factory that is shared by the Singl-end café.

Their furniture business is still in its infancy – the Glasgow Guild shop on West Graham Street, near Cowcaddens, celebrates its fourth birthday this autumn, while the Garnethill workshop has only been operating for the last two years – but already there are plans for expansion.

The business marks a new career for both men, who met on a furniture restoration course.  Jonathan had been working with the National Trust in Ireland and was looking for a career change. “There were only a few places teaching fur­niture restoration at the time, so I had to make the move to Glasgow,” he says.

John, meanwhile, was an engineer. He found himself working in the city’s Blythswood Hotel one day during its refurbishment. “I thought to myself, ‘I should be up there, looking at the beautiful marble hall, rather than down here, inspecting the boiler!’” he laughs.

The pair fell in love with the crafts they were learning at the class, so engrossed in their work that they frequently had to be kicked out of the building at locking-up time. “It’s just that sense of transforming something,” says John.

“There’s no monotony to it,” adds Jonathan. “There are so many different stages to every job – from the mechanics of the springs to the beautiful finishing fabrics.” He motions to the springs, stuffing and textiles of the chaise longue he’s working on – one of the twenty jobs the pair usually have on the go at any one time. “It’s also rewarding, seeing each piece take shape.”

DETAILS

Photography Neale Smith
Art direction Gillian Welsh
Words Catherine Coyle