Artisan Furniture

29 Sep 2021

Deconstructing chairs with craftmanship and an eye for history

By Ray Owen  »  Photos by Brandon Williams

Julie Borshak’s roots run deep in Moore County, going back five generations to the 1700s. Members of her family have been shop owners, tailors, dressmakers, and furniture makers. These traditions course though her and manifest as deconstructed and reimagined furniture – telling of her love for history.

When Borshak moved back to Southern Pines two years ago, she came across a “deconstructed chair,” which is basically a piece stripped of its upholstery to reveal the lining and frame. Within a week, she found an old chair, took it apart and realized that vintage chairs made in North Carolina have frames made completely of hardwood.

“They’re absolutely gorgeous behind the burlap, strapping and tacking,” explains Borshak. “There are three or four different types of wood when you peel back the layers. I became obsessed with rescuing these North Carolina-made chairs and showing what’s underneath.”

Now, in a big warehouse off Yadkin Road in Southern Pines, Borshak produces a line of artisan furniture. “I do all the lettering and make my own stamps,” she says. “I love printmaking and either use existing grain sacks or create my own, celebrating the mills of North Carolina that have closed down.”

“What most people see when they look at an old wingback is a piece that’s outlived its usefulness. They don’t realize that if they go into a store today and buy a chair made past the late 80s, it’s heavy plywood underneath with synthetic fillings, and there’s nothing special about it.”

“I sold a chair this week that’s going off to Asheville. It’s a Randolph Mills chair, and I created the textile design on the back. The good thing about making a chair, you’re doing it specifically for someone and you know where it’s going. I like it when someone sends me a photo of where something ends up.”

Walking into her studio is like walking back in time, with stored furniture and vintage fabrics in wooden crates and on shelves. At the heart of it, where Borshak works, there’s an early desk, high-end sewing machines and tools – a mix of old and new. “You know, it’s funny,” she laughs, “I dress in color but my pieces are generally black and tan.”

Borshak surrounds herself with lost or forgotten pieces, finding inspiration in things that have lived a life before. “My tools are old,” she says smiling, “except for my staple gun and air compressor. I think that things carry feelings about them. That’s why I love picking up a tool somebody else has used.”

“I’ve been sewing my entire life. My mother was a seamstress and my grandmother and grandfather sewed. When I was in kindergarten, I grabbed a large needle and a piece of burlap and started using that. From the large weave I created my own patterns with
colored threads.”

At Pinecrest High School, her Home Economics teacher taught pattern making and it completely changed her world. Borshak went on to study costume design at the UNC School of the Arts and studio art at Salem College, both in Winston-Salem. “Every job I ever had in some way involved costuming or fabric,” she recounts. “I’ve just taken what I learned and applied it to furniture.”

Family ties inspire her current endeavor. Her mother’s family founded O.B. Flinchum Company, a dry goods store once located in Carthage where her grandfather was a tailor, and her father’s family owned Williams and Dollar Furniture Company in Siler City, where they made school desks and furniture.

“Aunt Betty was my biggest influence,” says Borshak. “She and Uncle Bob were characters around town. Bob had the Five O’clock Club down the street. They had lots of wild friends, including Glen Rounds, a famous writer and illustrator. This magical world of original Southern Pines people was so amazing.”

“I wanted to do a series of Southern Pines chairs and started looking at the Pines Preservation Guild. They’re doing a great job bringing attention to the historic buildings. I wanted to do a bit of the same thing, and you see it in my chair that commemorates the Highland Lodge that’s around the corner from where I live. ”

An important lesson Borshak learned along the way was that the happiest people are those doing something they were passionate about when they were nine or 10 years old. With that realization, she’s always enjoyed teaching others to sew and keeping the skill alive.

“I don’t think the past ever dies,” she muses. “As long as we keep it alive in what we teach others and the things we leave behind. I hope my chairs become heirlooms and that someone might realize it was created as a reminder of our history – that’s what my pieces are about.”

Borshak has found a lot of sharing through Instagram and has joined groups from around the country doing similar things with vintage materials. “It’s amazing to talk to someone in Hawaii, Pennsylvania or Asheville and see how they solve the problems they run into,”
she says.

“In a way, there’s nothing new. The first deconstructed chair I saw wasn’t a new thing. The fact that I gave it a North Carolina theme utilizing my own style made it original. Now, people on Instagram are taking what I’ve done and making it their own yet again. History is always repeating itself – it lives in every one of us.”

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