One of top interior designers' secret weapons for bespoke interiors owes its founding to the New York City subway. Joseph and Tralona Boisne, owners of French Finish Wall Upholstery in Yonkers, NY, met on the G train in Brooklyn over a decade ago. A shared daily commute brought them together, and a love for beautiful, high-quality craftsmanship made them entrepreneurs. Now, the duo runs a custom workshop which supplies upholstered doors, screens, and more to designers like Miles Redd and Alexa Hampton.
Joseph (Joe) Boisne moved to New York from France in 1999 with dreams of someday becoming the owner of his own business. While working in New York as a bike messenger, the way he met a fellow Frenchman who owned a wall upholstery company. After getting hit a few too many times by taxis while on the job, Boisne decided to accept the Frenchman’s offer to give wall upholstery a try.
He immediately connected with the craft and spent the next seven or so years training in the niche craft before moving on to another company as a project manager. By the time he connected with Tralona on the G train, Boisne was firmly on his path as a wall upholstery craftsman. Not long before they married, Boisne left his position as a project manager and decided it was time to take the leap to becoming his own boss, and establishing a wall upholstery business of his own.
Tralona Boisne now describes herself as a “12-year apprentice” of Joe’s. The way the Boisnes tell it, the beginnings of their business required no small amount of savvy: After investing in the tools to create a workshop for Joe, they commenced a flurry of cold calls, contacting interior designers at random to see if anyone would take a chance on a new business.
As luck would have it, two designers (one of whom Joe Boisne had known from a past project) did just that, entrusting the young entrepreneurs with projects that would get their business off the ground. From there, they relied on word-of-mouth recommendations to grow, a method that has proven most effective.
Today they craft custom room dividers, screens, and doors out of their Yonkers workshop, though the heart of the business is still wall upholstery. The couple primarily works with interior designers and architects who bring their ideas to French Finish, trusting that the Boisnes will bring that vision to life.
Joe acts as the lead creative force, working on-site and getting into the weeds of the installs. Tralona, meanwhile, contributes to the prep for projects on-site, while taking charge of fielding new clients and coordinating work with current clients and projects. Together, this balance has made French Finish a success.
The process of creating their work however, is not so straightforward. In fact, that's what Joe Boisne loves most about it: “Every project is different. Every fabric is different and there's never any routine," he says. "It's always something new.”
The process begins by getting the precise measurements of the space where the upholstery will be installed. Boisne then does the framing and padding on-site, before returning to his workshop to cut and sew the fabric that will cover the room. He pre-cuts and pre-sews everything needed for each wall—one of many reasons why he is so exacting about those initial measurements at the start of the process. Boisne’s method allows him to work with a variety of fabrics, such as leather, velvet, and horsehair.
Boisne then brings his prepared fabrics to the project site and installs them on the wall, stretching, gluing, and stapling. This is an especially time-consuming and tedious part of the process, that requires great attention to detail.
"A lot of the time when people are not familiar with wall upholstery, they assume it's going to be similar to a wallpaper, but the process is much longer," says Joe. The time required varies depending on the project, but typically clocks in at anywhere from one to two weeks for wall upholstery, or a few days for an upholstered door.
But for the Boisnes, ]the precision and time required to do a quality job is exactly what makes it interesting for them. “One of my favorite parts of having this company...is actually getting to see him figure it out,” says Tralona Boisne, “Because it's a challenge for him when he walks into a room. It has a lot of detail, it needs to have a specialized approach. You can't treat every room the same.”
Indeed, that is just what keeps Boisne himself keen on the craft. “I've been doing this for more than 20 years and every other job is a new challenge,” Boisne said, “There's always something new, something I never encountered before. And even after 20 years, there's still learning and always adapting to the situation, to the room.”
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