Story by Emma Castleberry
Jenny Ellis, owner and designer of Sittin’ Pretty and the Artful Chair, still vividly remembers her first creation in fabric. “It was a pillow with a monkey on it,” she says. “I just loved making flat fabric into three-dimensional items, even as a child.” Ellis followed her passion to school, where she learned technical sewing skills. She started making her own clothes and won awards for her design and creativity, which reinforced her sense of belonging in the industry. After graduating with a fashion design education, Ellis started working for an exclusive dress shop in Boca Raton, FL, creating dresses and gowns for special occasions.
Her career morphed when she made window treatments for her first house and found friends and family requesting them. She added a master’s level certification of Window Fashions (WCCP) to her creative background and was hired as a window covering consultant at Macy’s in Atlanta. “That’s where I jumped into the world of home furnishings,” she says. “The managers sent me up to High Point Furniture Market and it was like going to a designer Disney World.” Ellis quickly noticed that the home fashion industry was closely correlated to the wearable, couture fashion world. “If you see blush color on clothing, you will see blush on furniture,” she says. “If you see straps and buckles on clothes, you’ll see them on chairs.”
This connection was the inspirational seed for the first of her companies. Ellis knew she could blend her backgrounds to make chairs far more unique than what she saw on the market. In 2013, she registered her business in North Carolina as Sittin’ Pretty, LLC. “The funny part is I didn’t even know how to upholster yet, but I knew where I wanted to go,” she says. The designer started taking classes and making chairs in 2014.
Ellis took pleasure in hunting for old chairs on Craigslist, at thrift stores and on the side of the road. “I fell in love with the older chairs, with unique carved wood and unusual lines,” she says. “In this ‘throw away world,’ making an old chair frame renewed for another 100 years is very rewarding and satisfying.” Ellis approaches each new project as a blank canvas. “Each chair speaks to me. The marriage of fashion, art and design goes into each chair thoughtfully, and most times it is hand drawn on a sketch pad, just like dressing a client for her newest ball gown.”
Laura Cousins collaborated with Ellis to create a collection of four dining room chairs for her new home. “I chose a rustic, Italian theme,” Cousins says. She and Ellis worked together every step of the way, focusing on the smallest of details like stain color and nail heads. “The time and effort taken to bring these items back to life is something to be celebrated and commended,” says Cousins. “Jenny has a true gift and talent that she loves to share with everyone.”
While Ellis was shy to market her creations at first, she was surprised when they sold quickly. This momentum has made for some exciting growth in the past year. Sittin’ Pretty continues to serve the clients who want to bring new life to their existing chairs, while Ellis’s new brand, The Artful Chair, showcases her personal chair designs. “These chairs will be appealing to a more art and design collecting crowd, someone who is looking for a unique piece for just the right place,” Ellis says.
Friend and client Erica Anderson owns four chairs from The Artful Chair, which she has used to decorate both her office and home. “The chairs come from a humble beginning, but now they turn heads,” Anderson says. “They remind you of the potential that everyone and everything truly has, if you just see and work with it in the right way.”
Ellis is currently at work on a very special project, making two chairs out of a client’s wedding dress. “I always thought a wedding dress—a symbol of a cherished day and beautiful memories—should be displayed artfully, instead of hiding in a box or closet,” she says. The front of the chairs will be upholstered in creamy white leathers with a cashmere sheepskin seat, and the back will feature the dress’s beading and lace. “This is the perfect marriage of cloth and chair,” Ellis says.
Find Ellis’s chairs at her retail studio, located at 362 Depot Street in Asheville, or online at TheArtfulChair.com, where she can also be contacted regarding custom orders.