Craftsmanship is at the heart of sustainable design. As we shift to a circular economy, the ability to restore quality furniture to its original beauty and functionality will be essential. At the inaugural Green Design Show, Wednesday 17th – Friday 19th July at Melbourne Exhibition Centre, we will be celebrating artisans such as John Halpin and Liza Tazewell, who together run John Edward Halpin Upholstery.

John and Liza will be based at the ‘Green Design Hub: Makers Movement’, located in the centre of the Green Design Show, near the ‘Reviving Design Icons’ stand curated by Cultivated.

At the Makers Movement, visitors will be able to experience the beautiful artistry and attention to detail that goes into restoring and upholstering furniture and making sustainable soft furnishings.

John and Liza will be showcasing their talents live over the three days of the show. John will demonstrate the art of upholstering antique chairs for visitors, while Liza will showcase the craft of hand-sewn interlined curtains. Interlined curtains enhance a home’s insulation, stopping drafts and also heat from escaping a room, boosting energy efficiency.

Dedication to True Craftsmanship

For over 35 years, both John and Liza have been crafting beautiful, high-quality products that stand the test of time. A rich seam of adventure runs through their story, as well as a commitment to community and a lifelong romance with design.Established in Suffolk, U.K. in 2008 and now located on Sydney’s Upper North Shore, John Edward Halpin Upholstery has an incredible and diverse heritage, including prestigious projects like refurbishing iconic spaces like Harrods Tea Rooms in London.

John has been upholstering and restoring furniture for decades. At sixteen, he wandered into a workshop on an industrial estate in his hometown in Suffolk, which specialised in customising furniture for people with disabilities. He ended up working there until the age of twenty-three.  “It was great technical training,” says John. He went on to work for another upholsterer, specialising in lounge suites, before opening his own business at the age of 29.

Based in Bury St Edmunds, he and his team of carpenters and joiners worked on an incredibly diverse range of projects, from making custom furniture to upholstered leather chairs for private jets (above). The latter requires a demanding level of attention to detail…and a niche clientele!

John was contracted to upholster private jets in Switzerland for Jet Aviation, which has exacting standards. Each inch on the leather seats required a particular number of stitches and ingenuity. The beautiful leather chair pictured was custom-made from an airplane engine bay.

A favourite project was completely overhauling the VIP suites at the stadium for Crystal Palace football stadium. Pictured right is a custom leather banquette made for the Private Members’ Room.

“That was a fun job,” says John. “When the new owner took over, he invested 50-50 in the team and the stadium. It’s very rare that you get a free hand to do what you will.”

“If you can dream it up, John can make it!” says Liza.

A Romance With Design

There’s certainly a romance to restoring and upholstering furniture. In John and Liza’s case, that romance spilled out of the workshop into real life.

With over 25 years of experience, Liza has perfected her skills in soft furnishings across the U.K., Asia, and Australia. Pursuing a corporate career in London, she was in search of a creative outlet. She attended Central St. Martins Art School in London and earned a Diploma in Professional Curtain Making and Soft Furnishings from the National Design Academy in the U.K

Balancing her successful career in the banking sector with her creative endeavours, in 2015 Liza was living in the Philippines. It was there that she established the Tagsibol Foundation, a non-profit upholstery and sewing skills training school for survivors of violence and human trafficking.

Tagsibol Foundation

Liza doesn’t do things by halves. “ I wanted to give these women the gold standard in skills. They were viewed as second
class citizens, so it was important that they were able to compete at a first class level.”

She needed a Master Upholsterer – and she knew where to look. Thanks to its ancestral piles stuffed with antiques, the United Kingdom is a cradle of restoration and craftsmanship.

Liza reached out to the British Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishings and placed an ad for a Master Upholsterer to come to the Philippines and train the women. John saw the ad at a time when he was ready for a change…and the rest, as they say, is history. Liza and John ended up partners in both business and life.

Working with a Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) shelter, Liza and John empowered vulnerable, at-risk women with holistic support, re-building lives through education, housing and jobs.

Liza and John’s high-quality craftsmanship earned recognition, winning the Transitional Furniture Category at the Philippines International Furniture Show. The winning piece is pictured at the top of this article.

The Tagsibol Foundation also collaborated with architect Ed Calma and French design house Roche Bobois to reimagine the iconic Mah Jong Sofa (below). 

The Mah Jong Sofa, Roche Bobois

Mah Jong Sofa, Roche Bobois

Coming Full Circle: Bringing Fine Craftsmanship to Australia

For Australian-born Liza, the pull towards home was strong. John and Liza relocated to Sydney just before the pandemic and have established their practice on the Upper North Shore.

With a team of skilled artisans, John Edward Halpin Upholstery’s comprehensive range of services includes upholstery restoration, custom furniture design, and personalised curtains and soft furnishings.

If you have a love of design, you’d be absolutely remiss not to meet John and Liza at the inaugural 2024 Green Design Show! It will take place at Melbourne Exhibition Centre from Wednesday 17th July – Friday 19th July.

Co-located with Decor + Design, Australia’s premier interior design trade event, the Green Design Show will celebrate the circular economy. All exhibitors in this section will have met the robust guidelines curated by our Official Sustainability Advisor, Circular Design Thinking. The 2024 Green Design Program is also supported by the Green Building Council of Australia.

Register to visit now – entry to the exhibition is free but limited to the design industry.