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Carolina Home And Garden

Re-Upping An Old Trade

Jenny Ellis doesn’t sit down when it comes to design work. In fact, she circles her appointed project “hundreds of times” before beginning. Photo by Matt Rose

“I can walk around a project 100 times and think about how I’ll approach it,” declares Jenny Ellis, owner of Sittin’ Pretty Original Chair Art. It may seem excessive, “but this analysis helps me get the execution part right,” she says. In her studio in Asheville’s River Arts District, Ellis thrives on being a creative re-interpreter. And her medium — old, neglected, often ugly chairs — requires a stand-up kind of vision.

She started out studying interior design in college, but “veered off into sewing and garment construction,” she notes. Ellis made high-end dresses for an exclusive Boca Raton boutique and owned a successful window-treatment business in Atlanta, where she received masters-level training in the art. “Ultimately window treatments were more lucrative for me, but dressmaking informed that work and made it distinctive,” she explains.

The creative trajectory continued as Ellis and her husband bought a fixer-upper house during the real-estate boom and flipped it. They continued flipping houses until the economy crashed, but the bright side was already established: “I gained more hands-on skills in brick and tile work,” Ellis says. She next worked for Macy’s, who sent her to the elite High Point Market; there, she says, she “acquired knowledge about different furniture lines and became enamored.”

After relocating to Asheville, Ellis took two years of classes through AB-Tech’s upholstery program, learning what she calls “the fine technical stuff” of the trade from teacher Mike Suitor. “I saw that each chair had a history and life of its own, and each presented a different level of challenge,” says Ellis. “I took to this like a duck to water.” So she signed up for more classes, including fine woodworking, where she learned joinery.

Ugly chairs turned into high art. Photo by Matt Rose

These skills, and a test run showing her work to friend Kim Hubbard, owner of K2 Studio, coalesced to give Ellis the confidence she needed to open Sittin’ Pretty. “I showed [Kim] everything I had and asked her to consign anything she liked. She took 10 chairs and they all sold within 30 days,” she says, with lingering surprise.

Ellis’s transformative talent includes a chair clad in sophisticated grays and bedecked with Australian crystal and ostrich feathers: the look screams “diva.” A wingback titled “Mountains are Calling” defines casual comfort with a serene range of blue hues fashioned from recycled jeans, rustic rough-fringe detailing, and, on the back, a laminated map of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Her “Broody the Rooster” project, a collaboration with artist Shelley Schenker, combines bright color, chicken wire, and burlap to transform a Bergère chair into a bijou treat. Its spiritual opposite is the ladylike “Angelina” — a pure white color scheme, boa feathers, beads, rhinestones, and oversized wings give the chair a decidedly ethereal vibe. Ellis often incorporates thrift-store finds as hardware, which shows her love of a good theme.

Happily settled into her studio, she enjoys interacting with art lovers. She’s also vocal about her gratitude for her husband’s support of her dream, and hopes to create a limited-edition collection for a larger company at some point.

But right now, she says, the thrill is in creating a personality for every chair she encounters. “It’s the most fun thing I’ve ever done.”

Sittin’ Pretty, 170 Lyman St. #5, River Arts District. For more information, call 828-335-4055 or see See more of Ellis’ work at K2 Studio, 59 College St, Asheville, 828-250-0500,

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