By Clifford Hart
Photography by dKol Photography
Walking inside this narrow building, one continues to be struck with a sense of the past. Not necessarily a way-back-in-history past, but more like a living history before your eyes; one continually in the process of being created—or, more aptly, recreated.
This is the enchanted domain of Richard Coutant, owner and chief craftsman of Midnight Oil Upholstery. “Craftsman,” you say? Isn’t that a title reserved for people who create one-of a-kind pieces? Isn’t it more descriptive of an artist than an upholsterer?
The answer to both questions is yes. But Richard Coutant still fits the definition perfectly. And similar to craftsmen dating back to medieval times, Richard has come into his work the old-fashioned way: through painstakingly developing his craft over a lifetime in a series of what he casually refers to as “apprenticeships.”
“My initial plan was to get into fashion design, so I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York,” Richard explains as we take a seat in his shop while Davey, one of his eight beautiful felines, cozies up to me. “But I quickly found that world too cutthroat for me—so I came back home.”
Over a period of several years and several jobs, all within a few miles of the cottage where he grew up in Arlington, Richard was able to discover that his love and knack for fitting clothes onto people was happily requited in his love and knack for fitting fabrics onto furniture—thereby laying the foundation over time for his excellent craftsmanship today.
Indeed, Richard is more like a proud father than a craftsman when asked about the many incredible transformations he’s accomplished for clients over the years. Hidden somewhere between his many fabric books and upholstery works-in-progress is a stack of color photographs (Richard admits he may be one of the last of his generation to still have his film developed the old-fashioned way) that beautifully illustrate what he is so passionate about—not just a renovation of furniture pieces, but a true metamorphosis.
And the stories that accompany these pieces can be just as spectacular—like an old chair brought to him that was partially built from old boards from the USS Constitution—making the relationship between the craftsman and the crafted that much deeper and more meaningful.
And as if to take his old-world craftsmanship to the furthest extent, Richard is by no means a social-media maven. The only real way to meet with him is to do just that. Come to his store and be enchanted in the same way that I was. But make an appointment by phone before you do—even without much help from the Internet, Richard Coutant is an extremely busy craftsman. Midnight Oil Upholstery is located at 456 Freedom Plains Road (Route 55) and can be reached at 845.452.2521. █