Andrea Mihalik, a former award-winning photojournalist with The Philadelphia Daily News for 12 years, made the choice to change careers in order to spend more time with her family — although it was not immediately apparent what her next endeavor would be.
Mihalik, a graduate of the Tyler School of Art where she studied photography, eventually decided that she would focus on the stockpile of antique chairs in her garage. Well-served by her drawing, designing and sculpting skills Mihalik attended an upholstering class in NYC and interned at the BDDW furniture company in Philadelphia to hone her skills.
Ever the adaptable artist, Mihalik is now the brain and hands behind Wild Chairy Studio, a Philadelphia-based company specializing in reupholstered chairs. However these are no ordinary chairs. Mihalik lovingly constructs each one with the highest quality materials and blends her colorful creative vision with unique tactile experiences.
Andrea speaks Italian, and the names of several of her chairs have Italian origins.
Mihalik makes roughly 30 – 40 chairs a year for independent clients and also finds time to work on her own projects. She can have several projects, all at different stages, going at once. Yet every day, as a devoted mother of three, she fulfills her original intent and makes her way home in time for dinner — where the children sometimes help her name her creations.
When creating her own pieces Andrea begins the process with chairs from estate sales, friends, auctions, or curbsides, all in various stages of disrepair. She is one of few upholsterers in the country who still observes traditional upholstering methods. Installing the springs by hand, and tying horsehair (she never uses foam or materials that will harm the environment), and twine she eventually prepares the chair seat, arms, or back with cotton prior to finding a fabric that speaks to her — which sometimes can take months. Conversely, while looking for fabrics, she may find a piece that she loves and knows she wants to use, which will then go on the wall of her studio for inspiration until the perfect chair comes along. The process cannot be rushed. Andrea believes that “creativity comes at the weirdest moment, and you don’t know when a great idea is going to pop into your head”. For commissioned pieces the process is more collaborative. Mihalik likes to get to know both the client and the space that the chair will be living in. One of her favorite questions to ask clients is whether they would describe themselves as “organic or geometric.“ This provides insight as to the shapes and styles that best fit the individual. Clients send pictures of the spaces in which the chairs will live, colors that they enjoy, as well as artwork they love, for inspiration. Andrea reciprocates with pictures of chair frames, designs, and fabric samples. Eventually, the ideas become solid realities as one-of-akind pieces.
Mihalik shows and sells her chairs around the East Coast; at the Foundry in Washington, DC, The Architectural Digest Home and Design Show, and One Kings Lane. She is an involved member of the colorful Philadelphia arts community. She also runs the business side of Wild Chairy and hopes to extend her already strong online presence to tap into new markets in the coming years.
Keen to pass on her knowledge of upholstery to her intern, she is an example of the constant tug-of-war between artistic expression, running a business, and maintaining a rich personal life.