At Marks & Tavano Workroom, Upholstery Is an Art Form

Lloyd Marks and Michael Tavano run the custom upholstery atelier Marks & Tavano Workroom.On a quiet side street in the South Bronx stands an unassuming industrial building where top decorators go to make their clients’ wildest upholstery dreams come true, whether it be curtains embellished with 200 mother-of-pearl buttons or a 10-foot-tall tufted headboard. Located on the third floor, Marks & Tavano Workroom is a 5,000-square-foot atelier where 10 highly trained craftspeople immerse themselves in tasks ranging from reupholstering vintage seating to creating both manual and motorized draperies to constructing custom furniture and bedding. “Not a single product comes out of here that’s the same as the one before it,” says Lloyd Marks, who handles the business’s operations. His partner and husband, Michael Tavano, an interior designer, serves as creative director.

The couple started the company in 1998, shortly after Tavano relocated to New York from Boston, where he had begun working as a decorator in 1984 and had run an upholstery workshop for several years. “I’ve always had a passion for fabric and sewing,” he says. “My grandmother was a floor manager for a clothing manufacturer, so I learned a lot from her.” Early on in his career, Tavano began fabricating his clients’ draperies himself, eventually garnering the attention of fellow decorators who admired the quality of his work. “I quickly learned that while one interior design commission might lead to a new client, a decorator could bring me multiple upholstery jobs, so I began focusing on that, and it eventually became my primary business.” Marks & Tavano Workroom, says decorator Jamie Drake, a longtime client, is “the only one I know of where the creative director is a designer himself. Michael is so sensitive to proportion and detail, and he delights in new ideas.”

The workroom employs 10 highly skilled craftspeople including Balbina Lambert and Zoila Reino, who are shown making napkins and pressing pillowcases.Every employee has a specialty, such as sewing or upholstery, so each finished piece of furniture or curtain upholstery reflects the work of many expert hands. When fabric arrives at the studio, a machine fitted with a fluorescent light inspects it for flaws and measures it for proper yardage. Manager Arjoon Boodoo then cuts it to size and passes it along to the appropriate craftsperson for further detailing, whether it be upholstery padding, hand-sewn appliqués, or other embellishments such as piping, button-tufting, and decorative trim.

Samples of the embroidery technique known as smocking.As a last step, either Tavano or Boodoo performs a final inspection before the finished product is packaged for shipping. “All our employees take great pride in what they’re doing,” says Tavano. “It’s nice to know that our small contributions to a person’s home can really make a difference.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 2017 issue of NYC&G (New York Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: All Sewn Up.