Craig Hughes was quite well known around North Wales for his expertise in upholstery. With his inclusion in “Salvage Hunters,” his unparalleled skills became recognized worldwide. The British television show features a salvage dealer who traveled in search of antiques to be restored and resold – Craig took part in the restoration of upholstered furniture. He took center stage in a couple of spin-off series entitled “Salvage Hunters: The Restorers” and “Salvage Hunters: Classic Cars” along with a team of artisans and craftsmen, in breathing new life into forgotten treasures.

How Craig got started in doing upholstery

Craig knew at an early age that he was going into the upholstery trade. One time at school, he was called in by a career officer, and asked about his future plans. He shared that he wanted to ‘create something fancy’ and become an upholsterer, to which the career officer laughed and said that nobody did that anymore, that is someone who specializes in creating and restoring upholstered furniture, mostly chairs and sofas.

Perhaps the officer was surprised to hear of such an unusual goal from a student at that time. Whatever his reasons might be for thinking that the idea was ludicrous, it apparently didn’t matter to Craig, as he wasn’t discouraged at all, only thinking to himself that he would just have to show that he could do it. He described himself as stubborn, as he tirelessly went around upholstery shops asking for a job. Fortunately, he landed one in Manchester as an apprentice, and learned everything he could there over seven years, then went to work for different upholsterers to learn more about the trade. Soon, he was picking up so much work that he set up his own business, and in 1984, he launched Craig Hughes Upholstery in Urmston, Manchester.

In 1988, Craig moved his shop to Colwyn Bay in North Wales, where his impeccable skills were recognized and so his services were sought after by local antique dealers and interior designers throughout the region, as he offered restoration work and sympathetic repairs for both traditional and modern upholstery. He and his wife, whom he fondly called Mrs H, put much effort into trying to satisfy what their clients desired most in their furniture, saying ‘We’re passionate about what we do, and see each piece as a new challenge, no two jobs are the same.’ and added, ‘We are successful at what we do, but there is always room for those little jobs, and everyone is welcome, whatever they are trying to transform.’

Doing upholstery just for the love of it

Most people forged a career that could earn them a lot of money, but not so with Craig. He must have known from the start that being an upholsterer wouldn’t make him rich, but he continued to do it anyway. He said quite bluntly that this job was not financially rewarding; sure, there was money in it but it wasn’t enough to make one well-off. Craig said, ‘I do it for the love of it.’ What made it worthwhile for him was the reaction of his clients upon seeing a beloved but tattered piece of furniture became ‘whole’ again. Usually, people came to him with an item that had been in one’s family for generations in the hope that he could restore it. When they burst into tears because they were quite pleased with what he did to it was his reward. For him, this was worth more than he was paid for it.

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Clearing a misconception about upholstery work

Some people thought that upholstery was about putting fabric onto a piece of furniture. Craig said that his work was not something that was part of a production line in a factory somewhere. An upholsterer has to provide functional and aesthetic improvements to the furniture, and this means knowing how to work with a variety of materials and tools as well as using various techniques needed to meet a client’s specifications.

The job was time-consuming because there was a lot that went into fixing or returning something to its former glory. He had to do woodworking, French polishing, frame repair, and so much more. One thing that reduced his time at work was when he taught his wife leather restoration – she was much more patient than he was, so it worked well for their business. He also said that just because he had been doing it for many years, it didn’t mean that he knew everything about it. He would come upon projects that he didn’t exactly know how to tackle, so he still had to do some research and figure it all out.

About “Salvage Hunters”

The British reality show featured Drew Pritchard, a well-known decorative salvage dealer, who scoured storage rooms, barns, and various structures across the country for items that had long been forgotten by their owners, to see if they could be worth something for him to buy, restore and re-sell. He had a knack for finding unusual but interesting pieces, some just needing a bit of cleaning or polishing, but there were items that needed repair or restoration work before they were put on sale. Back at the main headquarters of his business, located in Conwy, North Wales, he had a team who would take care of it.

Craig had known Drew since way before the program premiered in 2011, when the latter was just starting out. When Drew got into salvaging antiques, Craig did upholstery work for him. As Drew headlined “Salvage Hunters” on Quest, an Irish and British free-to-air TV channel operated by Warner Bros. Discovery, he turned to Craig for things that needed his expertise.

Craig Hughes on the “Salvage Hunters” franchise

The restoration work on items that Drew found wasn’t featured extensively in the original show. All viewers could see was how an item was found, acquired, brought to the headquarters for the team to work on it, and the restored piece. Apparently, there was a demand to see the whole restoration process, so “Salvage Hunters: The Restorers” made its TV debut in 2018. The show boasted of turning ‘trash’ into treasures at the hands of skilled craftsmen like Craig.

He admitted to being a bit of a petrol head, and loved restoring old motorbikes and cars. Drew and his team did a few shows featuring classic cars as a trial run, and it worked really well, so the network commissioned them to do more – “Salvage Hunters: Classic Cars” was also launched in 2018, of which Craig was a part, as he was tasked to restore the upholstered seats, except for those that required a ‘specialist’ to do the work.

The better option for Craig:  To restore vs to reupholster?

A car company specializing in vintage cars came to Craig years ago to ask him to re-upholster the seats of a 1912 Rolls Royce, but he discouraged them as he noticed that they were still in good condition, except that they were well-worn. Re-upholstering was much easier, but for Craig, it was a sacrilege to do that so he proposed to the owner of the company to leave one seat with him and he would restore it. If they liked it, then he would do the same to the rest of the seats. In this way, the car retained its value because it was still all original. The owner was glad that he heeded Craig’s advice, and that had become their way of doing things. This showed how passionate Craig was about doing restoration work.

Craig was honest with his customers who came to his shop and asked for his opinion on a piece of furniture. Craig would say if it wasn’t worth doing when its condition was too bad, or if the restoration cost was more than the actual value of an item. However, if it had sentimental value, could be restored, and the client was willing to pay for it, then he would accept the work.

Preserving heritage

Doing restoration wasn’t just a job for Craig and his wife, they were both very much into preserving heritage. Between filming for the show and his work at his shop, he offered his services for free to Gwrych Castle, a 19th-century country house that served as an Abergele landmark in Conwy County. In 2020, four chairs which Craig estimated to be 150 years old, required extensive restoration – a green one was believed to be an original item acquired from Maple & Co. by the Lloyds of Gwrych family who constructed the castle. Dr. Mark Baker from Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust was quite happy with how well these chairs turned out, saying that the restoration was symbolic of Gwrych castle rising again.

The perks and downsides of being a TV star

Since he appeared in “Salvage Hunters” and its spin-off series, many thought that Craig has been earning a fortune. Over a year ago, he was interested in buying an old barn to transform it into a workshop. He and the owner had come to an agreement on its price, but the next thing he knew, it went up thrice the agreed-upon amount. Apparently, the owner assumed that since he was on TV, he could well afford it.

When the topic of earnings on TV was broached during interviews, he clarified some misconceptions about it, saying that there was no money in it – he couldn’t make a living out of it, however, being on TV caused his business to flourish. In North Wales, where he was based, he only had a small clientele. Manchester, a city and metropolitan borough, might only be an hour away, but those living there would just find the nearest upholstery shops. As he became a reality star, the kind of work that he did was highlighted, so many preferred to go to his shop and avail of his services. People from across America and all over the world reached out to him to do restoration work on items sourced from antique shops, and then shipped to them.

Craig liked filming because it wasn’t stressful at all. He would simply turn up as scheduled and do what was required of him on camera, and then go home. Also, one of the perks that he enjoyed most from being on TV was being invited to events such as the opening of a Triumph Motorcycles Ltd shop and meeting Ron Haslam, a former Grand Prix motorcycle road racer.

His exit from the TV show

Craig’s skills shone through on “Salvage Hunters” with every project he was tasked to do. However, in 2022, it was reported that he would no longer be part of the show. It appeared that he was dropped for being ‘too good’ at his job. He said, ‘Apparently nothing is a challenge for me, and I always manage jobs without a problem, where as if you are not that good it makes for better TV.’ Some fans were upset by this development and constantly asked for his return to the show.

Update on Craig Hughes

Since he last appeared in “Salvage Hunters,” his fans have been kept updated via his social media posts.

Faced a business crisis

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there had been business lockdowns, which meant lack of work, but after it was lifted, the price of materials had doubled, as well as a significant increase in the prices of commodities and utilities. As such, it had become difficult to sustain the business. To cover the cost of living, he would have to increase the labor rate. This simply meant that he could no longer compete with big furniture manufacturers which could mass produce. Craig revealed that he had to use personal money to keep his shop afloat, so with the future of his business uncertain, he would have to think hard about what his next steps would be, and consider what would be financially beneficial to him.

Suffered a heart attack

On 11 May 2023, Craig’s wife posted on Instagram a series of photos of him lying in a hospital bed with tubes attached to him, although he seemed to be in good spirits as he posed giving a thumbs up. Mrs H informed his followers that Craig had suffered two massive heart attacks and underwent a procedure in which stents were used in blocked or narrow coronary arteries to improve blood flow. On discharge from hospital, he wasn’t allowed to work, exercise or drive.

With time on his hands, Craig was active on social media. He shared that it was his wife who got him to a hospital in time, so was grateful to her for saving his life. He’d been getting regular check-ups since the incident, and posted updates regarding his condition. After a month, he shared that he was feeling a bit better, but still struggling to breathe, so he’d been sleeping a lot. Just a few days after this post, Craig revealed that one of the medications that the doctors put him on caused him to develop Reynaud’s disease, a medical condition in which there is reduced blood flow to end arterioles, usually the fingers, and less commonly the toes. One symptom was that his fingers turned white, with blue fingernails. This made it difficult for him to do anything with his hands. He was re-admitted to hospital and adjustments were made to his medications.

Craig was also having problems with his voice, and his doctors were looking into it; so far, they had no idea what was causing it, so wanted to readmit him and look inside his heart as the progress wasn’t going as well as they would like; he was having more off days than good days. By the end of June 2023, Craig said his condition had improved and that he could go out and walk around on the flat ground for a couple of minutes without feeling ill or being out of breath. He was scheduled for an assessment to see if he was ready for rehab, which doctors kept postponing due to his slow recovery. While he was unable to work, it was Mrs. H who did the restorations.

Craig as a radio DJ

Fans were delighted to hear from him and it was not just through his social media posts but also on the radio. He was one of Bayside Radio program DJs for “Monday Beat” as he shared his love for music, particularly classic rock on Monday evenings for two hours; he was listed as a volunteer presenter on its website. At times, his wife would join him on the show. It seemed that listeners enjoyed their banter and chemistry on the air. It wasn’t clear when it all started, but he had been interviewed time and again on Bayside Radio in the past.

For over three decades, Craig Hughes Upholstery brought old or battered upholstered chairs or seats back to life. Many people couldn’t part ways with a favorite piece of furniture that had seen better days, and Craig had the skills to restore it for them. He might not be part of “Salvage Hunters” anymore, but fans were hoping that being a master restorer, he would somehow find his way onto the small screen once more.

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