49 Years and Counting: House of Covers

pattern stories
Written by:
Ed Domain

Even the company truck (Corvair) is cool

Steve and Rita Gongora love what they do. Located just off Central Avenue at 115 Richmond Drive, House of Covers just celebrated its 49th year in business and, as Steve says with a smile, “we have work to keep us busy a very long time.”

Steve was a military brat whose dad inspected nuclear weapons for the U.S. Army. As a result, he was born in France and moved around often as his father’s duty stations changed. 

Steve next to a beauty (T-bird) his shop is working on.

Eventually they were assigned to New Mexico, and Steve graduated high school in Albuquerque. Despite all the moving, the Gongora family has history in the Land of Enchantment. His Great Uncle Manuel Martinez was the second Secretary of State of New Mexico.

Steve has a thing for Corvairs.

Father & Son, Inc.

In 1972, Steve and his father opened House of Covers by renting out the service department of Van’s Midtown Volvo, and got off to a great start.

“Right around when we opened,” Steve told me, “there were two other upholstery competitors in town that closed up shop, which certainly didn’t hurt us.”

Did I mention? Steve REALLY likes Corvairs!

Being relatively new here, I asked about car culture and “cruising”; I expected to see more once I moved here, but realized the pandemic probably slowed that down, too. 

“We don’t just make things. We transform them. We rebuild and we bring happiness to people. Albuquerque is a wonderful place to live, and I feel lucky every day to be able to do what I do, and do it in Albuquerque.”

“Oh yes,” Steve said, smiling. Steve is always smiling. “Cars were just as much of a big deal here in the seventies as they are now, so we had business. Still,” he added as he held up a piece of leather for a car seat with intricate stitching on it, “you have to have artistic talent to do this job. There is craftsmanship involved, and our clients recognize our high standards right away. Not anyone can do this, as in addition to the artistic craftsmanship, you have to be able to think three dimensionally, and not everyone can.”

“There is nothing you can’t do with a sewing machine.” – Steve Gongoras

I looked around at some of his work in various stages of completion and at the two stunning cars in his bay waiting for love. It was very obvious Steve loved his work. He finished by saying, “I am really lucky to have the team I do. This is a very specific type of work, and not everyone can do it well.” 

He took me into their warehouse where I saw different types of upholstery, all organized and catalogued. “If there is something you’re looking for, we have it,” he said proudly.

Yes, they carry that (whatever you need).

They moved to their current location in 1977. Five years later in 1982, the U.S. Army had a need for someone skilled in nuclear weapon safety, so Steve’s father reenlisted.

That left Steve running the business alone, so his wife Rita joined in the eighties. As Steve puts it, “that’s when we really hit our stride. Having Rita as my partner here has made it possible for us to be really dialed in and organized. Things kept getting better and better for us.”

The pliers are solid metal, old school quality. Steve made his own tool belt to hold them.

Not Just Cars

“People in New Mexico like to support local, and that’s true here in Albuquerque,” Steve said.

To that end, House of Covers has done specialty work for the Department of Transportation, the Albuquerque Fire Department, Intel, Hewlett Packard, and Presbyterian Hospital.

They even did some work for a high-tech device the military uses for crowd control, an Active Denial System. It needed a protective cover and House of Covers was the place that got the call.

It was just as gorgeous in person.

House of Covers has also made banners for different international and national events; Steve made sure to always make a copy for himself in each batch, and those copies proudly adorn the walls of the shop.

“There is nothing you can’t do with a sewing machine,” Steve added, again smiling. 

Love What You Do

“Every day is a good day,” said Steve. “I love who I work with, and when people see the finished product, they have a big smile on their face, and you don’t get that everywhere.”

Even his truck, an old Corvair he fixed up, shows his pride. The truck is well taken care of and very noticeable out on the road. Steve took me through it, showed me how he built in toolboxes, and as we looked at his shop from out front, he grinned. 

“We don’t just make things. We transform them. We rebuild and we bring happiness to people. Albuquerque is a wonderful place to live, and I feel lucky every day to be able to do what I do, and do it in Albuquerque.”

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