Main Bedroom: modern Bedroom by Tru Interiors

Choosing the perfect upholstery material

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
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How often do we focus on the fabrics wrapped around furniture pieces? Those soft materials covering your living room sofas, the patterned fabrics of your dining room chairs, or even the quality of the silk (or polyester, or wool… ) of your bedroom’s scatter cushions? Not often enough, we’d say!

When it comes to upholstery material, it’s a slippery slope. Even professional interior designers and decorators need to keep a cool head when sifting through the endless options. Choose the wrong material and that furniture piece might not withstand wear and tear adequately. Make a mistake with the colour or pattern and it could bring down the entire room. But even though colours and motifs are vital for your sofas, chairs and cushions, they only play a small role in the great, big world of upholstery.

But don’t worry – homify is here to help you choose the right upholstery material!

1. What is upholstery?

Beach Retreat: eclectic Living room by Studio Do Cabo
Studio Do Cabo

Beach Retreat

Studio Do Cabo

Upholstery is the materials (which includes the fabric, padding, webbing, and springs) that make up the soft coverings of furniture such as sofas and chairs. Starting off in the Middle Ages, the process of upholstering furniture gained popularity during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. 

And just like everything else in interior design (and life), upholstering also evolved – the first materials used were hay, then horsehair! Fortunately, modern upholstered pieces use much more comfortable materials, plus metal springs and foam for greater durability. 

And even though the interior materials of an upholstered piece cannot be seen, they make a big difference in how comfortable that sofa (or tub chair… ) is.

2. Picking upholstery material: The colour

Of course colour always plays a vital role in a room, regardless of which fabrics are used.

Choosing colour starts with one question: what kind of mood do you want to create? For example, light-coloured fabrics are ideal for large furniture in a smaller space, as it can make the room seem bigger. 

Generally, neutral colours are the best, especially since they are available in thousands of different hues – dove grey, powder white, mocha brown…  

And as it can be costly to keep up with ever-changing trends, be sure to choose a colour that you can live with for a long time.

3. Picking upholstery material: The style

Burgundy Bar Stools: modern Kitchen by Linken Designs
Linken Designs

Burgundy Bar Stools

Linken Designs

Choose a fabric that complements your furniture in terms of look and feel. Some materials appear casual, while others flaunt a more formal look. The safest bet is to go with a more ‘traditional’ fabric for classic furniture, and pair modern fabrics with contemporary furniture. 

Of course you can always mix and match various fabrics (and colours) to suit your vibrant and quirky personality!

4. Picking upholstery material: Durability

In addition to looking beautiful, your upholstered furniture must also be practical and durable.

Think about the room in which your upholstered pieces are standing. Does it get a lot of sun? Does anybody in your home suffer from allergies? Got busy youngsters and pets running around the house? Then don’t pick the most sensitive upholstery material you can find.

Woven patterns tend to hold up longer than printed ones, and so do higher thread counts and tight weaves. Stay away from printed and heavily textured fabrics that wear out in spots where you sit most often. Furniture pieces that are used often should be covered in touch and durable fabrics – think about distressed leather and stain-resistant fabrics, which are great for regular wear and tear (silk, not so much).  

We recommend slipcovers that can easily be put in the wash. And if your chairs and sofas are going to be standing in direct sunlight, avoid natural fabrics like cotton and linen – they fade quickly over time.

5. Picking upholstery material: Popular options

Main Bedroom: modern Bedroom by Tru Interiors
Tru Interiors

Main Bedroom

Tru Interiors

Natural fabrics 

Linen: A reasonable option for wear and tear, this fabric is best suited for formal spaces as it wrinkles easily. Plus it resists fading.  

Cotton: This natural fibre resists wear, doesn’t fade easily, and is available in various textures and thickness. 

Cotton blends: Even tough cotton blends can be sturdy (depending on the weave), a stain-resistant finish (like Scotch Guard) should be applied for everyday use.  

Wool: A great resistance against fading, wrinkling and soiling. But keep in mind that wool is generally more expensive than cotton. 

Silk: Available in a multitude of colours and styles, silk is mostly used for decorative and accent furniture. Remember that it needs to be professionally cleaned.

Synthetic fibres 

Acrylic: Developed as a more affordable option to wool, acrylic fabric resists wear, wrinkling, soiling, and fading. 

Nylon: One of the strongest upholstery materials, nylon is resilient, doesn’t easily soil or wrinkle, and is usually blended with other fibres. It does tend to fade, though.  

Olefin: A smart choice for furniture that will receive heavy wear, making it perfect for outdoor spaces (it is also sunproof).  

Polyester: Usually blended with other fibres to add wrinkle resistance, eliminate crushing of napped fabrics, reduce fading, and increase strength.

6. Picking upholstery material: Tips and tricks

Saddlebrook Estate: classic Dining room by Vision Tribe
Vision Tribe

Saddlebrook Estate

Vision Tribe
  1. To test the wrinkling, crush a handful tightly in the palm of your hand. Release to see if the wrinkles are retained. 
  2. The tighter the weave or higher the thread count, the stronger the fabric. 
  3. To test fabric’s stain-resistant finish, drop a small amount of water on it. If the water beads up instead of soaking in, the fabric should repel stains.  
  4. Steer clear of large patterns on small furnishings. Go with motifs that will accentuate your furniture’s shape – stripes, for example, would look great on tall and sleek pieces, while florals or damask could work for rounded ones.  
  5. When using patterned fabric, ensure that prints line up all over the piece. When looking at it from far away, it should appear that the entire couch or chair is covered with only one piece of fabric.  
  6. Remember to focus on both comfort and quality – your upholstered furniture will only look as good as it feels. 

Speaking of fabrics (and beautiful homes), let’s see how to Enhance your Home With Textiles!

Which furniture in your home could do with a new, upholstered look?
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