Category Archives: Upholstered Furniture

Upholstered Furniture Facts #3: The Right Fabric

What Should the Furniture Wear?

The perfect fabric is often a custom choice
The perfect fabric is often a custom choice

The sofa looks tired

The fabric is faded/worn/spotted/stained/ripped and the color bears no relationship to the rest of the décor, because you’ve been lugging it around since college.

Well, maybe this story is a mite exaggerated in your case, but in any case, it’s time for a change.

Whether you are buying new upholstered furniture, reupholstering, or having a slipcover made for what you already own, it takes well considered thought to select just the right fabric.

This is where it gets complicated

You would think that common sense would automatically rule as a guide, but hardly anyone is immune to wishful thinking, when faced with the wide range of fabric choices available today. This is, of course, if you aren’t paralyzed with confusion and indecision to begin with, given the wide range of fabric choices available to today.

Once past paralysis, (God willing) some unerring instinct will then, most likely, cause you to gravitate to the most beautiful, most expensive fabric at hand.  It takes a lot of discipline, (not without a touch of sadness) to come back to reality and the concerns of your real life and real life style.  Now what?

Don’t worry.  The perfect solution is nearer than you think. There are now available a very wide range of colors and textures at more affordable prices than ever before. Synthetic fabrics have really improved too. They have higher stain resistance and can usually be spot cleaned, making them virtually kid/pet proof. Blends of synthetic fibers with natural fibers are available too.  The average price per yard is lower than with an all-natural fiber fabric in most cases.  You also get the easy cleaning properties of synthetics, along with the beauty and better “feel” of a natural fiber.

Here’s a short checklist to help inform your prospective decisions:

  • Consider the suitability of fabric weight (thickness), weave and texture for the intended use.

Re-think using a pale silk to re-upholster the family room sofa

where three small children, their friends, two dogs and a cat

will be playing.

A fabric with texture, versus a smooth finish, is less likely to show dirt, wear and spots. Medium to dark colors are good for the same reason. Unless the piece of furniture is specifically to be used as an accent piece, lean towards interesting, textured neutrals so you can more freely use colorful rugs, artwork, etc.

  • Durability: including an understanding of the natural life of some fibers.

Silk, for example again, is very fragile, and fades at the mere hint of sunlight. Some major fabric companies like Kravet, submit their fabric to rigorous testing, including a run through equipment that “double rubs” the fabric thousands of times to rate durability. A fabric that has been subjected to 20,000 double rubs is considered suitable for heavy duty.  I should hope so.

  • Ease of cleaning and overall resistance to wear, dirt and spotting.

We all feel better when we see that a liquid and/or dirt repellant finish has been applied to the fabric, but remember this is not a “magic” finish.  Don’t delay attending to any messes. I have been told that the applied finishes don’t have a very long life, but until they fade away, can certainly help.

If your existing furniture is still in good shape and serviceable, consider slipcovers. Slipcovers are a less permanent investment, can be removed for dry-cleaning, as well as give you an opportunity for seasonal design variety. You could have a set of slipcovers for the cold months and a different set when it’s warm. Be forewarned. It isn’t a good idea to wash slipcovers, unless the manufacturer specifically gives the OK. Washing changes the body of the fabric, and could cause some shrinkage. The cover may not fit as well afterwards, if it fits at all.

Upholstery fabric ranges in price from under $20 per yard (some canvases for example), to several hundred dollars for various reasons of fiber content, intricacy of weave, foreign manufacture, etc.  Consider the cost of fabric versus use.  Some fabrics, though expensive, are so beautiful and wear so well, that the initial high cost amortizes to a very good deal over the long years of use. Mohair velvet is a good example of this.

Related Posts

Upholstered Furniture Facts Series – Take A Seat – Part I

Upholstered Furniture Facts Series – Part II – You Have Options

Furniture Arrangement Series – Part I – Form Follows Function

Furniture Arrangement #2: Creating Conversation Areas Worth Talking About

Photo – Jack Lindholm – Decoding Decor Portfolio

This is one of several articles I wrote for publication on It’s presented here as a foundation for further topic discussion, updates and commentaries…

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