Choosing fabric is such an important part of designing your home. However, the choices can be overwhelming with the vast array of options. Through working on numerous interior design projects I’ve learnt many lessons about how well different fabrics work in different homes. The most important thing I’ve learnt is that there are advantages and disadvantages of every fabric. So when you are deciding which fabrics to use it’s important you understand both sides.
I’ve outlined my top tips below on choosing fabric. I haven’t included advice about colour choices here but do read my article on Colour Scheme Ideas for additional tips.
ONLY CHOOSE FABRIC ONCE YOU HAVE A CONCEPT IN MIND
Firstly, think of the effect you want to create, which will help narrow down your fabric choices. It’s almost impossible to source fabric unless you have a clear sense of direction to work towards.
Generally in modern country homes my clients are looking to create relaxed, welcoming homes. My favourite fabrics to achieve this effortless feel are a combination of linens, wools and velvet accents. This creates an interesting mix of soft textures and a laid back sense of luxury. If you wish to create a more sophisticated feel then introduce silk or cashmere into the wools for the curtains and more velvet on the upholstery. This immediately changes the feel of a room but also makes it slightly less practical!
BE PRACTICAL ABOUT THE FABRIC CHOICE
The choice of fabric has to be practical as well as beautiful. Different fabrics are designed with different uses in mind and some are not suitable for all uses.
Most fabrics will include a label on the back indicating whether they are suitable for windows or upholstery. But the guidance of these symbols is not always totally reliable and some fabrics straddle a middle ground. So don’t take the advice of these labels too literally.
What you’ll also find on the label is the Martindale rub. This rub test indicates the durability of the fabric. So how much wear and tear it will take before there is a noticeable change in appearance. The higher the score the more durable it is. So this can provide you with a good starting point to make your choice.
CHOOSE HEAVIER TEXTURES FOR UPHOLSTERY
The upholstery choice for your sofa or armchairs is a big investment. If you make the wrong choice it can be an expensive mistake. Upholstery is the most practical choice you’ll need to make in terms of durability and comfort.
Choose a Martindale rub over 25,000 for upholstery. Fabrics with a 100,000 rub are particularly resilient and designed for heavy commercial use. I tend to find the fabrics at the 100,000 end can feel too chunky and stiff. Avoid anything below 15,000 unless you are happy to just look at the chair and not sit on it!
For upholstery, I often choose a chunky linen or a linen-cotton mix and avoid anything too light. There are so many variations of linens though and do bear in mind that some linens crease more than others. I personally love this relaxed look but it’s good to know before you upholster a whole sofa in it! A simple test is to get a returnable sample and give it a good scrunch in your hand.
In playrooms a practical choice is washed cotton. These feel really soft and are very easy to clean. They may not have the texture of linen but are worry-free options you won’t stress about. Pattern is also great for not showing any marks or stains and can be much more forgiving than a plain fabric.
Also check how your supplier plans to fireproof your furniture. Either the fabric itself must be fireproofed or the supplier will use a barrier cloth. I personally think barrier cloth can stiffen the feel of the padding in an upholstered item so would normally opt to have the fabric itself fireproofed.
SELECT SOFT DRAPEABLE FABRICS FOR CURTAINS AND BLINDS
For curtains, the best choices are cotton mixes and lightweight linens as they have a relaxed quality and suit most rooms. However, the slightly heavier linens crease easily and don’t drape so well. Also bear in mind that natural fibres shrink and expand. So you may see some natural movement in the length of your curtains. I sometimes recommend that the curtains are pooled on the floor, rather than brushing it, so that you don’t notice those minor changes in length.
For a more elegant feel, lightweight wools (with cashmere) and wool/silk mixes are a good choice as they drape so beautifully. 100% silk is a risky choice as it can rot in sunlight, particularly on south facing windows. If you absolutely love silk one option is to add a non-silk leading edge to protect it. Wool and silk are the most expensive fabric options so only invest for key rooms, such as your master bedroom.
Again, the Martindale rub count can give you guidance. For curtains I normally choose a fabric with a Martindale rub of less than 20,000. For blinds choose very flexible fabric so they pleat and keep their shape. Soft cotton is a good option for blinds. I also love linen but choose wisely as the more informal style linens don’t fold neatly and can loose their shape.
For more advice on choosing curtains and blinds in your home see my previous article with wider tips.
COMBINE SCALES OF PATTERN
Introducing pattern into a decorative scheme can be intimidating but adds so much personality to a room. My most simple tip is to use three scales of pattern for your decorative scheme. One large-scale pattern, one medium and one small. Then intersperse with plains. If you have too many fabrics of all of the same scale it can get too much. Although some interior designers would disagree with me!
Firstly look for a large multi-hued pattern that incorporates your favourite colours. If you would like a bolder scheme you could use this fabric on the curtains (but only if they are large scale windows to show off the pattern). You can then pick out the colours on secondary pieces of the room in the room, such as upholstery and cushions. If you decide to use plain fabrics for curtains and furniture then still apply the three-scale rule to the cushions of your sofa. For a large sofa I normally recommend 6 cushions in 3 different styles. It always works!
If you would like more tips about combining pattern and print see my recent article.
A WORD ON VELVET
Velvet is one of my favourite fabrics but choose wisely and go into the decision with your eyes open! It adds a sense of luxury and sense of comfort other fabrics can’t quite compete with. But is not always a practical option. In rooms with young children I would totally avoid this fabric. It does not cope well with sticky stains, even with some of the “clever” velvets. Trying to clean a velvet sofa can often cause damage to the fibres and leave flat rub marks.
Velvets are generally made of cotton, mohair, silk or synthetic fibres. I find the cotton velvets pressure mark more noticeably than the other types. It’s impossible to avoid but I personally love the natural movement of the pile and time only adds character to the fabric. It looks particularly stunning on buttoned furniture. If you want your fabric to look perfect and smooth a cotton or silk velvet won’t be the right choice for you. And definitely avoid the dark velvets if you are worried as they show marks much more. The best choice for the avoidance of pressure marking is to choose a mohair velvet but these tend to be pricier!
Have fun choosing your fabrics! I am an absolutely fabric addict and think it makes a scheme sing. An emotional choice is normally the right one and you can always find a place for something you love! So start with a fabric you love and you can build from there. You can use the expert advice of an interior designer to advise on how to develop a beautiful practical scheme.
I hope you have found this article useful. If you would like help creating a scheme for your modern country home do get in touch via the Contact page.