If you’ve ever stopped to think about what gives you that take-a-step-back awe-struck feeling, you might think of experiencing the Grand Canyon, admiring its grandeur and vastness. Or standing in the Accademia in Florence, face to face with Michelangelo’s masterpiece of David, absorbed by its scale and magnificence. You’re consumed by magic. If you’ve ever had this kind of visceral experience when seeing a beautifully designed piece of upholstered furniture, there’s no doubt it was covered in fabulous fabric. Furniture’s first impression is all about fabric and form.
Without great fabric, even the most beautiful furniture designs are diminished. Fabric gives a piece life. Dimension. Depth. Beauty. We get a first-hand look at what a profound difference the fabric makes in the overall look of a piece, as we handcraft high-end modern custom furniture, with our customers often choosing their own fabrics.
Although there are some good articles out there about how to select fabric, our point of view at VIOSKI is a bit unique. It’s about making the most of your investment. After all, if you are buying a piece of high-quality handcrafted custom furniture, it’s going to be expensive. That’s why it’s so crucial you choose the right fabric. Thirteen years of experience designing and handcrafting furniture has taught us a lot. We’d like to share what we’ve learned.
Here are six factors you should consider to assure your fabric choice lives up to your quality furniture investment:
- Typically, the first thing you think about when buying a piece of custom upholstered furniture is your color choice. For most, it’s the single biggest factor. After all, you will have to live with it for some time. Keep in mind when choosing light colors, the fabric will read even lighter once you get the sofa or the chair in the room.
- Everyone has a personal preference for softness. Some of the most beautiful and durable fabrics are not the softest. For example, we like wool, but it may not be soft enough for some. Softer fabrics are not always the ones that wear the best. You’ll need to decide what level of softness works for you, given all the factors that go into fabric selection.
- Although durability is not how the typical person picks their fabric, we believe it should move to number one. Fabrics we’re asked to appoint, don’t always meet our standards for durability. Admittedly, the VIOSKI standards for quality are higher than most. For a sofa, look for fabrics with at least 40,000 double rubs using the Wyzenbeek test, or 45,000 cycles using the Martindale method.
What? You might rightfully ask? These are two standard methods used to test abrasion resistance in the interior design world. U.S. companies use the Wyzenbeek test method where a piece of cotton duck fabric is rubbed over the fabric over-and-over-again in both the warp and the weft directions. That measure is called “double rubs”. European companies use the Martindale method, where a piece of worsted wool is rubbed over the fabric in a figure 8 motion, and that measure is called “cycles”. On the tag of a home décor fabric or on the back of a swatch, you’ll see the number of double rubs or cycles. The higher the number, the more durable the fabric will be to wear.
For a side chair that doesn’t get used much, you don’t need the same durability so you can get away with 20,000 to 30,000 double rubs or 40,000 cycles. If a chair gets used more, we recommend going higher. If you’re buying a piece of furniture off a showroom floor, ask about the double rubs or cycles so you know how well the fabric will wear. Fabric should last for 10 years or more.
- Fabric Content. Beyond the look and the feel of the fabric, you need to know the fabric content so you can properly clean and maintain it. Different fabric contents require different cleaning methods. Always have your upholstery professionally cleaned. It’s well worth the money because you can really mess up your fabric and your furniture will never look the same.
If you buy a piece of furniture off the showroom floor, make sure you know the content of the fabric so you know how it should be cleaned.
Resist the temptation to take off the pillow coverings and wash them. You’ll never get them back on. The reason the zipper is there is so the pillow can be filled with the proper foam and wrap.
- Pick fabric for the specific piece. Keep the scale of the piece in mind. For example, texture is wonderful on a larger piece, but it can over power a smaller piece to the point where you don’t see design details like tufting and buttons. Reserve heavy texture and patterns for larger pieces.
You can also get depth without texture if there are multiple colors in the thread used in the fabric. Look closely to see the threads in our fabric. Also, remember to go for super durable fabrics for sofas and upholstered beds. You can back off a little for a chair, but not too much.
- Stretch. Here’s where things get tricky. Even the highest quality fabrics will not show well, if the upholsterer is not masterfully skilled. It starts with the fabric cutter who must understand the nuances of the fabric. As Jeff Vioski, designer points out, “Each fabric has a personality of its own. Some are heavenly and others are a nightmare.”
A skilled cutter knows when and how to cut pieces slightly smaller if the fabric has a lot of stretch. It must be tight to look beautiful. It’s extremely difficult to work with a fabric that has no stretch at all. We call it “dead fabric”. It’s hard to bring it to life in a piece. Cushions look oddly flat. So, make sure you have at least some stretch in your fabric.
The artisan upholsterer knows exactly how hard to continually pull as they work their skilled craft. Foam must be added by the cushion artisan to perfectly form the cushions and pillows. It’s their skilled hands that bring your fabric to life in a piece.
Follow these guidelines, and there’s a good chance when you see your custom furniture for the first time, you’ll be overcome by that visceral magic feeling.
If you have thoughts or questions about fabric selection, let us know @Vioski