Two furnishings experts offer tips to ensure a match made in design heaven
A new sofa or armchair is a big investment—you don’t want to be second-guessing it a few months after it arrives on your doorstep. Choose the wrong material and you’ll find yourself battling snags and stains. Make a mistake on the color or pattern, and the whole room suffers (or you’ll wind up splurging to have the piece reupholstered). As you shop for an upholstery fabric, let your practical needs lead, advise Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, co-founders of the eponymous home-furnishings company. “First, consider how you live and who will use the piece,” says Williams. “This will help guide you on the type of material to choose.” Here, the duo explain how to zero in on a choice you’ll be happy to live with for years.
Kids? Furry friends? You still have great options
“Growing up, my brother and I weren’t allowed in the living room; it was for company only,” says Gold. Today, though, there are plenty of upholstery materials that match good looks with durability. “For children and pets—and maybe red-wine lovers—we like the easy care of a faux suede or the durability of a Sunbrella indoor-outdoor fabric,” he says. “We’re also big fans of slip-covered upholstery. And distressed leather is great—you don’t have to worry about the occasional scuff or scratch.” If you have a busy household, stay away from delicate or textured options, like silk, which could pull and aren’t as forgiving stain-wise.
If messy children and pets aren’t a worry, “you can really flaunt your freedom,” says Gold. His top decadent picks: fluffy Tibetan wool (“it feels so indulgent, but it’s not a great place to eat peanut-butter crackers”) and Belgian linen. “While linen is very durable, in lighter colors it doesn’t offer the level of stain resistance that a kid-friendly household might need and may not have a crisp wrinkle-free look after a lot of lounging,” he says.
Take the long view
A big mistake people make, Williams says, is not considering how a fabric or leather may age over time. Check the label and ask questions at the showroom to find out about the material’s content and cleaning needs, then think about how much maintenance you’re prepared to do to protect your selection. “How will it look in five years?” asks Williams. “Will you still love the leather as it develops a nice patina from everyday living? Will you vacuum the upholstery fabric regularly? Will you close the drapes when away or not using a room to avoid some of the fading that naturally occurs from exposure to sunlight?”
Consider shape and scale
If you’re upholstering a curvaceous piece, Williams recommends sticking to solid-colored fabrics. “Patterns or textures with a distinctive direction may not upholster well.” Take the size of the furniture into account, too. “We like larger pieces, such as a sofa, in a rich solid color or classic neutral so you won’t tire of it over time,” says Williams. “Liven things up with smaller pieces—for instance, a great statement chair in a bolder shade or pattern.”
Get up close and personal
“The easiest way to be sure you’ll like an upholstery material on a certain frame—and like how it feels when you sit on it—is by going with something you see in the store,” says Williams. If you fall in love with a fabric that’s not shown on the floor, ask for a swatch you can drape over a furnishing to get a better idea of how it will look.