A guide to upholstery fabrics

  • GP & J Baker fabrics
  • GP & J Baker fabrics

Whether it’s a well-loved or antique sofa or chair in need of a new lease
of life, or a beautiful new bespoke item you can personalise with your own
choice of fabric, Interior Designer Amanda Hanley gives an insight into how
to create something unique, beautiful and practical that you will cherish for
years to come.

When selecting a fabric for your piece of furniture, aesthetic is an important element, but functionality is key. There are certain considerations you need to think about to ensure you will get the result you are aspiring to and that your furniture will last the test of time.

What colour and fabric should I go for?

Once you’ve decided on the perfect sofa or chair, choose a fabric that is harmonious with the style and character of the piece of furniture and the interior of your house. For instance, a traditional fabric is the obvious choice for a traditional-style frame. However, if you want to go for something a bit different, try combining styles with the assistance of a professional!

Tactile textiles with a luxurious feel are increasingly popular in the latest designer fabric collections; velvet is a good choice that comes in a vast number of finishes.

Make sure your colour choice is one you can live with for a long time. You might want to avoid very bold colours that could look dated long before the piece needs recovering.

Think about the mood you are trying to create and consider the colour temperature. Warm and cool colours will hugely affect the mood of the room; warming hues enhance the impact, and may encourage you to choose something a little more exciting than the wide range of neutral tones. 

Soft reds and burnt oranges look gorgeous with neutral backgrounds, creating a warm, welcoming look with a country chic feel.

Should I go for a plain or patterned fabric?

Most importantly, make sure you choose a design you really love and will enjoy for a long time; ideally you don’t want something that will be out of fashion by next year! Plain and neutral styles are more versatile in standing the test of time, however patterns withstand wear and tear, stains and damage better.

If pattern is your preference, ensure that the print suits the style and shape of the furniture; traditional fabrics usually suit classic pieces and plain fabrics complement modern designs. If the piece is complex with lots of curves and detail, then a solid pattern normally works best. You should also consider the size of the pattern and the impact it will have on the room.

When it comes to customisation, there is a multitude of choices that will transform the piece. Take advice on trimmings; adding piped edges, button tufting, cords and edging will finish your piece off beautifully.

How do I choose a fabric that will be durable enough for my family?

The importance of fabric durability depends on a number of factors, including the style of furniture, the room and environment it will be used in, how often it will be used and who will be using it – in particular children and pets!

Will it be in a high traffic area? There are plenty of hardwearing fabrics to choose from; look out for high thread counts and tight weaves. Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch of fabric; denser fabrics are more durable.

Woven patterns often last longer than printed ones and tightly woven velvets can also be very hardwearing as the abrasion is taken at the end of the pile tuft. Silks can work in formal settings with occasional wear, but wool, cotton and synthetics are much more suitable for everyday living.

Depending on the environment you might need to consider fade resistance and mildew resistance. If you have allergies consider fabric such as microfibre, which is lint-free and won’t attract dust. And if you have pets avoid using delicate fabrics or anything with lots of texture.

You can check every fabric’s capabilities in the producer’s swatch book. Upholstery fabrics should have a minimum of 20,000-30,000 rubs – we prefer to select fabrics with 100,000 rubs for clients’ sofas, to ensure longevity. Upholstered items should also have a ticket that displays its fire resistance.

Get creative

Don't be afraid to choose a fabric with a fun or unique print if you love it. It can add a surprisingly personal touch and quickly transform the feel of the entire room. If you're too nervous to experiment with bolder colours and patterns, you might rather express your style with a footstool or ottoman, which can double as a coffee table. It'll add a more subtle sense of diversity to your space.

A recent trend for re-upholstery is to use two complementary fabrics, ideally on an occasional chair. It is crucial, of course, to choose fabrics that work perfectly together so it is worthwhile consulting an expert on how to mix patterns, textures and colours beautifully. 

Find out more about Amanda and her projects at www.amandahanley.co.uk