How to Choose the Right Fabric for Your Life
by Audrey Kang
Choosing the right upholstery for a new sofa or chair is the fun and exciting step that transforms a well-crafted piece of furniture into the sofa of your dreams.
Upholstery fabric reflects personal style (do you prefer the statement-making glamour of crushed velvet or the breezy elegance of pre-washed linen?). Plus, understanding which fabric will look best in your space and hold up to the wear and tear of daily life is essential to creating a piece you’ll use and love for years.
Our tips on choosing the right fabric for your lifestyle will make it easy for you to make the perfect choice for your specific needs.
Three questions to always ask yourself when buying new furniture:
1. Who will use the furniture?
If you have children, look for fabrics that are easy to clean or that naturally resist stains. A durable, washable slipcover can be a lifesaver if you have a young family or pets.
2. How will they use it?
Think about the way you live and how you'll interact with the piece. A family room sofa asks for a tougher upholstery, while a more delicate fabric will hold up just fine for a bedroom reading chair.
3. How will it age?
Darker fabrics are prone to fading in sunlit rooms, and leather will develop a deep, storied patina with use. As you choose your fabric, imagine how it will age based on where it is placed and how it is used.
Once you've considered the big questions, narrowing it down ultimately comes to personal taste and the specific needs of your space.
Velvet — an abc favorite!
Velvet stands out for its soft, warm touch and glamorous appearance. It carries color beautifully and is perfect for bringing in rich, intense hues to add a splash of vibrance to your space.
Durability: The durability of velvet is hotly contested by pet owners. Some complain that velvet attracts pet hair and dust, while others tout it as the only material safe from the restless claws of cats. From our experience, velvet holds up well with regular maintenance.
Sustainability: Velvet can be woven from natural fibers like silk or cotton, from synthetic materials like polyester or rayon, or a combination of both. The fiber type will affect its longevity — synthetic velvets are more resistant to marking, crushing and fading, while silk velvets tend to be more delicate.
abc's Pick: Geo Loveseat by Saba
This classic material has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due to its breezy, effortless look. Its elegance is made more appealing by its comfort, durability, and resistance to static (goodbye, pesky balls of dust!).
Durability: If you have very active children and/or pets, linen may not be the best choice, as it is more prone to weakening and stains than many man-made textiles.
Sustainability: Linen is celebrated as a highly eco-friendly textile. It is produced from the hardy flax plant, which calls for far less water, fertilizers, and chemical farming than, say, cotton does. It also involves minimal processing to arrive in its final form. We love linen tinted with natural, botanical dyes to bring out its natural beauty.
abc's Pick: Dream Apartment Sofa by Cisco
Cotton and cotton canvas
Hypoallergenic and comfortable on the skin, cotton is available in a rainbow of shades to suit your color scheme.
Durability: Cotton, particularly cotton canvas, is a wonderful choice for homes with children and pets. The tighter weave of cotton canvas makes it highly durable and stain resistant. In the event of spills or soiling, cotton can be cleaned with simple soap and water.
Sustainability: Cotton is generally known as an eco-friendly fabric, but there are some finer points to consider when making your choice. The production of cotton has historically involved unsafe and inhumane labor conditions. To avoid supporting these unsavory practices, look for cotton upholstery from companies with positive labor policies, like those carried at abc.
Wool adds texture and coziness to any space. Its wide expanse of options, from richly hued solids to classic tartans make it an incredibly versatile fabric to suit your style.
Durability: Wool’s strongest selling point is perhaps its natural resilience — wool fibers spring quickly back into shape, and wool upholstery is known for looking great over time without wrinkling or creasing. A natural coating on wool fibers also provides some stain resistance, but heavier stains will require professional cleaning.
Sustainability: Wool is renewable and biodegradable. Its environmental friendliness is tempered by the fact that it is a material produced by animals. The highest quality wool is obtained via a process that ensures animal health and safety. Proper shelters, pasture grazing, and quality veterinary care are a few practices we seek to source responsibly produced wool.
abc's Pick: Sent Sofia Bench by abcDNA
Upholstering your piece in silk gives it a shimmering, show-stopping look due to the unique iridescent structure of the silk fiber. Smooth and cool to the touch, silk is ideal for use in warmer climates.
Durability: We recommend using silk in lower traffic areas, as it is prone to snagging and must be professionally cleaned.
Sustainability: Silk is obtained by extracting the thread from the cocoons of silkworm larvae in a process that some animal advocates deem as cruel. This is because many silkworms are often killed to produce large quantities of the revered material. But the production of silk has also been a huge part of many cultures for hundreds of years. It provides countless people with their means of living, particularly women. Look for silk made under fair wages and safe working conditions to ensure you are shopping responsibly.
A word on synthetic materials:
These choices are only a few that we’ve pulled from the wide range of upholstery options. Synthetic materials also provide an array of choices from pattern to texture, and are often more affordable and durable than natural materials. Many people will opt for upholstery that features a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, which marries the best parts of each. When shopping for upholstery, or anything for that matter, try to consider every aspect of the material, from its production to its appearance to its sustainability. That way, you’ll make a choice that you can feel good about for years to come.