Please Change my Upholstery!

Why do so many armchairs have to be upholstered in ugly or nondescript fabrics?  A fabric should impart your seats with a timeless note of color and elegance, not become a liability to your interior.

Kilim Chair

Kilim on a Victorian sleeper chair

Follow simple rules when picking a fabric: debate first if you are more comfortable with a solid color, or a geometrical, floral or ethnic pattern, such as Cashmere, Suzani, kilim or Ikat.  Take into consideration the style of your furniture, the palette of your walls, and your floor colors.  A well-chosen fabric can enliven a room as much as a painting can.

Strive to select the best quality; a good upholstery fabric should last at least one generation.  To this end, check its resiliency and thickness, and ensure its lightfastness.  A measure of lightfastness can be found on the fabric’s label, and is graded from 1 to 5 for American fabrics (1 being the very poorest) and from 1 to 8 for European ones.  Inquiring about the grade of a fabric is not ludicrous; for example, an attractive cherry silk velvet with a tempting price tag could soon turn to a dirty-looking grey brick, due to a loss of its pigment color.  However, high-grade furnishing fabrics of one hundred years of age or older still boast surprisingly fresh and vibrant colors.  Silk is yet another story; it is notorious for burning under exposure from the sun or the moon, regardless of quality.  Nowadays, even reputable fabric makers sell lower-quality fabrics to better suit consumerism.  If a trendy yet low-grade fabric entices you, you may think about using it for slipcovers; it will be less costly than reupholstering, and you will not have qualms about throwing it away after it wears out.

Crimson Silk Velvet

Conversation around a crimson silk velvet upholstered Louis XV chair.

The shape or style of your seat plays a considerable role in the selection of a fabric.  Pick a fabric that contrasts in intensity with the wood frame color to showcase the upholstery.  Similarly, the shape and proportions of the seat need to be studied before deciding on stripes, large patterns, period fabric and so forth.  The idea is to balance pattern and shape, or to compensate the shortcomings of a chair with a surprising or beautiful fabric that will bring forgiveness to it.  An oversized armchair will be weighed-down by a large pattern fabric, which would be better suited on a small chair.  Designs such as Gingham or Toile bring freshness and a little whiff of happiness to an ambiance; silk velvet conveys softness, luxury and refinement.  Brocades, damasks and lampas are equally ultra-luxurious, and by their sheer presence, set a precious tone even in a monastic room.  For a surprise and contemporary effect, two different fabrics could be used on the same piece; or, you can untraditionally appropriate hammam sheets or mattress fabrics to upholster your seats.  An appreciation for these combined considerations would allow you to bring off your décor.

Tapestry Armchair

Real and fake cherries on tapestry velvet armchair

Blue Settee

Gold trim twisted around settee frame

My creed is that less is more.  The furnishing fabric needs to be underlined by a completing trimming that should not overwhelm it, but just set it.  Using a braid that is too heavy will blur the clean contrast fabric/wood frame of the seat.  Trimming may also serve to create a pattern in the center of the seat or on its back, where a tapestry pattern was often displayed in the past.  Additionally, a trim can be twisted around the pad covering the frame of a settee or armchair (head rest, armrest and their continuation), bringing some salt to its upholstery.

Lastly, it is visually pleasant to display contrasting fabrics or trims to break the monotony of a matching set of furniture; this effect plays the characteristics of the furniture and fabrics against one another other, hence highlighting their individual traits.

Here are some illustrations of these ideas: take a seat!

Leopard Chair

Leopard-occupied Victorian chair


Daydream fabrics on pillows

Brocade Silk

19th century brocade silk

A Bientot!

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