The upholstery fabric for a new sofa or armchair is a big investment—you don’t want to be second-guessing it a few months after the piece 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). So before you pick your new upholstery furniture fabric, read on to find out what you should consider in terms of durability, comfort, and style. Here's how to zero in on a fabric choice you’ll be happy to live with for years.
As you shop for an upholstery fabric, let your practical needs lead, advise Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, cofounders of the home-furnishings company that shares their names. “First, consider how you live and who will use the piece,” says Bob. “This will help guide you on the type of material to choose.” You may love the look of that silk velvet, but it will quickly get destroyed in a house with kids or pets. Pieces in high-traffic areas, such as family or living rooms, will need durable fabrics, especially for outdoor cushion and pillow fabric, while furniture that doesn't get as much wear and tear, such as a bedroom settee or headboard, can sport any type of textile.
If messy children and pets aren’t a worry, “you can really flaunt your freedom,” says Mitchell. 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. If you're worried about upkeep (or cost), you can always use these luxe fabrics on pillows, which can be swapped out once they've seen better days or a new trend comes along.
Don't Forget to Consider the Piece Itself
Take the shape of the furniture into consideration when you're choosing a fabric. (Your upholsterer will thank you.) If you’re upholstering a curvaceous piece, Bob recommends sticking to solid-colored fabrics for office chair fabric. “Patterns or textures with a distinctive direction may not upholster well.” A pattern that looks great on a bolt of fabric may not look great once it is chopped up and put back together on your sofa, particularly if it's a tricky, ornate shape. 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 Bob. “Liven things up with smaller pieces—for instance, a great statement chair in a bolder shade or pattern.” Think about the other furnishings in the room as well—especially the other upholstered pieces. You'll want to make sure the colors, textures, and patterns work well together.
Try Before You Buy
“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 Bob. 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. If you go with a custom option, make sure you see a large swatch of any patterned fabrics so you see the full motif and its complete color palette. A little due diligence will help you avoid a big (and disappointing) surprise once the piece arrives.
Think Outside the Swatch
You're not limited to the fabrics in the store, especially if you are looking for a truck chair cover fabric. Consider unconventional materials such as vintage blankets or kilim rugs. Bonus points if you pair a bold choice of fabric on a traditional piece such as a wingback chair or camelback sofa.