The Mystery Of Fabric Content

Shopping for a new piece of furniture is always an exciting time for anyone.  It’s a chance to find something new, a way of expressing our personality and giving us something to look forward to in the future.

Many of the pieces of furniture that we buy for our home are covered in fabric to some degree.  Sofas, chairs, pillows, draperies, bedcoverings, etc., to name a few.  But before you plunk down that credit card and finalize your purchase, it’s a good idea to have a little knowledge in hand about just how that fabric is going to hold up or how you’re going to clean it if it’s gets soiled or stained.  After all, the condition of the old fabric is usually the first consideration when deciding to replace a piece and usually the first thing that attracts you to a new piece of furniture.

Here is a brief rundown of the majority of fabrics that you will come across in the home furnishings stores.   While this only serves as a guideline, it could save you from making an expensive mistake.


Cotton has been around for about 7,000 years dating back to 5000BC from excavations in Mexico and Pakistan.  It’s almost pure cellulose.  It grows in a boll and is spun into yarn which is then woven into fabric.  The cotton part of the plant is used to help distribute the cotton seeds in the wind because of its light weight.  In older times, it was a fairly expensive fabric but since the invention of the cotton gin, it has become extremely affordable.  It has since become the best-selling fiber in the United States.

Cotton is available in natural cotton and cotton blends.  Cotton blends tend to be stronger and more durable than cotton.  Adding a stain-resistant finish helps cotton hold up well around children.  However, staining and wrinkling can occur.  If soiled, cotton should be professionally cleaned to avoid shrinkage and discoloration.  It’s a perfect fabric for warm climates.


Silk is a fragile material for use on pieces that are not used often.  It can be easily damaged or stained and typically not great around children or pets.  The most widely known silk is a natural protein fiber produced by the mulberry silkworm.  The prism-like shape of the silk fiber allows it to capture light and reflect it back in different colors.  The only type of silk used for textiles comes from the moth caterpillar.

Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers but is easily damaged by water, after which, is impossible to repair.  Once available only to Kings and royalty, silk is still considered a luxury fabric.  It can have a smooth texture or be woven into a slub texture.  It holds color and patterns extremely well but can also have a tendency to stretch if used for drapery without the proper inner-liner or backing.  Silks can only be cleaned professionally.


Linen is woven from fibers of the flax plant.  It is another strong fabric that is popular in warm climates because of its cooling qualities.  Linen is a very labor intensive fabric and this explains why it is more expensive than some of its rivals.

Once used as currency in ancient Egypt, linen has long been considered a luxury fabric due to its purity and fine woven qualities.  However, linen wrinkles more than any other fabric.  While some people may find this troublesome, most people who purchase linen, buy it especially because of this relaxed look.  Being a natural fiber, linen should always be professionally cleaned.  It can also have a tendency to “pill” or gather small balls of fiber on the face of the fabric with wear and tear.


Synthetic fibers are the result of extensive research to improve on natural plant or animal fibers.  They can be produced in quantities with complete control over their qualities.  As a result, synthetic fibers tend to be less expensive but are usually extremely durable and easy to clean.  The majority of synthetic fibers used in furnishings fall into four types:

Nylon: Nylon was developed by DuPont as a replacement for silk.  It’s very strong, easy to clean, resists mildew and insects and great for high traffic items and carpets.

Acrylic: Also developed by DuPont in 1941, acrylic can be woven to mimic soft, luxurious fabrics such as cashmere, wool or chenille.  It can also be made to look like cotton.  The colors are pigmented into the yarn before weaving, making acrylic very color steadfast.  It holds up against chemicals, moths and deterioration from sunlight.  It is also the perfect fabric for patio furniture or areas that are easily soiled.  It can be cleaned with mild soap and water.

Polyester:  Polyester is used extensively in home furnishings due to its stability and strength.  It is very stain-friendly and cleans easily with mild detergent and water.  It may have a tendency to “pill” with wear and tear.  It is an affordable fabric and is available in many different colors, patterns and textures.

Olefin:  Olefin is abrasion, stain, sunlight, fire, and chemical resistant. It does not dye well, but has the advantage of being colorfast.  It provides warmth without weight and is abrasion resistant.  One of the most important advantages is olefin maintains its strength in wet or dry conditions.  In other words, it wears like iron for years and years.  It is non-absorbent so stains usually don’t present a problem unless they are oil based.  Water and mild soap should clean most spots including oil stains.


Rayon is actually a semi-synthetic fiber with the same properties of a natural fiber.  It’s a cellulose fiber manufactured from naturally occurring polymers.  It’s in a category of its own.

Rayon can imitate silk, wool, cotton or linen, all with some added advantages.   Rayon is a soft, cool, absorbent fiber but does not insulate body heat, making it a good choice for warmer climates and is relatively affordable to most.   Rayon has a low melting point so it should never be exposed to ironing or dryers.  Only professional cleaning is recommended.


Leather is a category that is often confused because there are different grades of leather, each representing a different cost.  Since leather furniture is often the most expensive, it’s a good idea to know exactly what grade of leather you are purchasing and what the advantages and drawbacks could be.   It is broken down into four main categories.

Full Grain:  Full grain is the most expensive type of leather available.  It is the hide in its purest form without the epidermis or hair.  It has not been sanded or corrected to remove any imperfections and therefore retains its strength and breathability,  resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact.  This type of leather will, over time, develop a patina based on a wear pattern and is absorbent so it will stain.  It’s natural to find small imperfections in this leather as a result of insect bites, barbed wire or contact with other animals.  This is considered the very best leather you can buy.  Full grain can be aniline or semi-aniline dyed depending on whether you want an extra layer of protection on the finish of the leather.

Top Grain:  This is the second most expensive leather, having its split layer underneath removed, reducing the thickness of the leather making it thinner and more pliable.  The top has been sanded and a protective finish has been applied sometimes making it more “plastic” looking and cold.  It is less apt to show wear, will not patina with age and will resist stains as long as the finish remains intact.  It is much less expensive than full grain.  Sometimes top grain can be lightly sanded on the grain side raising the fibers to a velvet quality, becoming nu-buck leather.

Corrected Grain:  This is any leather that has had an artificial grain embossed on the face of the hide.  This leather has been sanded and treated and stamped with an leather grain.  These leathers are made from the hides that do not meet the standards for full or top grain because of their scaring or conditions.  Once dyed, these leathers tend to have a uniform pigment dye, allowing them to hide the corrections made.

Split:  Split leather refers to the leather after to the top grain has been removed.  Depending on the thickness of the hide, it can be split several times into thinner layers.  The top is then coated with an artificial material and stamped with a leather embossing.  This is also known as bycast.

Splits are also used to make suede.

So as you can see, it’s a little more involved than just looking pretty.  If you’re working with a designer, they can steer you into the right direction but if you’re shopping on your own, you may want to take a little more time to digest what you are getting into.   In the end, you’ll have a product that you not only love and appreciate but one that will have meaning.


Traditional Is Peeking Its Head Through The Door

Whenever the economy takes a hit, people tend to react by looking for ways to find comfort and safety in their otherwise uncertain lives.   Recessions tend to make everyone a little more hesitant to venture into unchartered waters.  As a result, a shift in design trends is beginning.

While contemporary remains the driving force of the home furnishings business, those looking to invest large sums to furnish and design an entire home have already begun to once again express their desire for something with a little more permanence.  Based on historical performance, traditional is the one style that has always lasted the test of time.  But this time it’s taking a little twist to the left.

This is not to say that the true traditional interiors are being replaced.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Traditional designs have been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be the backbone for serious-minded clients.   It’s a style that is truly timeless and represents a historical tribute to the periods of design that have brought us to where we are.  A quick tour through some of the most prestigious homes, including the White House, should make this clear.

The “New Traditional” is a much cleaner version of its predecessors.  While the finishes and features represent the true details of traditional styling, the lines are being slightly adapted to appeal to those who might otherwise have considered going with a contemporary or transitional interior.  The result is a more relaxed traditional, much lighter in color and feel and often with personal touches of distressed or painted finishes.  Mixing these with a few classic, rich, and beautifully made wooden pieces gives the interior the feeling of being in the present with a deep respect for the quality of the past.

In the transition, many of the details that were once a staple have been eliminated, such as bullions, fringes, etc.  At best, tapes are applied in geometric accents but the lavish, over-the-top expense of adding layer upon layer of detailing has left us.  Draperies have become simpler and understated, adding the luxury element without competing for attention.  Rugs are becoming more tone-on-tone or textural.  Accessories are bolder, collections are more varied, and lighting adds a little bling.

This is not the stodgy old traditional interior of your grandmother’s house.  This is a new lifestyle look that speaks of relaxed luxury, comfort and pieces that speak about the owner.  It’s a backdrop to compliment the people who live there, not a home that dictates how you live.

This is a style that mixes well with contemporary and can take the cool edge off for those who want a little more personality and user-friendly, as well as eco-friendly, interior.  It’s a style that will let you add to your collection over time without the destroying your present design direction, allowing you to make those one-of-a-kind crazy purchases knowing full well it will be with you for a long time.   And it’s a style that conveys a welcoming good taste.


Photos courtesy of Hickory Chair

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Cheap Is The New Expensive


Nothing makes us feel better than finding a bargain.  That’s especially true when we are in the process of buying some otherwise high ticket items such as furniture.   Unlike cars or jewelry, furniture shopping for most,  is a fairly rare occurrence.  And having been out of that retail market for some time can cause quite a sticker shop for new consumers.

Part of the problem is that most of the furniture ads that we see are primarily for sale items from mass retailers.   That’s all well and good if you’re looking for the least expensive import piece of furniture to go with your used 2002 Subaru.   But if you’re the type of customer who prefers a little more style and quality, like the BMW parked in your driveway, the reality of today’s furniture prices may catch you a little off-guard.  And if it’s been 10 years since you made any major furniture purchases, the effect could be a little overwhelming.

Like everything else, prices have gone up.  To combat that, many retailers and manufacturers are “out sourcing” their products to overseas, primarily China and Asia.  The result has become the great divide between quality and low prices.   Some companies, however, have held steadfast to their integrity of delivering high quality goods from around the world.

A bargain is only a bargain when you are buying the same item that would normally sell for a much higher price.  It’s not a bargain when it’s a mere look-alike.   Everyone tries to knock off the best style of the quality companies but the real bargain lies hidden beneath the surface of the quality items.

A good example is the purchase of a sofa which most people buy every 7-10 years.  Ads on TV lead us to believe that we can purchase a beautiful sofa for $399.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  After all, it takes about 20 yards of fabric just to cover it.  And remember, at $399, the retailer is still making a profit.  So just how much quality do you think is in that sofa when you deduct their profit, the cost of the fabric and the cost of shipping?  Not much at all. It merely becomes temporary, disposable furniture that is great for a college student or new grad on a budget.  But it is certainly not going to hold up under normal wear and tear conditions, especially if you have a family or entertain very often.

The result?  You’re going to end up buying a new sofa in a couple years, and then in another couple years, etc.  Or you may end up buying the better quality sofa only after replacing the sofa a couple of times first.  This is definitely an expensive lesson to learn.  On the other hand, a good quality sofa will easily last the 10 years or more before you’ll want to replace it and chances are the only reason you will replace it is to find a newer style.   Or perhaps you’ll keep it and just reupholster it.  Either way, it is less expensive in the long run to opt for the better quality from the beginning, even if it means buying one piece at a time.

Most companies have established their reputations in the home furnishings field and if you’re working with an experienced designer, they should be able to guide you through the maze.  There are areas where you can save and areas where it will become a mistake.  If you’re not familiar with the brand, ask questions about the history of the company, the warranty, and the construction.

If you’re really looking to save money you need to ask yourself whether you are looking for short term savings or long term savings.  And if long term is the direction you choose, then consider selecting items that are the real McCoy’s.   Take your time making your choices.  Find the things that make you happy and that you know you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life.  Then give yourself a pat on the back knowing you just saved yourself some serious money down the road.


Photos courtesy of Hickory Chair


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The 2012 Color Forecast

For those of us in the interior design business, nothing makes more of an overall impact than the use of color.  Of course it’s always important to understand style, scale, proportion, relationship and product, but nothing catches the eyes of an end consumer more than the perfect use of color.  It’s one of the simplest tools but still one of the most important when trying to capture the personality of a design.

Thankfully, Sherwin Williams works diligently to watch trends in the world of color.  They constantly monitor fashions, home décor, and design trends and study consumer behaviors to find the underlying influences behind our purchases and then provide us with a forecast for the upcoming year based on their findings.  It’s no small task and their results often affect the future color trends on a global scale.

From couture fashions to dinner plates, Sherwin Williams strives to stay one step ahead of consumers, providing manufacturers and designers with a glimpse of what is to come.

While other companies such as Pantone and Benjamin Moore also make their own predictions, Sherwin Williams seems to capture more of the consumer mood.  With the release of their 2012 Color Collections, prepared in partnership with HGTV, they have provided the consumer with a hands-on tool in selecting a palette that is not only current but will also reflect the individual tastes of the homeowner.

They have broken down their findings into eight categories.  Their colors are based on our obsession with “going green” and take hues commonly found in nature, along with varying shades and compliments, to define different lifestyles.  Colors have become more sophisticated and blended, not bold and pure.  Never has anyone been so on target and made this process as easy as they have.

Here are few of their highlight images showcasing each color family.  If you would like to see the actual colors for each collection or to read more about their products, go to: Sherwin Williams & HGTV



“Coastal Cool”



“Global Spice”




“Livable Luxe”




“Neutral Nuance”



“Color Pizazz”




“Traditional Twist”




“Urban Organic”



“Rustic Refined”


This doesn’t suggest that you should repaint or change your interiors every year to follow the current trend.  Rather, it’s just a helping hand should you be at those crossroads where change is in your future or if you’re looking to change things up a bit.  Choosing from the color palettes above, it’s easy to enhance and give your existing home a fresh look without breaking the bank.

And if you’re still feeling a little uncertain, our design staff is always willing to assist you.