Whether you are updating a cherished chair or purchasing a new one, your choice of upholstery fabric will hugely determine the look, and feel, of the piece. Do you want a statement chair that plays a starring role within a space, or a design that will blend in beautifully with existing items in the room? How much will the chair be used – and is it likely to become a preferred perch for the family cat or dog? Read on for our advice on choosing the perfect upholstery fabric, as well as some of the trends we are loving right now…
Choosing the right fabric
There are a number of factors you need to consider when selecting upholstery fabric for a chair and of course, aesthetics will be high on the list. As well as considering how the fabric will look within a scheme, think about how it will complement your chosen piece: certain fabrics, such as velvets and bouclés, look particularly fabulous with curvilinear pieces while printed designs, such as a patterned pure linen, can transform a simple chair, giving it a striking new identity. Also check that your fabric is durable enough for the purpose: if it is going to get lots of use, you need a fabric with a high rub test, and probably one that has stain resistant qualities. Wool, for example, is naturally water repellent – pictured above is our Lana design, made from recycled wool – while polyester velvet fabrics have clever stain resistant finishes. The most carefree solution is to opt for slip covers that can be thrown in the washing machine: beautiful tumbled linen is perfect for a relaxed feel – see our fabulous Elba range – or consider a crisp cotton such as Verde, which is made from recycled cotton. If you go down the route of removable covers, remember to check if your fabric might shrink and factor this in when the covers are made.
10 examples of upholstery fabrics you’ll love
Blue is renowned for its soothing properties, so it makes a fantastic choice for upholstery fabrics in a relaxing scheme. Soft shades of eau de nil and aqua are wonderfully restful hues, while darker blues such as indigo look lovely mixed with earthy neutrals for a room scheme that exudes a sense of calm. This simple slipper chair is covered in Fortune Teller in Flurry, a pure linen whose tightly woven structure makes it a wonderfully durable upholstery fabric. The delicate stripe of the linen nicely shows off the shape of the chair, while the cushions and walls in shades of ochre add to the room’s tranquil feel.
An armchair in a warm pink fabric is a wonderful way to create a welcoming feel in a room. Soft, subdued pinks look fabulous teamed with neutral hues, or they can be enlivened with more punchy shades as shown here, where armchairs in a gentle dusty pink are teamed with cushions in vibrant tangerine orange velvet. The upholstery fabric is Leckford in Ember, a classic Herringbone weave that is ideal for any upholstery project as it is durable and stain resistant. Note the reassuringly timeless shape of the chairs, a design that will work in contemporary and traditional interiors alike.
An armchair is the perfect upholstery project for showcasing a classic print, as it requires considerably less fabric than curtains or a sofa. It also won’t be too overpowering in the room so it is a good way to introduce a touch of pattern without going overboard, particularly if your chosen chair is quite small. The arresting design pictured here, Uhura in Yellow, is printed on high quality pure linen, a very durable fabric choice for upholstery. The beguiling pattern beautifully complements the attractive shape of the slipper chair, while piping adds a touch of tailoring.
There is nothing quite like romantic hues for capturing the essence of an English country interior and this pretty armchair encapsulates the look. It features slipcovers in Gertrude, a timeless pure linen floral that has the advantage of being machine washable, making it an inspired choice for a busy household. A pink border and ruffled hem add deeply romantic touches, as do ruffled cushions in the matching fabric as well as a tonal pink velvet. The same floral linen was used for the curtains, while walls in duck egg blue add to the prettiness of the space.
Neutrals will never go out of fashion and are perfect for bringing a pared-back look to upholstery. Try using different upholstery fabrics in neutral tones for various pieces in the room to create a subtly layered effect – perhaps a linen or a cotton for a sofa, a wool fabric for an ottoman and a cosy bouclé for an armchair, such as our Sienna fabric in Almond pictured here. A combination of linen, cotton and viscose yarns, this soft fabric has a gloriously textural quality that makes it particularly suited to the curves of the chair. A chunky rug and retro floor lamp add to the modern feel of the space.
Sage green is another timeless choice for an upholstery fabric and it is perfect for bringing a sense of the outdoors into a space. A very gentle hue, it is soft enough to work as a neutral: team a sage green armchair with pieces in tones of oatmeal, stone and chalk, carrying the greens through the space with scatter cushions and house plants. This armchair is upholstered in our Omega III in Green Tea, an eco velvet that forms part of our growing portfolio of sustainable upholstery fabrics. Featuring recycled polyester in the pile of the velvet, it recycles ten large plastic bottles for each metre of fabric, and it is stain resistant and inherently fire retardant. You can imagine this comfortable velvet armchair positioned by a window – perfect for curling up in with a good book.
Putting on the glitz
One of the best ways to bring a sense of glamour to a chair is with an upholstery fabric that features a metallic thread or a lustrous sheen. For this simple contemporary slipper chair, we used a characterful zig ziag pattern with a subtly shiny finish to add polish and quiet sophistication to the piece. The design, Astraea in Pebble, is a blend of cotton, viscose, polyester and linen yarns that creates a durable and stain resistant weave. It elegantly lifts this understated scheme whilst adding a touch of pattern to the space.
Bright and bold
A small occasional chair is a fantastic piece for introducing a punchy upholstery fabric as it will bring a pop of colour and pattern without overpowering the scheme. This neat chair design is a good case in point, its mid 20th century lines teaming well with a vibrant cotton blend fabric, Bolero in Parakeet. The vibrant colour of the fabric picks up on the emerald green in the wallpaper, while its glamorous mini zigzag weave is a structured counterpoint to the exuberant tropical print. A bold fabric like this could also work well for upholstered dining chairs or bar stools.
A retro print is a fantastic way to show off a favourite armchair or occasional chair and a retro print in velvet is our idea of heaven. With their durability and stain-resistant qualities, our velvets are all remarkably forgiving – and a patterned version even more so. This velvet fabric, Crystal in Sunset from Omega Prints II, is inspired by the work of British landscape artist, John Nash, and features a varied colour palette of greens, blues, pinks and ochres that we used to steer the rest of the scheme. Also have a look at Casper, a fun printed velvet that looks fantastic on 70s-inspired chairs.
Wool has many wonderful qualities that make it a brilliant upholstery fabric: as well as being inherently fire retardant and water repellent, it is hard-wearing and breathable, ensuring that it is cool in summer and cosy in winter. Here, we chose an open check and a window pane check, Samphrey Belmont, in the same russet hue to subtly complement the armchair’s classic lines. Using two complementary fabrics on a single piece of upholstered furniture is a look we love – and remember, it is a great way to showcase a more delicate fabric: simply use the less hard-wearing fabric on the back of the piece and team it with a robust fabric for the seat and front.
DIY vs professional upholstery
Upholstery is a skilled craft and unless you have been taught it, you are unlikely to get the results you hoped for by attempting an upholstery project yourself. Good quality fabric is often something of an investment, not to mention the piece of furniture itself, and so it would be a shame not to show these off to best effect. Remember, too, that your upholsterer can add details that can really transform a piece: see how contrasting piping helps outline the shape of this dining chair, which is upholstered in our luxurious Tango velvet in Ocean Drive. If your sewing skills are up to speed, slipcovers are a more realistic project, particularly if you have a machine that can overlock the edges to produce a professional result.
How to care for fabric chair covers
Like any piece of upholstered furniture, your chair needs a little regular attention to ensure that it stays looking its best. Slipcovers can be regularly washed, although carefully check the washing instructions and don’t overload the drum. Aim to reshape and iron the covers on the reverse side of the fabric whilst still slightly damp, to mitigate shrinkage. For a chair with fixed covers, make sure you regularly vacuum the piece using an upholstery attachment to reduce the need for a professional clean, plumping up any loose cushions to redistribute the filling and remove dust. When it comes to treating stains, avoid attempting a spot clean as this can easily leave a mark or damage the pile of the fabric. Carefully blot up a spill as quickly as you can, but if a stain remains, seek expert help. For spill-prone households, bear in mind that certain fabrics, such as wool, are inherently water repellent, while others, such as our polyester velvets, feature clever stain resistant finishes. Your chair will also benefit from a professional clean from time to time and when you do this, make sure that any pieces in the same fabric, such as curtains or scatter cushions, are also cleaned, to avoid colour variations.
A great fabric can have a transformative effect on a chair, enhancing its shape and bringing a new texture or colour to a room scheme. Remember that successful schemes often see a mix of upholstery fabrics in different materials and patterns, so don’t be afraid to choose something that is a departure from other pieces in the room. Be sure to check that your chosen fabric will stand up to the rigours of day-to-day life, so that you don’t have to be precious about it. Ideally, you want a fabric that is forgiving and fabulous – and we have our fair share of those!