Guide for decorating economically with fabrics

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A small amount of fabric and a little experience can enable people to refurbish an area on a shoestring budget. One of the simplest methods of altering the atmosphere of a room is with fabric. However, a decorating plan involving the use of fabric must initially outline the purpose for which the fabric is to be used and how the furniture will be used. Not all fabrics are appropriate for every piece of furniture, and the use of the furniture will dictate the type and pattern of fabric to acquire.

Decorating economically with fabrics is easy – once you know how.

One of the easiest ways to change the mood of a room is with fabric. Drapery, upholstery, and wall-coverings can create texture, and add warmth or drama. If a project is underfunded, pumping up the fabrics will create a lush effect without spending a great deal of money on big ticket items such as furniture or artwork. A small amount of fabric and a little know-how can revitalize a space on a tight budget.

The first question to ask when beginning a decorating plan with fabric is, “What will be the fabric’s use?” In upholstery, not all fabrics are appropriate for every piece of furniture. For instance, a stiff fabric would not fit the contours of a modern, ergonomically designed office chair.

In addition to picking a pattern that suits the style of the piece, consider how the furniture will be used. A set of boardroom chairs used sparingly could be outfitted with a rich fabric; in contrast, waiting room chairs used daily by the general public would need a heavy-duty textile. For heavy-traffic areas, consider a fabric with good hiding properties. A richly patterned tapestry, for example, will hide a multitude of sins.

Fabrics for cubicle curtains and panel applications should be chosen first for durability. Fortunately, contemporary offerings feature a wide selection of fabrics that are highly tear-resistant. A durable vinyl wall-covering can withstand erratic mail carts and heavy pedestrian traffic, possibly resulting in a more cost-effective option than multiple paint jobs. David Schutte, director of marketing for New York City-based Maharam, says, “Generally, fabrics will ugly out before they wear out.”

For a longer life, pick fabrics with threads that are dyed through – like a carrot, not a radish. This reduces the threat of fading. Light is also a factor with window treatments. To minimize glare and hide an uninteresting view, an opaque fabric is a good choice. A simple light-colored floor-to-ceiling shade complements most decors and is an alternative to blinds.

The next question is the most obvious: “What color?” Neutral solids are the obvious choice. However, tone-on-tone patterns – medium beige on a light beige background, for instance – are safe choices that also offer a little more depth. A subtle pattern can give an office or hospital setting more character. Black-based neutral patterns are the latest trends, according to Schutte, because they work well with a variety of existing pieces. These patterns are the equivalent of the goes-with-everything black cocktail dress.

Navy, hunter green, and burgundy are traditional choices, but terra cotta and olive green are fresh alternatives. Schutte strongly recommends viewing fabrics from a natural distance. Drape samples over a chair or tape them to a wall. See the way they look in the space. A tiny sample may not accurately reveal how a fabric with a prominent repeating pattern will look.

See if the pattern or color competes with the carpeting or interior finishes. A richly patterned carpet combined with ornate furniture could spell disaster. To avoid such facilities management headaches, try choosing fabrics within the same family. Manufacturers often group complementary textiles together.

Of the many questions a facilities manager should ask, one of the most important is, “How long will this take to ship?” If a project needs to be finished under a tight deadline, a textile manufacturer with a large inventory in stock is the most economical choice. With imaginative choices, a facilities manager can create professional results with a limited budget.

Don’t Rip Off That Label

The textile industry uses a myriad of confusing symbols and terms to describe its products. Here’s a list of some of the most common:

* Abrasion Resistance: The ability to withstand surface wear, rubbing, and other forms of friction. A small “a” symbol denotes that general contract upholstery has passed abrasion testing. A capital “A” denotes heavy-duty upholstery.


* Chenille: A soft, plush yarn used for decorative fabrics and rugs.

* Crepe: A lightweight, crinkly fabric used in many applications.

* Crocking: In colorfastness tests, this is the rubbing off of color from a fabric when subjected to abrasion. A paint palette symbol shows a fabric passes or fastness tests.

* Double Rubs: In the Wyzenbeek abrasion test, double rubs are the number of times a piece of cotton duck fabric is rubbed across the test fabric in both warp and filling directions.

* Filling Yarns that run horizontally in fabrics.

* Pilling When small, fuzzy balls form on fabric from friction.

* Tapestry: Elaborate patterned fabric created with colorful yarns in various fibers.

* Warp: Yarns that run vertically in fabric.