With the exception of all-wood chairs and benches, nearly all furniture pieces meant for sitting and lounging are covered—at least partially—with some sort of upholstery. Along with providing comfort, upholstery fabric is perhaps the most prominent stylistic feature of any chair, sofa, or ottoman. Upholstery also gets more use than any other furniture element, so it’s important that it can stand up to daily wear and tear.
Knowing your options when it comes to furniture upholstery can help you in picking out pieces that are best suited to your needs. Depending on the intended use, you may want to choose an upholstered piece covered in tough, long-lasting fabric that can resist stains and fading. In some cases, you can get by with a less durable fabric. In order to gain a better understanding of your options, check out this guide that covers natural and synthetic upholstery commonly used in the furniture industry.
Natural Upholstery Fabrics
Natural upholstery fabrics are those comprising fibers and materials derived from plants and animals. Although some natural fabrics can be difficult to keep clean, many homeowners prefer the look that only natural materials can provide. While there are many options to choose from, here are a few of the most common ones:
Cotton – Cotton is one of the strongest and most durable natural upholstery options available. In addition to resisting fading and wear, cotton is fairly resistant to wrinkling and soiling, especially when blended with other fibers for added strength and durability. Cotton also can also be readily dyed, which makes it a great choice for many furniture pieces.
Linen – Unlike cotton, linen is not very resistant to soiling or wrinkling. However, this naturally lustrous fabric does resist pilling, abrasion, and fading. While it isn’t necessarily the best choice for casual family rooms, linen works perfectly for furniture pieces in formal dining and living areas.
Leather – Depending on the quality, leather typically lasts longer than most upholstery options. Leather is also very easy to clean and maintain, which is great for families with small children. It’s important to remember that leather pieces can vary in terms of grade and treatment, and this affects both price and overall quality. Be sure to do a bit of research to find the best leather furniture for your home.
Wool -If you’re looking for a very durable and sturdy upholstery fabric, wool is definitely worth considering. Made of animal hair, wool can be found in everything from sofas and chairs to carpeting and rugs. When it’s used for seating, the fabric is typically blended with synthetic and other natural fibers to improve texture, durability, and stain resistance.
Velvet – Velvet upholstery has been on-trend in recent years, and there are no signs that it is going away anytime soon. Its renewed popularity is due in part to advancements in fabric technology that have made today’s velvet more resistant to staining, fading, and abrasions than the velvet of the past. In terms of comfort, texture, and richness, velvet upholstery is hard to beat.
Synthetic Upholstery Choices
When it comes to a heavy-use material such as upholstery, two of the most important qualities to consider are durability and ease of care. Today’s consumers have a number of manmade fabric options to choose from, and most are tough, fade-resistant, and very simple to clean. Take a look at these options:
Nuvella – Exclusive to Ashley Furniture, Nuvella is an extremely durable performance fabric used on both indoor and outdoor furniture pieces. While it protects against spills and stains, if it does become soiled, it can be cleaned up very easily. In addition, Nuvella is made with 100 percent recyclable fiber, which makes it a great choice for those looking to reduce their environmental impact.
Microfiber – A dense material, microfiber offers the aesthetic qualities of suede while providing greater durability and resistance to moisture. This knit-blend polyester fabric is also much easier to clean than real suede, and its low cost is ideal for those on a budget. Microfiber is particularly well suited for casual seating in family rooms and other high-traffic areas.
Faux Leather–If you want the look of leather without the price tag, faux leather is really your only option. In terms of construction, you have the choice of polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl). Vinyl synthetic leather is easier to clean and maintain than PU, a fabric which is softer, more breathable, and more flexible.
Nylon – Although nylon is rarely used on its own, it is a common synthetic upholstery material that works great in a variety of pieces. When blended with other materials, it creates a soil- and wrinkle-resistant upholstery fabric that stands up well over time.
Polyester – Like nylon, polyester is a synthetic fabric that works best when used with other materials. In addition to cotton and wool, polyester is often combined with velvet in order to eliminate crushing. Polyester blends are also resistant to fading, wrinkling, and pilling.