We’re the first to admit, custom upholstery can be intimidating. Brands don’t try and make it accessible for a reason – to keep you in line with their stock offering. With a little planning and help from us, you can create that piece you’ve been dreaming of.
Here are a few real tips to get you started.
First, you have to examine where your piece will be living and what factors will it be up against.
Consider if the space will be a high traffic area (if you have kids, pets, or a messy partner).
And be sure to really know your style of lounging – will you be eating there? Will the piece be going into a second living room no one touches or is it part of the main entertainment hub for the family?
Once you figure out how you’ll be using your piece, it’s time to decide if you need a performance fabric.
In order to do so, you have to understand something called “abrasion testing”.
In the US, the double-rub count of a fabric is the abrasion rating given after it undergoes something called the Wyzenbeek test. Besides sounding like the name of a muppet character this test is pretty self-explanatory, it’s the process of one duck cotton fabric being rubbed together against another fabric.
Outside of the US, the Martindale test is used in exactly the same way except the abrasion is done by an oscillating piece of wood.
It’s the absolute best way to mimic the wear from people. That being said, higher double-rub numbers will often result in a coarser fabric.
If you’re a pristine, Marie Kondo, no-shoes-in-the-house person, you can get away with lux options like silk or chenille, but make sure they at least have a backing for enhanced durability, fray prevention, and seam strength. You can potentially dive into those light-duty fabrics that range between 3,000 and 9,000 double rubs (Wyzenbeek).
If you have kids, pets, or host every taco Tuesday under the sun you’ll need a durable, easy to clean fabric sticking between 9,000-15,000 double rubs (Wyzenbeek).
For pieces in public spaces, think lounges, office waiting-rooms, restaurants – you’ll need contract-grade fabrics that will withstand the test of time and chance: 15,000 double rubs (Wyzenbeek) is the lowest you should go for any sort of commercial work.
Something else to keep in mind regardless, woven fabrics will last longer than printed ones.
Leather is a fantastic option because it’s hypoallergenic and durable. It also can patina (wear with age) which creates a beautiful finish and feeling, but you have to know a few facts before diving in:
- Pigmented leather is the most durable type of leather due to its protective coating helping to prevent damages and fading.
- Next comes semi-aniline leather which has a light surface coating while still retaining a natural appearance.
- Aniline leather is the most natural-looking leather, containing those unique surface striations. However, it’s more susceptible to fading and water damage, because it lacks a coating.
Fun fact: Leather takes on the temperature of your body within 12 seconds!
Is this your statement piece in an otherwise plain living room? Go for a bold color. Is it the visual anchor in the space? Consider sticking to cool-toned neutrals.
It’s important to understand your piece’s function before you execute the aesthetic. You can always add a pop of color with pillows or blankets for the final touch.
Direct sunlight causes some fabrics to fade over time so if you’re creating sunny reading nook, be selective.
Requesting a swatch or picking one up in the showroom takes all of five minutes, and that five minutes can save you money and heartbreak. If you want an even faster synopsis of a fabric, most have infosheets like this one, and do a pretty good job at giving you an idea about its performance.
Overconfidence when it comes to picking a fabric … without ever seeing it in person … is a gutsy mistake that you’ll pay for in more ways than one. It’s the we-met-yesterday eloping of the furniture world. Slip-covers are always possible but are quite frankly an expensive band-aid you don’t want to resort to.
Make sure to test it as far as water cleaning – except with viscose-based fabrics as they absorb water more readily than others. This means water will leave marks and stains, even just from spot-cleaning.
Designing a custom piece means you have creative freedom, but also means that you’re creating a design that will last for a very long time.
If you’re looking to stay within a certain price range – make sure you’re educated about how different fabrics change pricing. At the end of the day, this is something you’re investing time and money in, and you deserve to be just as educated as the retailer or designer you’re working with.