Building & Renovating

Design School: The Basics of Fabric Selection

Here are a couple of handy hints when dressing up your furniture


Most of the used furniture at home are those meant for sitting, sleeping or relaxing. It’s only right that you invest in these pieces. Not only will they look good and brand new, you also get to save money for not regularly having it refurbished or re-upholstered.

Start by choosing the right upholstery fabric. Remember, it doesn’t stop at settling for your favorite color or going with the trendiest print or pattern. Certain elements have to be considered to prolong the durability and maximize your budget.

Here are important features that you may want to consider when choosing the material for your sofa or furniture:


Consider this: an all-white sofa will certainly look sophisticated, modern, and inviting. However, an all-white sofa in a home with playful kids and pets will gather a lot of dust, stain, and unpleasant marks. Ponder on the cleaning and maintenance options – the more you clean, the bigger the cost.

What to do: Choose darker colored neutrals or if you still want light colors, choose grey, beige, taupe, or mocha to make stains inconspicuous. Printed upholstery can also hide those stains but can be a bit tricky to mix and match with drapes, throw pillows and other accessories.


You don’t need to bring a weighing scale when you buy your fabric. Fabric weight is all about how it is constructed which equates to its durability. In general, fabrics are woven – so the tighter the weave, the better because it can withstand heavy use. You might think that sitting or lying down is not heavy use, but when done daily – it contributes to the wear and tear of any material. 

What to do: Determine the weight. There are 3 classifications: light, medium, and heavy. When you can, request for a piece of the fabric and try to pull it in different directions with both hands. If it does not go back to its original form, then it is not for heavy use. Another way to check it? Hold the fabric against the light and if you see through the weave, then it is not hardwearing.


Fabrics have three categories depending on their content: natural, synthetic and blends. Fabrics that are woven from animal hair or plant fibers are natural fabrics (e.g. cotton, wool, leather, silk). When the fibers are extruded with chemicals, then they become synthetic fabrics (e.g., nylon, polyester, acrylic). Lastly, when two or more natural and synthetic fibers are combined, then they are called blends. 

Keep in mind that not all natural fabrics are ideal for upholstery. Leather is the most ideal but it’s expensive. Every peso is worth it though as it’s durable, easy-to-maintain (you may wipe it with cloth or you may vacuum it gently), and ages well. Silk offers a more luxurious look but it needs professional cleaning every so often. Cotton, on the other hand, is cooler to the touch, but not exactly used for upholstery unless it’s a heavier type of cotton such as canvas or denim which wears well.

Synthetic fabrics on the other hand are stronger, more resilient and have better fade resistance qualities. It can resist water-borne stains and tend to dry quickly. Nylon and polyester top the list when it comes to durability and ease of maintenance. Vinyl and acrylic are cheaper alternatives to leather and wool respectively, but not as durable.

Blends such as microfiber or microsuede are also becoming popular because of its durability, however it’s a bit tricky to clean because once soaked, it can leave permanent stains. The best way to clean it? Either dab it with a clean, dry cloth when accidentally spilled with liquid or you may use a special cleaning agent in small amounts.

Special Features and Cost

Some fabrics have been treated with a special finish to make it water-repellent. It is a practical option if you live in an active household with kids and/ or pets, but it is not exactly cheap. Another option is to buy a fabric protector such as Scotchgard that can be sprayed on your upholstery to help keep its pristine condition. 

It’s not only a question of how much you will spend purchasing the material itself but also how much it will cost you to clean, maintain, and repair them in the future. Think of it this way, you pay premium for a high quality material and in essence, it pays you back because you have less headaches to deal with.

What to do: Given the options to suit different tastes and budget, you do not have to break the bank to buy the most expensive material in the market. The key is to carefully examine the material and when in doubt, do not be hesitate to ask your designer or the store representatives who would be more than glad to lend their assistance.

Geraldine Verga is a licensed interior designer specializing in residential projects. She was formerly a project consultant for a retail company and now a part of the faculty of the Philippine School of Interior Design teaching Professional Practice & Ethics and Business of Interior Design.


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