Bulletproof Decorating: Upholstery That Stands Up to Anything

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The Flintstones had it simple. When all your furniture is constructed of stone, you never need to worry about food spills or even the pet leaving a calling card to the sofa.

While a number of us would be willing to trade our plush upholstery for a granite couch, you can still get an interior that’s fairly bulletproof if you choose the right fabric. “Technology has actually helped a great deal,” says Lesli Ann Cone, a designer and cloth writer who owns A & D Studios in Washington. Today’s engineered fabrics look increasingly like their natural counterparts, Cone states, but might resist wear and tear much better. And many natural cloths are nearly as durable. It all depends on what you pick.

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Generally, engineered fabrics are far more durable than natural ones. Along with the engineered materials that stand up best to kids and pets will be those initially made for use on the patio.

“Do not be afraid of using indoor-outdoor cloths indoors,” says interior designer Amy Luff of Viva Luxe Studios in Bristol, Virginia. “They have come up to now in tech, you can not tell it’s outside fabric.” Case in point: the upholstery in this interior.

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“Outdoor cloths have gotten huge indoors,” says Cone. While early all-weather cloths felt stiff and waxy, Cone says today’s versions — like this one from Holly Hunt — are equally supple as everything you would encounter indoors. “They have really been able to soften it up,” she states.

Becky Berg Design

Solution-dyed acrylics will be your best bet for indoor-outdoor fabrics. Popularized by Sunbrella and frequently referred to generically by this name, these fabrics are available in a huge variety of shades and patterns, persuasively mimicking everything from toile into tweed. They resist fading, and clogs just bead them up.

But not all of outside fabrics are made equal, cautions Luff. “Sunbrella touts certain qualities in terms of fade resistance and cleanability,” she states. “But don’t assume other indoor-outdoor dyed oil is going to be the same.”

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Other engineered materials that stand up to children and pets are viscose and polyester — however try to prevent 100 percent cotton, as it could be stained with oils in food or skin.

New York designer Barbara Feinstein swears by Ultrasuede, which she utilized in the room shown here, while Luff loves the flannel suede available from Hickory Chair. “I’ve spilled you-name-it onto it, and that which comes out,” she states.

You can also opt for contract materials — durable fabrics specially manufactured to be used in commercial buildings — even though the selection is more restricted, and also your living space could wind up looking like the reception of a Best Western.

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When it comes to natural upholstery, Pennsylvania designer Sherri Blum says one substance stands head and shoulders over the rest. “Making the investment in leather is always my number-one recommendation,” she states. “You can not beat leather. You can spray Windex on it, for God’s sake, and it cleans up”

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If you are worried about your children or pets scratching the surface, Blum recommends moving with a distressed leather, because flaws will mix right in.

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Other durable natural fabrics include wool, velvet, linen (particularly machine-washable Belgian sheets created in England or Italy) and lace velvet.

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Mohair (shown here) is just another hard-wearing option. “If you are going to place mohair on something, you would better like it,” Cone cautions, “because it’s going to endure a loooong time”

It is more difficult to generalize about cotton, because the category is so wide. Some are durable; others aren’t. Fabrics to prevent include silk, rayon and rayon-polyester blends.

Nearly as important as composition is country of origin, says Cone. As a guideline she shies away from fabrics made in China. “For every fantastic mill, you will find a hundred which are horrible,” she states.

Even the most durable cloth will break down if you don’t maintain it. “The best thing you can do is vacuum your furniture once per month,” advises Cone, who states that grime onto the surface, together with the friction of people moving back and forth, will wear out the substance faster than anything else.

Another means to prolong the life span of your upholstery is to employ a stain-resistant treatment (commonly called Scotchguarding, after the brand-name fabric protector). This procedure is most effective when it’s done in the mill, but you might also treat furniture after it’s built.

Going with a washable cloth is always a fantastic bet. There are universal cleaning codes for cloths; check the label or ask a salesperson to find out the code for your individual fabric.

Another fact to inspect is the fabric’s ability to resist abrasion. This is normally measured by how many “double rubs” the substance could survive before tearing. Look for at least 15,000 double rubs for decent durability; 30,000 or more is best.

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Patterned fabrics will hide harm better than plain cloths. “The more coloring and patterning in your print, the better it’ll hold up to stains and wear,” says Luff.

Lindy Donnelly

If you are worried about growing tired of this routine, or becoming locked into the routine should you choose to redecorate, go with a tone-on-tone design that’s subtler.

Robin Baron Design

Or decide on a textured cloth. The variation in elevation and play of shadow and light across the surface will help obscure stains and wear. But run your fingernails across the surface, to make sure it will not snag or fray. “If you can pull it apart with your fingernail, a child is going to be able to pull it apart or conduct toys and snag it,” says Luff.

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Slipcovers can be a lifesaver when you have children and pets — particularly ones which you could throw into the washing machine. (The slipcovers — maybe not the children.) Lee Industries, for instance, offers a great selection of furniture with slipcovers that wash beautifully, Luff states.

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Even if a slipcover is labeled “dry clean only,” you might be able to launder it in home. It merely depends on the fabric material, your laundering methods (use cold water and also steer clear of the drier), and your willingness to take the results when the material shrinks.

More: What Is That Smell? Things to Do About Stinky Furniture

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