Sofa Buying Guide, Part 3: All About Upholstery

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Sofa Buying Guide, Part 3: All About Upholstery

After deciding on the style and size of your sofa, the next thing to consider is the upholstery. This key element greatly affects the feel of the sofa, both literally and from a design perspective. The feel, look, and durability of upholstery are all very important to consider when shopping around. Will this sofa be in a formal setting with infrequent use? Or is it the main sitting area for you, your children, and even your pets?

There are a lot of upholstery options out there, with a variety of factors to consider. We’ll look at some of the most common upholstery choices, the pros and cons of each, and which interior design styles they complement the most.  

Upholstery Choices for Sofas

Natural Fabrics: Natural fabrics are great if you place a high priority on keeping furnishings ‘green’ while avoiding plastics. Natural materials include fiber choices like cotton, silk, wool, and linen. These upholstery options look great in Mediterranean, contemporary, and cottage design styles. For any design needing a relaxed or eco-chic feel, these natural fabrics fit in wonderfully.   

  • Cotton: Cotton provides a comfortable, soft, inviting texture and is relatively easy to clean with soap and water. However, cotton easily soaks up spills and dirt and is prone to wrinkling. It is often used in blends with other materials both natural and synthetic.   
  • Silk: Silk offers a luxurious appeal and is perfect for more formal spaces. It is available in a wide range of patterns and colors, and with proper care, it can last a long time. Without the appropriate precautions, however, silk is not very durable and wrinkles rather easily. This means it is not the best choice for high-traffic areas. This upholstery option is usually reserved for formal spaces, such as dining areas or sitting rooms. 
  • Wool: Wool is a durable option and is resistant to wrinkling. However, wool can absorb odors and can be a bit scratchy on the skin. It is often used in blends to offset these qualities.  
  • Linen: Linen adds an earthy, comforting look and is very durable, but wrinkles and attracts dirt very easily. Like cotton, linen is often added to blends of other fibers both natural and synthetic to offset the cons.

Synthetic Fabrics: Synthetic fabrics include polyester, acetate, olefin (also known as polypropylene), nylon, acrylic, and rayon. Generally, synthetic fibers are more durable than natural fibers. They are available in a wide range of colors and patterns, which means there is a fabric for almost any design style. A jacquard pattern would be perfect for a traditional space, while a bold, brightly colored pattern would blend well in a bohemian space.  

  • Polyester: Polyester is a popular choice for its softness, durability, and easy cleaning. It is resistant to fading, wrinkling, and pilling, making it a great choice for high-traffic areas. However, this fabric is susceptible to staining.
  • Acetate: Acetate is the synthetic imitation of silk. It is resistant to pilling and shrinking. Like silk, acetate is not very durable and is best used in areas with infrequent use. It wrinkles easily and can be hard to clean, often needing to be dry cleaned.
  • Olefin (Polypropylene): This material is very durable and can withstand sunlight, chemicals, stains, and rough use. It has a bit of a wooly appearance and is perfect for both indoor and outdoor sofas. 
  • Nylon: Nylon is a durable option that resists stains and wrinkles. However, this fabric can fade with time. It is often used in blends. 
  • Acrylic: Overall a heavy-duty fabric, acrylic wears well even with heavy use. This soft fabric is resistant to fading, wrinkling, and stains. However, it can be prone to pilling and can melt if exposed to intense heat. 
  • Rayon: Rayon offers some of the same comfort as natural fibers while maintaining the durability of synthetic fibers. It is a comfortable, inexpensive option, but can be scratched and wrinkled easily. When it is stretched out of shape, it has a hard time returning to its original shape. 
  • Velvet: Velvet is available in both natural and synthetic fibers. It is extremely soft to the touch and adds a sophisticated, regal appearance to a space. It can be difficult to clean and may come with a hefty price tag. Depending on the style of the sofa, velvet can mesh with many different styles, from vintage to chic.   
  • Leather: Leather is a popular, widely used upholstery option. Leather is very durable and does not absorb spills or smells. This makes it a perfect choice for those with pets. It can be easily wiped up from spills, messes, and pet hair. With proper care, leather furniture can last a very long time. However, leather is prone to scratches and cracking. It can also be damaged by sharp objects. Because of its harder feel, it is not as inviting as fabric upholstery and can be more expensive. Leather is a timeless upholstery option that blends beautifully with almost any interior design style, from traditional to contemporary to mid-century modern.   
  • Suede: A variation of leather, suede offers a uniquely soft, velvety touch to a sofa. It adds a classy flair to furnishings but is not as durable as leather. It can be hard to clean, and over time the soft, velvety appearance can wear away. Suede can be found in soft, natural tones as well as bold colors. Depending on the color and style of the furnishing, suede works well with modern, eclectic, and southwestern design styles.   

Sofa Upholstery Gallery

Sofa in blue velvet; sofa buying guide MGSD


Courtesy of Theodore Alexander
Brown leather sofa; sofa buying guide MGSD


Courtesy of Hooker Furniture
Natural linen sofa; sofa buying guide MGSD


Courtesy of Hooker Furniture

Dive Deeper into Textiles with a Designer

With such a wide array of upholstery options available, choosing one can feel a bit overwhelming. By considering the advantages of each textile, along with durability factors, style, and cleaning needs, you can navigate through a sea of upholstery swatches with ease and confidence. 

At Michael Gainey Signature Designs, our designers have the insight and resources to help you find the perfect upholstery for your new furnishings. In our Melbourne, Florida interior design studio, you can review swatches and discuss the design implications for the choices you’re making. With the right knowledge and assistance, you can find the perfect upholstery option for your home. 

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