By: Leslie May
A well-designed room will beckon you in and the most alluring invitation of all is comfort. An uncomfortable perch is the main reason I find clients don’t use certain rooms in their house.
The lonely living room with the antique sofa inherited from a great aunt does not call out to anyone to curl up on with a good book. Similarly, the dining room with its line-up of wood-backed Chippendale chairs is rarely the scene of a raucous family game night.
I want every room I design to have a cozy space for bodies to flop, snuggle, stretch out and nestle in. If we have learned anything this past year, and I know I have, it is that every room in your house has to be outfitted for living, the way you want to live.
If your house is beautiful but not comfortable, it’s really more of a museum than a home, minus the fun gift shop. Not only must upholstery be comfortable, but it should also look as couture as any vintage Chanel little black dress.
I custom design all of my upholstery for clients, because, like all of my clients’ homes, their upholstery needs to be a reflection of their personality. These are the pieces they will not only live with but live on.
When I sketch out sofas and chairs for a project, I like to create shapes with couture curves and skirts, and pillow shapes with tight tailoring and details. Paying attention to the details means that even the playroom sofa in “hide everything navy” can be special.
I find that adding these details doesn’t significantly change the price of a piece, but they make it a truly custom and priceless part of a family living. When selecting fabrics for upholstery, go for sturdy. Even glamorous designs will look shabby if the fabric starts to wear thin.
Although, if you find a thinner fabric that you absolutely love, you can have it linen-backed to make it more durable. Sturdy, textured linens are my go-to when I want a solid color. But do not be afraid of pattern. I especially love cut velvets because they are not only soft and luxurious but very durable.
Every single piece of upholstery needs trimming. Tape trims set 1” off the bottom edge of a skirt is the difference between a catalog purchase and a sofa or chair made especially for you and your home. I also love to do a contrast welt in a texture that is the same color as the fabric on the body of the piece. I have a snakeskin fabric that comes in every color under the sun that I have in almost every project I do. It adds that subtle texture that outlines the shape of the cushions and frame and makes the piece stand out.
Not every chair or sofa or chaise lounge needs a skirt, but if one is added, make it special. I almost always spec a dressmaker or waterfall skirt. The classic design looks like the fabric is flowing out from just under the seat cushion. It makes any piece more elegant.
There are so many ways to tailor a skirt. I prefer box pleats or fanning, in particular. Pillows are that final punch that makes a sofa or chair look finished. It is so important though that the pillows actually enhance the seating experience and are not immediately tossed to the floor to make room for a body to inhabit the seat. Don’t make them too big or too small. 20” x 20” is almost always correct. Also, make them soft enough that they have some squish. I like forms that are a 25/75 down foam mix.
Pillows are the perfect spot to splurge on an expensive fabric. You don’t need too much yardage and the to-die-for print of texture will get center stage on the sofa. I also like to sculpt pillows with boxed welting, Turkish corners, or fan edging.
Pillows are truly a blank canvas. Upholstery is the most functional element to any space and it also imbibes the tone for a room. I strive to give my clients family spaces that are as inviting to enter into with a glass of wine and a good book as they are for a raucous game of charades with friends and family. . . elegant, chic, and completely cozy.
Trade Tips – All the Trimmings
Tape trims on skirts
Cowtan and Tout Joplin
Clarence House Cutler Indigo
F. Schumacher Classic Herringbone
Fabricut Arbe Toile Bleu
Fabricut Trimming Papaya