With her staff duly seated to watch her, she would ceremoniously open each suitcase and lift out, one at a time, the memo samples (approximately 20 inches wide by 20 inches long) and show them off to us with great pride and unbridled enthusiasm. She would then "Oooh," and "Aaah," and squeal with ecstasy at the sensual experience that the color, design and texture would bring to her. It was highly entertaining for us, and having an audience made her excitement even keener. It was a soul-satisfying experience for her.
As the last fabric was displayed, she would repeat a favorite expression with sincere conviction, "If you don't love fabrics, get out of interior design!"
I once asked another mentor—my department chairman, who encouraged me from the beginning to pursue interior design as a career—this important question: What did she believe to be the single most important tangible element of the interior design spectrum? She replied without hesitation, "Fabrics!" Then sage advice followed: "If a person can learn how important it is to select the right fabric for the right installation, then the interior design will have a greater chance of being truly successful."
Perhaps these two experiences, each over 28 years ago, were the influencing factors in my design career and years of research and authorship that often have focused on fabrics. Instinctively I understood that these mentors were right, fabrics are the most important element. Textiles possess the capacity to accomplish so much and play so many diverse roles on the interior design stage.
WHAT FABRICS DO FOR AN INTERIOR
Fabrics are the most important element in an interior because of how they make people feel. As you read through this list of the ways fabrics make interiors more livable, consider adding these suggestions to your sales presentations.
These ideas are listed on this page in the presentation-honored features-and-benefits method, where the features are what the fabric does in the interior and the benefits are the ways the customer's life will become more pleasant because of them.
Selecting fabrics that are appropriate for the end product in weight, hand and dimensional stability is a responsibility borne by the interior designer or decorating professional. Below is a list of suggestions that will help ensure a good choice based on fabric weights.
THE RIGHT COMBINATION
Fabrics that are coordinated by suppliers into books or hanging samples can save endless hours hunting for the right combinations. However, many interior designers and decorators love this part of their jobs—searching from many sources through many textures to find a room full of fabric selections that is truly unique.
When you choose to search among your fabric sources for just the right combination, some tried-and-true fabric coordination guidelines that are listed below will help you achieve the best possible result.
FASHION CHANGES; GOOD DESIGN REMAINS CONSTANT
The most consistent element in the world of interior fabric fashion is, of course, change! The newest developments in the textile fashion world were gathered by Steve Beard, national sales manager for Wesco Fabrics, Inc., Denver, CO, and include these exciting directions:
• Orange and neon orange; prints influenced by the 1950s; polka dots and gingham checks; fabrics with high sheen and silky luster. (L.A. Color, Amsterdam-based color forecasting company).
• "I don't think there is a major designer who has not discovered orange." (Beatrice Eiseman, Pantone Color Institute).
• Orange as in reddish-orange, coral, peachy orange, Sunkist orange, spice. Terra cotta orange, buttery yellows, greenish-blues and reddish blues that take their cues from sky and water, and metallics (copper, bronze pewter, titanium silver mixed with soft lilac). (The Color Association of the United States [CAUS] interior forecasting committee, Forecast 2000-2001).
• "An abundance of formality and shimmer. Dressier looks definitely will continue. The eclectic approach consumers take toward decorating allows for a huge melting pot of looks from around the world that can be easily blended through the element of color. Spice tones, including paprika reds, golds and curry, will remain the centerpiece in the global network. More iced blues, banana yellows teamed with blues. Red in all shades from lipstick to calmer, earthier brick tones." (Sheila Long O'Mara, fabric editor for Furniture Today).
Other trends being spotted in the United Kingdom and Europe include:
• Funky: Retro-influenced geometric shapes and large-scaled prints. Bold splashes of color predominate from peony pink and sunshine yellow to lupine, melon and apricot.
• Eastern Promise: Rediscovered sensuality and rhythm of patterns are used sparingly to introduce detail and ornament or liberally to produce an ambiance of opulence and vibrancy. A classic Asian color palette of rich reds and purples is revitalized with the introduction of antique silver, jet black, cerise and turquoise.
• Metro Organic: Organic and ecological influences soften shapes and statements. Ecological shapes like foliage, seeds and feathers. Diluted colors like bamboo, mist green, ice blue calm and comfort. Metallic and pearlized finishes.
Regardless of how much "in style" you desire your clients to be, remember that the customers for whom you specify and create soft furnishings must feel at home and comfortable with those selections. If it is fashionable but not appealing to the client, the end user, then it is not necessarily good design.
The key is appropriateness for the given setting, the particular use and the needs and desires of the people who will live with the selections. We all can be thankful that fashion changes; life would be deathly dull without the freshest creations. Remember, however, that fashion changes, good design remains constant. And both are found through fabulous fabrics!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.
Fabric Coordination Guidlines
• Color is the key element in coordinating fabrics for an interior. Look for a specific, closely matched color that can be the element of continuity from one fabric to all the others. This color should be very similar in temperature (cool versus warm), intensity and identity.
For example, the prominent color we may seek in more than one fabric in an interior might be a warm red that is slightly dulled and leaning toward the orange, or a warm, neutralized red (also known as brick, rust or spice red).
• If possible, a second color that also is matched or closely blended will unify multiple fabrics from different sources. In both these cases, these dominant and secondary colors should be large enough in quantity to justify their selection.
• Consider the background color and avoid mismatching off-white backgrounds. Each off-white will have a definite undertone, the hue mixed with the white that renders it a pinkish, greenish, grayish, yellowish or other color of off-white. Try to match the undertones as closely as possible.
• Vary the intensity. If every color is bright, the scheme is irritating and tiresome; if all the colors are dull, then boredom is the result. The Law of Chromatic Distribution verifies this approach: "The largest areas in the room are covered with the dullest or most neutralized colors of the scheme. The smaller the area, the more intense the chroma (brightness) proportionately becomes." Simply put, largest areas dull, medium-size areas dull to medium bright, and smallest areas the most bright.
• Generally, lightest colors above, medium values around the middle and darkest colors underfoot. Of course this rule may be broken for special effects, but it is always one that works and can be counted on for effective value distribution.
• Colors should be either all warm or all cool, again with special consideration for the undertones.
• When combining fabric patterns, this rule of thumb is consistently useful: One large scale pattern, one small scale pattern, one geometric, one stripe and one or more solid fabrics with texture.
• Patterns establish themes, and most patterns can be easily categorized. Although there are many specific themes that deal with historic time and place, a simple way of testing a theme is to generalize the pattern using adjectives. By doing this, the other patterns in a design theme should fit into the same category of adjectives so a cohesiveness is possible. Here are some examples:
Sophisticated, elegant, refined, genteel, high-quality, upscale, costly.
Masculine, geometric, primitive, angular, earthy, rough, heavy, complex.
Feminine, romantic, floral, soft, ethereal, painterly, lovely.
Fun, bright, colorful, perky, spontaneous, lively or abstract. Examples would include children's themes, exotic island themes, crisp country themes and some sport themes.
These adjectives suggest a psychological response, which is a key to their appropriate selection.
Like pattern, textures evoke a neatly categorized and successful interior.
• Smooth, refined textures grouped together are always choices that can be trusted for a formal setting. These include damask, refined sheers, satin and antique satin, velvet, brocade, brocatelle, crepe, armure, lampas, moiré, lace, dressmaker matelassé, strie or jaspe and similar textiles.
• Less refined, rougher textures combined yield a casual, tactile, earthy interior. Such fabrics are tweed, matelassé, casement, canvas, leather, bouclé, cretonne, houndstooth and herringbone, pile fabric, corduroy, velour, homespun, flannel, flamestitch, tapestry, suede cloth, plaid, repp, flannel.
• Romantic textures include chintz and warp sateen, polished cotton, ninon, organdy, printed and textured sheers, satin and antique satin, shantung, taffeta and moiré, chiffon velvet or velour, chiffon textures (soft hand), taffeta, Jacquards, lappet and other embroideries, lace.
• Fun, graphic themes benefit from these textures: oxford cloth, broadcloth, cretonne, chintz, warp sateen, duck/sailcloth, printed and textured sheers, ticking, toile, graphic plaids, poplin, dotted Swiss, denim, chambray.
• A newer direction is the combination of textures in unexpected ways creating a texturally eclectic interior. The stimulating and interesting contrast of rough with smooth (tweed and polished cotton), or heavy with light (velvet and sheer) has been a cutting edge approach in upscale design circles and has met with great success. It means to break out of the mold, to worry less about categories (such as those above) and be truly creative. If your confidence and penchant for creativity and client base allow, try this approach.
Fabric Use Weight Chart
Thin, lightweight sheer
or semi-sheer fabricsBed hangings, canopies, bed curtains and draperies, window curtains, sheer curtains and draperies, window semi-sheer casement and contract draperies, soft top treatments, thin table covers, slipcovers and wall draperies. Lightweight fabricsCasements, curtains, draperies, custom shades, top treatments, custom table linens, lamp shades, supported bedspreads, decorative table covers, accessory items and trimmings. Medium weight fabricsDraperies, shades, heavier or stiffer top treatments, bed ensembles, pillows and accessories, bath linens, slipcovers, supported upholstery, wall and partition upholstery. Heavyweight fabricsCoverlets, floor cloths, wall upholstery, wall hangings and tapestries, upholstery, straight drapery panels and stiff, flat valances.