For us to endure the worst parts of life, there must be some real rewards for us as well as our customers. Even though it can be tough, many interior design professionals will say they are in this business because they love it; and often they love it because they get to work with fabric.
Fabric is what makes interior design work a pleasure. Fabrics are the medium through which fashions are expressed, trends are established and interiors are made beautiful. Fabrics are the lifeblood for many interior design installations, and the reasons for this all have to do with three of our five senses: sight, sound and touch, thus making them a sensuous experience.
Consider using these reasons to educate your customers as to the benefits of having more fabric in their interiors.
Fabrics soften the view of architecture's hard edges. Whether it be yards of luxurious textiles or a simple translucent fused polyester shade, fabric can counterbalance the inflexibility of wood and the predominantly straight lines of moldings and window grids.
Especially sensuous to the eye are soft fabrics, those with limpid, liquid qualities. The newer generation of sheer textiles fit this bill perfectly. These fabrics hang softly and fluidly on the rod, around the bed, as table cloths or as sheer slipcovers on furniture.
The advent of sensuous fabric has provided softer visual relief from years of metal and wood window treatments. I remember well the first World of Window Coverings trade show in New Orleans, LA, in 1983. I was amazed at the offerings on the show floor: booth after booth of mini-blind and vertical blind suppliers hardly interspersed with any fabric purveyors at all. How things have changed! Now we see a wealth of sumptuous fabrics, a treasure trove of decorating inspiration at every turn, and all of it rewarding to our visual senses.
A story I love to tell comes from my undergraduate years when a professor invited his class to his home. He was a elderly gentleman, dignified and genteel, who had traveled the world. He had brought home treasures from distant lands and surrounded himself with things he loved and admired. His draperies were an intense deep orange with a strong Oriental pattern. I remember thinking, "How awful!" I was much too quick to judge. Over the years as I pondered the fabric and the setting, I have decided those draperies were perfect, they not only gave interest and power to the room, they also set the stage for the many artifacts from the Orient he had on display.
They did something else, too. Those draperies gave him companionship. The fabric served as a loyal friend, a reminder of years spent abroad, of places and people who were dear to him and were no longer available. The great lesson I learned was that "to each his own fabric" is of critical importance for a designer. We must respect our clients' choices, guiding them and educating them where necessary, but always seeking to help them find the perfect fabric that suits their emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
From this experience I have noticed that often the grand estates of England, lonely vast places, often had very decorative fabrics in great quantity in the bed chambers. Surely the reason was the same as was my distinguished professor's: the need for comfort and companionship. The psychology of pattern and of color are important to the comfort and well-being of the people who occupy the space.
In today's tumultuous world, noise has become our enemy. We are surrounded with sound—and much of it is not pleasant. The advertising, telephone, cell phone, pager or fax assaulting our ears combined with the noise of machinery that is indicative of our modern conveniences have reached the upper end of our collective toleration point. Add to this the sounds of the world brought to us through television, movies and on roads we drive, and we end up with escalated noise levels, increased excitement and more contention, even rage. We have a stage set for a revolution that has quietude as its goal.
Manufacturers are not ignorant of our pain. In the world of appliances, the hushed dishwasher has led the way followed by quieter washing machines and other sound-dampened devices. They are welcome indeed in my home and in those of many of our customers. I have gladly paid the monthly fee for the telephone screening that advises callers that we do not accept solicitations. Now I know that when the phone rings it's probably worth answering, and it rings so much less frequently now, especially at dinnertime. Ah, the peace and quiet!
Such words as "quiet," "still," "peaceable" and "comfort" are found in many religious books including the Bible. And many people hope these feelings can be restored to their lives in order to revisit the spiritual side of life. A place that offers solitude and repose is capable of providing a sanctuary against the harshness of the outside world and gives the gift of inner peace to our souls.
It is a simple fact that more fabric means more quiet. So sell alternative treatments, but add on the real boon: the sound-absorbing fabric that gives back life by absorbing noise and tumult.
Soft fabrics are essential to 21st-century life. So much of what we touch is hard: computer keys, car keys, sample book handles, stiff paper pages, knobs and buttons and control switches. Where is the softer touch? The answer is in fabrics, of course.
The most sensual of our senses is our ability to touch the fabrics with our hands to verify that what we have seen and heard really is as soft and lofty, as delicate or as deeply luxurious as our eyes perceived it to be. Fabrics are far more touchable than ever before. The increased use of easily cleaned polyester has helped dramatically, as have finishes that make fabrics more impervious to soiling.
Have you noticed that often a client will make a decision based on how a fabric feels even if it is to hang at a window where it will not be touched? This is because we want to know in our minds that the fabric meets the expectations of our tactile senses. Notice, too, the direction in upholstery is toward more softer textures, more comfort with less stiffness and formality.
We make intimate connections with fabric. It feeds our senses and gives us a reward for our money, our efforts and our time. It can be a friend—never judging us, but always willing to support the need we have as humans to make contact with that which is beautiful.
We want to be elevated, inspired and encouraged. We desire greater refinement or greater beauty, no matter how we define it in terms of formality or casualness. These are all things that fabrics can give us and our customers. We all work hard, and we deserve the softness, the sensually fulfilling qualities that fabrics bring to our interiors.
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.