There would be no life as we know it without fabric, for without fabric our environments are cold and sterile, reverberating and unbearable, even inhumane. Fabrics humanize our environments, contributing civility, livability, charm, practical sound absorption and energy control. Beyond these strong arguments for the generous use of fabric, there is much to be said for the role of fabric in gentility. Fabrics draped in a sophisticated and lovely way are a hallmark of an artistically developed society. The advancements of any civilization reach their zenith when a culture can afford lengths of luxurious cloth.
And we are there. We live at a time when not only the very wealthy
but also middle income customers usually can afford all the fabric
they desire because of the wide range of costs and qualities and
sources of fabric.
Let us look at the ways we can convince our customers that more
fabric is often a better solution to aesthetic problems. Here are
some fresh ways to approach sales and build volume in fabric orders.
THE PROCESS OF DESIGN
Professional interior designers are taught in schools that all design
projects begin with an establishment of the “problem.”
A problem statement is discovered by using the 5 W’s: who,
where, what, why and when. Examples of this exploration include
simple questions to ask out loud or to yourself, helping to identify
what kind of fabric installations will be the best solution:
• Who is the occupant or user? Who makes the decision? Who
• Where is the location? Where is the orientation? Where is
the source of light? Where is the need to control the source of
light? Where should the placement of the window treatments be? Where
should the controls be placed?
• What are the choices for fabric selection? What ways can
the selections be narrowed to find the best choice? What is the
best-draped solution for the space?
• When is the room occupied? When are the customers needing
psychological encouragement through the use of fabric? When is the
best time to close the sale? When should the installation take place?
Without being pushy, strive to establish a bit of urgency as to
when the sale will close more smoothly and quickly.
• Why is the customer interested in furnishing the interior?
Why are the preferences toward color or texture meaningful and supportive
to the client?
The 5 W’s might yield something like this: The problem to be
solved is a window treatment (or other project) for Ms. Jones who
will benefit after work in her living room, where the fabric needs
to be draped at the window, closable at night to assist in assuring
psychological and physical safety.
The steps above can be addressed on paper as a part of the interviewing
portion of the sales call. This has the advantage of encouraging
the client to be a part of the drapery solution. Or it can be a
mental exercise once the design professional is comfortable with
making the mental notes necessary.
BRAINSTORMING AND SELECTION
The next step is often fun. It’s determining a style of window
treatment—from a wonderful style of draperies, swags, shaped
top treatments and custom shades, for example. Photographs, drawings
or computer sketches of many selections with a discussion of how
each would enhance the room is a delightful step in this process.
Close this part of the sale before going on to the fabric.
Once the style is determined, the best part of any decorative sales
project is presenting a few fabric books and considering the possibilities
of fabric and color combinations. Be sure to preselect the books
according to what you observe will work best in the space. Once
the books are in front of the customer, make this a client-oriented
process by avoiding too much of your own professional opinion (this
comes later in a confirming way). Caution should be taken to not
overwhelm the customer with too many choices or too many books or
you may lose the sale.
As selections are viewed, prep the client’s mind by asserting
the tremendously powerful influence of color and pattern psychology.
Ask the client to respond to the fabrics rather than to insert your
own opinion, but do support their response. “I see your point,”
or “That is a very smart observation,” sort of statements
are effective ways of empowering the client.
Naturally, fabric color, pattern and texture should be a personal
choice, and when it is the customer is far more likely to be satisfied
with the results. Make them a part of this by asking questions such
as, “What do you think of this color?” or “Is this
pattern (or texture) appealing to you?” When you receive a
positive response, praise and encourage them with statements like,
“This would (or will) make a beautiful drapery (or top treatment,
shade, bedspread, etc.) because . . .” Then list some advantages
to the color, the pattern, the texture, the drapability, the privacy,
the softness, the sheerness, the opacity, the flexibility, the psychological
effect of the color or pattern, etc.
This “praise list” can be extensive, but don’t overdo
it. It may be that the customer sort of likes it, but if you praise
too much, it may turn them off. Be sensitive to their responses,
and gauge yours to match theirs. As this brainstorming yields results,
it’s best to select three to five fabrics, but no more. Too
many fabrics are confusing and cause the customer to doubt his or
her own judgment. Next, begin the process of elimination with questions
such as, “If we compare these two, which one do you find more
appealing?” Then take two others, until you find the just-right
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF FABRIC
Once a final selection is determined, have a little more fun with
the ways that a particular fabric will solve the problem. “This
will be the best selection of all the ones we’ve evaluated
because . . . ”
Refer to the 5 W’s in asserting that this fabric, draped in
the style that the customer selected, will give clues as to how
to direct their expectations. Things like, “This blue will
be a very calming influence in your bedroom; relaxation will be
a wonderful result as you enjoy this draped fabric.” Add to
this the psychology of sales. Make the customer feel they have not
only made a great choice, but that you are genuinely happy and excited
for them to have this new form of art, comfort, beauty and richness
in their lives. Build excited anticipation for the stylishly draped
fabric. So much of the satisfaction of a purchase comes when our
expectations are filled with happy thoughts.
FABRIC, CHAMPION OF VERSATILITY
Of course, the best part of any decorating project is that there
is no limitation as to what fabric can do or be used for. The possibilities
Window treatments are a great place to start draping in style using
creativity as your ally, but why stop there? Drape the bed, from
a canopy or even from the ceiling; use fabric as dust ruffles, maybe
with overlays; as bedspreads; coverlets (short bedspread) or comforters.
Layer the effects with piles of pillows, throws and trimmings. Drape
tables—even tables not necessarily meant to be draped can give
a slip-cover freshness to a room. Make the shower curtains and top
treatments of a coordinated fabric; edge the towels in fabric, too.
Fabric can be used in designer rugs as inserts, and be made into
rag rugs for the perfect color combination because it is the decorative
But don’t stop there! Slip cover dining room, living room,
den or family room chairs or sofas. Specify table runners, custom
napkins, appliance covers. Customize the lampshades, wastebaskets
and tissue boxes with fabric as finishing touches that add charm,
elegance and delight to any room.
Fabric can turn an ordinary room into a picture-perfect room. It
is the means whereby we feel comforted when alone, calmed when stressed,
and dreamy when romantic. Fabric is a friend to all, a foe to none,
a way to achieve aesthetic euphoria. Transfer your enthusiasm to
your client, and watch the magic show begin!
J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at
Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including
Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction,
3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular
correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion,
education and merchandising.