Fabrics! What on earth would we do without them? If we had no fabrics, besides being stark naked and laughing at each other a lot, we also would live in stark environments. LeCorbusier, the famous International Modern French architect stated flatly, “The house is a machine for living in.” The only fabric he would allow was a horsehide on his mechanically designed LeCorbusier Chaise Longue (French for long chair) and black leather on his Grand Confort sofa and chairs. The rest of the interior was to be hard-surfaced-glass and steel, stone floors, plain plaster walls, no window treatments on large expanses of glass. The result? Hard edged, cold, precise, nonhuman.
This foray into the beginnings of the Modern era has made its indelible
impression, but even in Post Modern interiors, fabric has been given
a notable role for the same reasons why fabrics are loved by most
people in most cultures: It humanizes! Maybe LeCorbusier didn’t
care to be human, but the rest of the world has decided it’s
the better choice.
FABRIC’S HUMAN QUALITIES
Fabric is fabulous because it beautifies and softens environments.
Although many clients may inherently believe it, some do need a
bit of convincing. Let’s consider this list of ways that fabrics
can take the inevitable hard edge off life:
1. Fabric is beautiful—No other element is
packed with so much personality and mood-setting power as is fabric.
It is the most personal of all elements because it combines the
two strongest elements in interior design: the psychology of color
and the psychology of pattern.
When a fabric is selected, the reason is sometimes because it’s
right for the room, but more often, the choice is secured because
it’s right for the needs and wants of the client.
2. Fabric softens noise—It muffles and absorbs
sound from within and from without. Distractions from television
or movies, radio or CDs, the dishwasher or any other machines can
be made more pleasant when fabric sponges the extra reverberation.
Likewise, unwanted sounds from outside—the din of traffic,
of voices along the street or even barking dogs—is less intense
in a room filled with fabric. Window treatments with lining and
interlining are especially good at accomplishing quietude from exterior
3. Fabric can assure privacy—Seeing toward
the light is a concept that fabrics control with ease. Sheer textiles
at the window provide daytime privacy and solidly woven fabrics
are the solution to nighttime privacy needs.
4. Fabric is friendly—It beckons to be touched,
it aims to envelope, it exists to comfort. It rests the eyes, it
stimulates the mind, it calms, it excites, it fills the emptiness.
Fabrics can be our companions when we are lonely, our stalwarts
when we need reinforcement. Fabric can be counted on to be there,
waiting with a bit of luxury and loveliness when we walk through
the door at the end of a hectic day—or anytime we need to
5. Fabric is fun—More decorative feats can
be accomplished with fabric than any other interior design component.
Fabric can be draped, adhered, fastened, attached, grommeted, shirred,
stapled, affixed, stiffened, suspended, hung, folded, quilted, appliquéd,
upholstered, slipcovered, valanced, pelmeted, sewn, tacked, laminated,
glued, stuffed, pleated, ruffled, piqued, trimmed, tufted, ruched,
layered, banded, contrasted or stretched on a frame or track, to
name a few applications. There seems to be no limit to the creative
ways that fabric can be manipulated to create an interior that is
unique and delightful.
FABRIC SETS THE MOOD
By far fabric’s greatest advantage is the power it possesses
to set a mood, establish a theme, secure an ambiance. From soft
and subtle to bold and garish, fabrics abound to fit the bill.
When planning to create a thematic statement using fabric be sure
to plan well in advance. Select a theme, then select fabric that
fetches an appropriate response. Themes exist in very general terms
and in specific venues. Here are a few examples.
Casual Contemporary is a very broad theme in which
mostly plain or textured fabrics are assigned to calm the mind and
refresh the body with subtle, undemanding simplicity. The applications
of fabric may be conservative and limited, as this theme is often
based on the “less is more” philosophy. Less pattern,
less confusion means more mental freedom from stress; more physical
room where unwinding and gentle conversation can take place; and
more emptiness that can be filled with people, their projects, their
entertainment, their interaction.
These are often rooms for busy people with less time or inclination
toward decoration, and less desire for upkeep. They want interiors
that serve them and do not demand much attention in return. This
client may be looking for unusual textile applications that meet
these criteria. In the accompanying photograph, Silent Gliss Naturama
Panels are easy to maintain with only periodic dusting or vacuuming.
The vertical surface keeps dirt from clinging. The Panel Track System
gives an added feature of hand, cord, baton or motorized applications.
Fantasy Land is a theme of delight, especially
for children. Using a fabric and/or wall covering as the basis for
a foray into the imagination, these rooms are pure entertainment.
Fantasy Land themes would include a licensed cartoon character,
or could be a generic theme. Little boys perennially seem to gravitate
toward themes such as racecars, trains, sports equipment or rocket
ships. For little girls, ballerina shoes, storybook bunnies or tea
party motifs help to satisfy their desire for beauty and gentility.
Even color without a pattern can be a basis for a child’s
Fantasy Land—yards of happy colors can provide fertile ground
for a lively imagination.
Far and Away is a theme which transports the user
into another place and time—the more exotic the better. This
may be a Victorian English Estate, an island in the South Seas,
a trip to the African continent or to the Land Down Under, the Great
North Woods or the Sun Baked Isles of the Mediterranean.
Fabric is the entry ticket to a world apart where one can feel an
ambiance of a place far removed. These interiors often combine styles
of furnishings that may need unifying—done neatly and professionally
with yards of thematic and carefully coordinated fabrics.
In the room shown here, created by S. Butterfield of Interiors by
Decorating Den, the client had a very formal taste and desired “thematic
rooms” throughout the home. The challenge was to combine frivolous
yet sophisticated fabrics and treatments while maintaining the feeling
of elegance in the design, almost as if stepping back in time.
The circus tent awning was used as a valance over the bed, with
animals and picture perfect fabrics. Carved monkey brackets were
used as a valance over the drapery panels. The combination of the
elephant/drum fabric, plus polka dots, stripes and stars added just
the pizzazz the client desired.
Another take-me-away fabric-filled interior is the sunny front porch
drenched with Stroheim & Romann’s “Forbidden Fruit”
fabric from the Tropical Prints Collection. This fabric is printed
with a striking black background for the draperies and cushions
and is accented by Orchid Garden on the table skirt. Picture a perfect
summer evening in this intimate setting, with trusted friends in
a lively conversation, drawing the draperies to control the breeze
or take the edge off the night chill, or to enhance the sense of
intimacy. All made possible through the magic medium of fabulous
FANTASTICALLY FUN FABRICS
How many fabrics are available on the market? Tens of thousands
at any given moment, with new collections being introduced each
spring and fall. This revolving door of decorative fabric assures
the professional and client alike that a vast array of textile color
and pattern selections will be available—limited only by the
trends in color and design.
Your imagination need not be limited to the fabrics themselves.
Your ability to apply those fabulous fabrics in fun and exciting
ways is the reason why your clients should keep your phone ringing
for repeat business!
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.