Dear Mr. Williams,
You have written about how to select fabrics. I, however, don’t remember seeing anything about how long a fabric should last before having to recover the furniture. I recovered a sofa, two chairs, an ottoman and a pair of small pull-up French style frame chairs only four years ago. They all look shabby and somewhat worn now. The sofa and two chairs particularly. Is that normal? We use the room in which these pieces are placed every day and sit mainly on the pieces most worn. What can I do to ensure the fabric selected will “wear like iron” the next time I recover the furniture?
Sincerely, Margaret Davis
Dear Mrs. Davis,
The options open to you have grown over the past few years to include a wide range of commercial grade fabrics that are both beautiful and durable. At the same time the residential fabric market has begun to include durability information in price lists and on the tags of samples in showroom and interior design studios. As consumers demand more and more information and become knowledgeable about fabrics and their uses the manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with new and improved materials. The industry standard for durability is the Wyzenbeek abrasion test. The Wyzenbeek machine runs an abrasive bearing over the fabric until a worn spot appears and the fabric is declared to have failed. The process is described as “double rubs” and the number of “rubs” is an indication of the durability of the fabric. Normal residential use requires somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 double rubs. Some fabrics like mohair, horsehair and the like often exceed 100,000 double rubs. The Wyzenbeek test is a very good indication of how sturdy and long lasting the fabric might be.
Nothing “wears like iron” except iron. Both residential and commercial fabrics still must endure the wear and tear inherent in day-to-day use. There are, however, many resources for beautiful and durable fabrics. It is important to understand a good re-upholstery job is the first step in guaranteeing the fabrics selected will perform as you hope. The way the springs are installed, the decking, the lining for the cushions and the fabric itself all play a very important part in durability. Assuming your upholstery will be professionally completed many fabrics will meet your needs. Natural fibers have, over time, proven to be long lasting and durable. Leather, of course, is strong and relatively easy to work with. As with all products the higher the quality the better the performance. Patchwork, seamed, miss-matched and distressed are all signs of less than superior quality leather. The next natural fiber on the list of most durable is wool. Mohair is the fleece of the Angora goat and has been used for years for its luxurious and long-lasting qualities. You might remember Mohair from theater seats and it is also still used on the seats of the Piccadilly line tube in London. Cotton, linen and silk all offer good durability but will show wear more quickly than many of the man-made fibers.
Man-made fibers offer another very durable alternative. Ultra suede©, a Polyester non-woven ultra-micro fiber, is durable, washable and easy to work with. Available in lots colors and some prints it is best known by many for use in clothing. The Ultra suede© we use in our profession is a thicker gauge and heavier weight than that used in fashion. New acrylics, mod acrylics, acetate, viscose, rayon and polyester are, for many, the fibers of choice for durability. Sunbrella© has licensed its solution-dyed process to many fabric mills here and abroad and now comes in a plethora of styles, colors and prints. It is now soft, luxurious and beautiful. It performs wonderfully well both indoors and out.
A complete understanding of the qualities of the fabrics offered and their ability to withstand the day-to-day uses to which they will be subjected is an important part of the education of any design professional. You may find a combination of natural and man-made fibers will give you the best possible solution to your dilemma. Each of us uses fabrics and upholstery in different ways and there is never one solution for every problem. Good luck and I hope you are able to combine beauty with the best in durability.
Archive for September, 2015
Dear Mr. Williams,
Ask Mr. Williams Lamp Shades
Dear Mr. Williams,
I am looking for new table lamps for my living room and family room. Everything I see has shades that I will describe as boring. Or, the shade is so outlandish with feathers and such I am unable to actually appreciate the lamp beneath. What should I do? What is the best way to buy lamps and shades? How tall should a lamp be beside a chair or sofa?
Thank you, Karen Parkinson
Dear Mrs. Parkinson,
How and where the lamp will be used is the first question you should ask. You will also want to define how many lamps will be in the space. Smaller accent lamps need not have a bright bulb and usually support a 25 to 60 watt bulbs. These lamps are used around the room for ambient lighting on small sideboards and tables. Depending on the size of the space you might also want one or two larger lamps with wattage in the 100 to 150 range. The height will be defined by the height of the table on which it will sit and whether or not it is next to a chair or sofa. You don’t want a bare bulb shining into your eyes. A lamp that is too tall may have to have what is called a diffuser at the bottom of the shade to spread the light evenly.
There is a plethora of lamps with shades available and finding one that will work for you can be daunting. You will probably want to take a few home to try in the space. Scale and proportion are important. If you decide to purchase a base without a shade make sure you understand how to size the shade. Generally a shade that is half as tall as the lamp from base to socket will be pleasing. The base of the shade will be at least 2 times the diameter of the lamp base if not more. Trends have changed over the years and what was fashionable in 1950 is dated and heavy looking today. Although there is a huge selection of off-the-shelf shades, I am always amazed at lighting retailers not offering the choice of a custom shade for their clients. In this way you can match fabric colors in your room and add trim or accessories that work perfectly with your interior. Professional interior designers have, for years, worked with the few remaining custom shade houses left in America. These companies create a shade by first making the wire frame and applying the fabric, lining and trim selected by the designer and their clients.
Most often the shade is attached to a wire structure called a harp which is, in turn, attached to the lamp base at or near the bulb. The harp is available in a number of sizes which corresponds to the number of inches from the bulb base to the top of the harp. At the top of the harp is the finial which attaches the shade to the lamp. Don’t forget finial selection when choosing your lighting. Many good lighting retailers and interior designers have access to beautiful and interesting finials which act just like a little piece of jewelry on your lamp. The right choice will complete your lighting selection and, at the same time, create a lamp that is a very personal expression of your style and sense of design.
Dear Mr. Williams,
I have old rugs given to me by my mother when she moved to a retirement community and I would like to know how to use them in my home. One of the rugs has different shades in the background and in the other some of the colors are faded. In the smaller rug there are 2 or 3 worn areas. I’ve included a photo of each. Are these rugs damaged? If not, why is the color so different in the same rug? Can these rugs be used together in the same space?
Sincerely, Roberta Hood
Dear Mrs. Hood,
The two rugs you have are referred to, generally, as Oriental rugs. Each is hand woven. One uses natural dyes and the other employs synthetic dyes. The larger rug, an Azeri, was woven in Turkey in the early 1990’s. It uses natural dyes and, as you see, not all the wool matches in shade or color. This variation is called “abrash” and is a term associated with change of tone in a color and shows mainly in the ground color. It occurs when a weaver finishes a skein of one color and proceeds using a second skein of the same color but of a slightly different shade. It is usually visible in a straight line across the width of the rug and is regarded as a positive rather than a negative feature. Abrash is the result of small-bath dyeing and indicates that the rug was made by one weaver. Abrash is one of those “imperfections” that handmade Oriental rugs are “supposed” to have. In fact, many very sophisticated weavers and dyers have abrash deliberately inserted into the design of their carpets. The rug you have is a very fine example of the new rugs being woven in Turkey by weaver-artists striving to revive nineteenth-century village patterns and natural dyes This has created an economic boom in the region and stimulated rug buying in the West.
The second rug is a Kazak. It was probably made around the middle 1880’s or the early 1890’s. Kazak is part of the northern area of the Western Caucasus near Eastern Turkey and Southern Georgia in the Russian Federation. It’s rugs are famous for bold patterns, vivid color and strong design. These rugs have a long pile and are made of lustrous wool. In this rug, the weft, the base fiber inserted across the width of the rug, is often dyed red and the selvages may be woven in more than one color. You have a wonderful rug and the very small worn areas will not make the rug less usable.
I am a firm believer in the “collection” philosophy. I love to see clients with different style Oriental rugs within the same space. That said, there are a few things to consider when adding to your collection. The patterns need not match exactly but you do want to make sure the scale and proportion of one pattern enhances the other. Don’t put a very soft-colored floral French style Savonnerie carpet next to a bold Iranian Bakhitiari type rug. Select styles that are similar and colors that are in the same family. The other thing to consider is size. The furnishing should sit on the rug no surround it. If the rug is so small it isn’t covered by any furniture is has the look of not really belonging to the setting. It also looks as if you couldn’t or wouldn’t afford a rug large enough for the space.
As a professional interior designer I am not an expert on Oriental rugs. I know types and styles of rugs but depend on the men and women with whom I work to direct me and my client to the appropriate rug for any given interior. I love dealing with rugs from other parts of the world. I begin to understand a little more about their way of life and enjoy using the rugs to help tell a unique story within an interior.