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Material Gains

The top names in decorating demystify the often esoteric world of upholstery and curtaining

By Piet Smedy | April 23, 2017 | Category Interiors

The top names in decorating demystify the often esoteric world of upholstery and curtaining with expert insight and practical tips.

Getting started is simple, get organised

Before you start your search for the right fabrics you’ll need to have a good idea of what the style of the room is and in what direction you’d like to take the mood. Take paint and carpet swatches with you to fabric showrooms to guide you in the right direction. Remember that colours and patterns need not – in fact, should not – match exactly. These tonal discrepancies make for multidimensional interiors.


Everything you need to know about finding the right fabric and finishes for furniture pieces.

1. Slipcovers are a smart solution

In high-traffic areas, such as living rooms, it’s best to have slipcovers made up for the cushions in a hardy fabric. Bull denim is a cost-effective and easy-to-wash option. Always remember to first preshrink the fabric and to never wash the slipcovers in water that’s hotter than 30˚C. Have two covers made for each cushion so that you’ll always have a spare when one is in the wash.

Slipcovers in ‘Lino Lavato’ fabric by Carlucci, available at Home Fabrics
(Photograph: Supplied)

Expert Tip ‘you can splurge on the fabric for scatter- cushion covers as you’ll be using a lot less of it,’ says Stephen Black of Black Fabrics.

2. David Muirhead’s guide to trimmings

As the founder of Fine Living, David knows how to make a statement…

– Use studding on chairs in a suitable colour as an effective way of emphasising the unique shape and pattern aspects of a piece.
– A simple piping in the same or a contrasting colour is a more pared-back approach than studding. Use it to neatly punctuate pieces that are already quite bold.
– Add bullion fringing to the base of a classical sofa for a more decorated finish, while streamlined piping or no piping at all is a more modern approach.

‘Les Touches Blue’ fabric by Brunschwig & Fils, available on request from St Leger & Viney, was used to upholster this tub chair in a Sarah Bartholomew Design interior
(Photograph: David Hillegas)

3. Investigate the rub count

‘When you’ve found your fabric of preference, it is imperative to establish its upholstery weight. If the wrong fabric is used things like seam slippage and pilling will most likely occur,’ says Gail Butler of Halogen International. ‘It’s also helpful to ask which trimmings and finishes can and cannot be applied to the fabric and what its Martindale units are.’ The higher the unit count, the tighter the weave of the fabric and the more resistant it will be to wear.

Designer Craig Kaplan upholstered this chair’s legs for a contemporary twist
(Photograph: Elsa Young)

Retro Revival Applying modern fabrics to traditional furniture adds humour to a space.


From blackout or sheer to finding the perfect hanging length, the experts weigh in.

4. Camilla Whiteman’s top curtain rules

One half of the design team behind Pezula Interiors, Camilla shares her intel on how to hang drapery right.

– For high-sun areas, fabrics with a synthetic component are essential, as the sun will literally ‘eat’ your curtains. Opt for a well-lined linen here or, alternatively, have sheer and blackout curtains along two separate tracks.
– For areas where the windows or doors open in, curtains will often get in the way. In cases like this blinds are best utilised and should be placed above the reveal of the window or door.
– Create the illusion of a room looking bigger by hanging curtains across the entire wall, not simply covering the window area. This will also make the ceiling appear higher than it is.

Photograph: BQ Design Australia

5. Brilliant advice from Angela Swain

The grande dame of curtaining and founder of Swain Soft Furnishings

– Have items made in the traditional way: mitered corners, machine stitching and hand stitching. This way it has longevity in that it can hold together heavier fabric and won’t disintegrate in heat or cold.
– New is nice, but consider having antique fabric carefully cleaned and restored. They add a lovely sense of history to an interior.
– Dress windows appropriate to the architecture. The golden rule is: keep it simple. If hanging curtains requires you to start installing valances or pelmets to hide door height and window discrepancies then blinds are most likely a better solution.
– Rebated rods should be used to hide curtain tracks as well as the electric workings of automated curtains or blinds. If you’re using wooden rods that are not painted or stained, opt for a wood that is repeated elsewhere in the house for continuity.

Curtains in Prestigious Textiles ‘Style 3157’ fabric, available at Stuart Graham Fabrics, in an Andrea Graff interior
(Photograph: Greg Cox/Bureaux)

6. More is more

‘People often underestimate the amount of fabric needed to properly cover a window and mistakenly only measure the dimensions of the actual glass pane, without taking into consideration effects such as gathering,’ warns Sharon Fihrer of Head Interiors. ‘Bear in mind that it can take two to three times this length to achieve the look you’re going for.’

Curtains in ‘Printers Parchment’ alongside sheers in ‘Rustic Linen Gauze’, both available at St Leger & Viney, in a Mumtaz Dasoo interior (Photograph: Elsa Young)

A matter of style ‘If I’m working on a modern space, I keep the curtains 2cm above the ground. But in a classic, country-style home, I like to puddle them on the floor,’ says Sumari Krige of La Grange Interiors.

7. Tips for easy fabric care

– Professional dry-cleaning should always be your first choice as different fibres react differently to solvents.
– 100% polyester, or a fabric that has a poly-blend, is more stain resistant – keep in mind in high-traffic areas and children’s rooms.
– Fabric can be treated with a stain repellant, such as Scotch Guard, which allow them to not absorb dirt or spillage. These do, however, need to be regularly reapplied.
– Wash fabrics in smaller bunches as the more you wash in one go the higher your chances of getting wash streaks.

Expert Tip ‘soft velvets have a lovely feel to them but are also hard-wearing. don’t be afraid of bruising the fabric’s pile, it adds a new tactile dimension to the look,’ says Stephen Black.

The ‘Italian Touch’ range by Carlucci, available at Home Fabrics, is ideal for heavy contract, drapery and accessories
(Photograph: Supplied)

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