A Designer Teaches Fabric: The Basics of Why and Where to Start

Fabrics add personality to a room and reveal as much about the personality of the occupants of the house as the clothes they wear. Some rooms look old, young, stuffy, sweet, natural, busy, sophisticated, or dramatic depending on the fabric selected. As a designer, you must get to know enough about the occupant(s) of the room you are designing to select the colors, patterns, and textures that will make them feel ‘at home.’ Because fabric dictates style and sets the tone for the overall appearance of your room, careful selection is crucial. Of all the materials designers use, fabric offers the greatest decorative potential. It is versatile, easy to manipulate and low in cost compared to flooring, furniture and fixtures. Consider how you might use fabrics in a room: drapery, upholstery, wall covering, bedding, toweling and accessorizing. Textiles are, above all, deemed the designer’s real sphere, since the application of textiles to furnishings, window treatments and accessories create and complete the scheme of a room.

Fabric is usually chosen first and foremost for color, and color is determined by light. Consequently, the fabric you select must be considered under light conditions as similar as possible to those in which the fabric will be installed. A fabric selected for a dimly lit bedroom may be bright and harsh under incandescent or fluorescent lights. Fluorescent lighting blackens the blue component in colors and makes yellows bright. Halogen lighting can make colors look harsh. Direct, natural light washes even bold colors.

If there is to be a patterned fabric, select the print first. Using that fabric as a base, build coordinating fabrics from there. When dressing a room, you can have many different prints cleverly combined. In most instances, rooms need a minimum of three coordinating fabrics to have eye interest. Unless you know that your client enjoys being trendy and changes her or his wardrobe to keep up with the trends, beware of choosing fabric prints and patterns that may enjoy a brief moment of popularity only to appear dated and out of style too soon. Like good clothes, good fabrics should endure.