9 years ago we moved into our current home. I did such a good job staging our previous home that the buyers bought nearly all of our furniture, which meant I could start over for the new house. As you can imagine, this was a dreamy scenario for me; however, we did not have a lot of money at the time, and the new house needed major repairs and landscaping. Oh, and did I mention we had a 6 month old baby? Needless to say, our furniture budget was tight.

On a blustery Saturday in March 2011, Mike and I, with baby Michael in tow, set out to purchase family room and dining room furniture. As an interior designer, I was sure to select fabrics that could withstand babies, a dog, family gatherings – the works. Fast forward to July. We were preparing to celebrate Michael’s 1st birthday, a momentous occasion in and of itself, and also the day our brand new furniture was to be delivered! Hooray! Not exactly. We were expecting close to 100 people, and temperatures were forecasted to soar over 100 degrees, which meant the outdoor birthday party would most likely move indoors. Ok fine, right? Wrong! What about my brand new, squeaky clean, never sat-in, perfectly put-together furniture? What if someone spilled red wine on my new beige sofa? Or worse, wiped their greasy burger-bun hands along my beautiful new ottoman? I began rethinking the chocolate cake and considered serving only clear liquids and Cheerios, plain Cheerios to be exact.

As I do with everything else in my life, I immediately called my mother, hoping she would talk me off the ledge. As usual, she was brutally honest. “Well, Liz, the furniture is going to get dirty at some point.” This was not what I wanted to hear. I actually considered covering the furniture in plastic, just like at Grandma’s house.

The above scenario is what I hear on a daily basis from friends, customers, and family members. They want fabrics they can live in from day 1, fabrics that are meant to take a beating, whether from pets or accident-prone people, and are no match for liquids, dirt, or sun damage.

Performance fabrics now come in a multitude of colors and textures.

What are these magical fabrics? Let me explain. We spoke with and interviewed some of our fabulous furniture and fabric reps to give you the dirt on performance fabrics.

“Fifty years ago, the only performance fabrics in existence were designed for contract use. They had a very stiff hand and so they would be very uncomfortable in a residential setting. Residential fabrics could be sprayed with a topical stain protection such as Scotchguard, but those were (and are) marginally effective, and wear off over time. In recent years, Nanotex, Crypton, and other companies have developed a protective process that chemically bonds to the fibers on a molecular level, which provides a permanent barrier between the stain and the fabric so the fabric can be cleaned with soap and water. The result is a generation of new fabrics that are cleanable and also soft to the touch, making them appropriate for in-home use.”
– Becky, Kravet representative

Performance fabrics (right) coordinate perfectly with accent prints (left).

Most of you have heard or seen advertisements for Sunbrella fabrics, and even Crypton and Nanotex fabrics. All of these are categorized as performance fabrics because they have special powers. The latest and greatest performance fabrics to arrive on the scene are InsideOut and are, in my opinion, the bomb diggity.

Generically speaking, Sunbrella is meant for outdoor use. It is UV and fade resistant, high in UPF protection, breathable, bleach cleanable, and are resistant to mold and mildew. Many Sunbrella fabrics are used for outdoor awnings and patio cushion covers. These fabrics are offered in a wide array of colors and patterns. Many retailers carry Sunbrella in some form or fashion. While these fabrics are made for the outdoors, they do not always have a high rub count (aka how many times a fabric can be sat on before showing wear), so talk to your fabric specialist before making any decisions.

Crypton and Nanotex introduced us to fabrics that look and feet great, repel spills and odors, and are highly durable. These fabrics are eco-friendly, and because the magic is woven into the fiber of the fabric, you don’t have to worry about the performance factor ever wearing off. A little soap and water is all you need to clean up any mess. These fabrics come in a multitude of colors and textures, meaning you don’t have to sacrifice style over function.

Mix and match performance fabrics (center) for different styles and moods.

And then… Crypton and Sunbrella had a baby, and they named it InsideOut! These are the latest and greatest in performance fabrics. We previewed them last spring before they hit the market, and we could not wait to start specifying this incredible material for our customers. Why all the hype? InsideOut Performance Fabrics are spill resistant, mold and mildew resistant, odor resistant, fade resistant, highly durable (high rub count), easy to clean, look and feel great, and can withstand the harsh elements of the outdoors. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention these fabrics are also completely free of PFCs (Polyfluorinated Chemicals). Yippee!

So… where do you get these fabulous fabrics? Most fabric retailers have them, and of course, any designer worth working with will have them as well. As designers, we are in the know and receive updates and education (very important!) from our extremely helpful manufacturer representatives from brands we know and trust such as Kravet, Thibaut, Kasmir, Scalamandre, and more! We are constantly asking questions about wearability, durability, fade resistance, environmental impacts, etc. We make it our business to know which of these fabrics is right for you and why. 

There is a big wide world of beautiful fabrics out there for you to explore. So before you commit to an $300 per yard silk damask for your family room sofa, please stop and consider if it is going to withstand your 4 kids, 2 dogs, cat, and your ladies’ wine and cheese parties. Probably not. (Pssssst, performance fabrics are really affordable too!)

Moral of the story: fabrics have come a long, long way, baby! And the new performance fabrics of today allow us to live, lounge, and lay all over our furniture without having to worry so damn much. Thank the lord!

I would love to continue this conversation with you. If you are considering new furniture in the near future, call or email me, and I’ll be happy to provide you with some guidance!