Top design houses are churning out luxury fabrics by the millions of yards to meet a suddenly insatiable demand for high end, plush fabrics. But it's not for cocktail dresses—it's for home décor.
"We're seeing a resurgence in luxury and opulence," says Samantha Poffel, marketing and showroom manager for the London-based textile company, Osborne & Little. "I think it's a backlash to all the beige rooms of the '90s."
"In today's market, what we wear and what we want in our homes have become very closely tied," says interior designer Joy Rexroad of Hale & Rexroad Interiors. "People have the money and want to spend it wisely."
At the same time, more and more homeowners are using interior designers (who have access to some of the great fabrics the general public does not) to get the look they want. Imagine a sofa clad in ultra-suede, an accent wall upholstered in damask, or an occasional chair outfitted in faux fur. From velvet to silk, rich fabrics are coming back in a big way in home design.
Take for example, mohair. It's not just for sweaters anymore. According to Shanna McHale, sales and buying associate at Gaines McHale, there's nothing to compare to the experience of curling up in a cozy chair upholstered in mohair. "It's extremely expensive but also extremely yummy," she explains. Silk is big, too.
"Embroidered fabric and silk was a huge trend in the last year," says Cynthia Tella, a consulting designer for the New York-based fabric company, Kravet. "Everything silk is a huge trend. Ten years ago, silk was very precious; now it is all over the marketplace." According to Tella, interior designers are looking for ways to make a room special, and the addition of a truly luxurious fabric can achieve what nothing else can.
But all is not chenille, silk, and suede. At Kravet, Tella has seen fabric created of cork, bamboo, raffia, and even horsehair (once used for its durability, now coveted for its uniqueness). "I've seen magnificent leathers and laser-cut horsehair from Milan that are normally reserved for high-end handbags now going onto furniture," says Tella.
Color is a part of the trend, too. Gone are the blasé beiges of the last decade, replaced by cool hues. "Even though textures have become warm and cozy, colors have moved toward the cooler range with icy shades of pink, aqua, and platinum. Even bronze and gold hues have become cooler," says Elaine Buderer, owner of Restoration Interior Design in Columbia. "Soft and serene textures and cooler colors are a reaction to our culture's frantic lifestyle. People yearn to decompress and unwind in a home that feels tranquil and safe."
Right now, the hippest hue is blue. "You see these 'hot' colors in the magazines, but what we see at the heart of our business is what we call in the couture line, 'water blue,'" says Kravet's Tella, explaining that today's most popular blue is a pale turquoise. "It's silly, but it's like all the designers got together in a secret meeting and all decided to buy this color."
Because of its popularity, blue will no doubt be showing up in the marketplace in a variety of shades, from almost gray to bright sky blue. It is already making an appearance in some unlikely pairings. "Brown and blue [combinations] are still holding strong," says McHale. "It's been in the business for three or four years, but the public is just catching on to it."
So how do you incorporate all this sudden sumptuousness into your previously humble abode? "Don't be overwhelmed by scale and color; introduce it modestly with a simple Roman blind and as you get more comfortable you can add more," says Osborne & Little's Poffel. "The easiest way for people who are nervous about textiles to start is with throw pillows because they're easy to execute and can be changed with the season."
In fact, throw pillows, loads and loads of them (again, following the indulgent theme), are very de rigueur. So, too, are draperies resplendent with trim, which were passe until recently.
The new textiles are so versatile that with a little ingenuity, fabric can be applied in the most unusual places. Poffel recommends using fabric to line bookshelves or the inside of television cabinets. Buderer states that heavier upholstery-type textiles can be used as area rug borders while woven cloth can be used for matting pictures, creating accessories boxes, or making mirror frames.
Of course, to really remake your rooms, you can take the Texan view: Think big. Headboards get a luxe spin when covered in suede, leather, or tweed (or a woven combination), while the latest furniture pieces look cool clad in cloth. "Big ottomans are being used in every room to hold trays, as cocktail tables, or for after you get out of the bath," says Rexroad.
"We have all been faux-painted to death which is why wall coverings are making a strong comeback, and fabric is a part of that because you can upholster walls," Rexroad continues. "This is a process that is centuries old—chateaus in France have silk damask walls—and here again is the luxury. People want the feeling of opulence." This application of fabric can be fun, too. McHale recalls a project where the company upholstered a wall in linen for a child's room. The little girl could pin posters and pictures directly onto the plush wall.
For those who want the feeling of French country chic without the price tag of a Chateau-esque reproduction, a fabric screen may do the job. Whether in a neutral fabric with a pattern or a whimsical color, fabric screens can be used to divide a large room or to give a private space, like a bathroom, a spa-like closeness.
Lest we forget the techies among us, old-fashioned fabric is hip with the futurists, too. With the trend to create living room-quality spaces outside came the advent of "performance materials," fabrics that can be dumped on and hosed off, are fade-resistant, and still look good. Now those performance materials, created by companies like Sunbrella, are moving inside so that errant guests wielding full glasses of red wine need no longer cause a panic. Another company, Ado, is now making a fabric that it claims will clean the air in the home.
While it is unclear what is driving this overtly decadent movement, those plying the trade aren't complaining. Kravet's Tella has been in the fabric business for 30 years and says that "this industry is generally recession proof, but right now people are spending their money on beautiful things."
Fabric's allure goes beyond its glitzy patterns and its versatility. "Fabric has fluid movement where most other furnishings are static," says Buderer. "Textiles reflect light and color as well as absorb sound, so they seem alive."