Soft Furnishings 101

Published on
June 5, 2023
Written by

You’ve just finished redesigning your home but something still feels off. Why is that? Most likely it’s a lack of soft furnishings. These are the little things that add color, texture, and comfort to a home.

Soft furnishings refer to fabrics and textiles used in an interior design. They include carpets, drapes, upholstery, cushions, throw blankets, and towels. It’s all the little things that make a room feel cozy and inviting. Furnishings could elevate a room with elegant fabrics or add personality with quirky combinations.  Selecting the right furnishings is just a matter of choosing the materials and functions that make sense for your aesthetic and lifestyle.  

Having staged a variety of rooms and floor plans throughout the San Francisco Bay Area with BoldRM, here is my guide to soft furnishings--what’s included, how to pick good pieces, and where to find a good deal.

Choosing Soft Furnishings by Category

Deciding on a color scheme or pattern is fairly simple. Lighter colors evoke airiness and a sense of space. Darker, moodier colors bring warmth by making a room feel smaller or cozier.

The tricky part is choosing the right kind of fabric. I recommend first deciding what category of furnishings you need and how you and your family plan on using them:

For upholstery - Is the sofa shared with kids and pets? Do you normally eat on the couch? How often is something spilled? What about the chairs? Think about the furniture items that get the most use in your household. You can invest in cleaning services or in durable fabric and stain-hiding patterns.

For curtains/drapes - Do you want to block natural light or frame a window? Floor to ceiling drapes can make a room seem taller while heavy curtains can add character and bold color.

For cushions/throw pillows - Do you like having additional pillows? Does the room seem bland? Cushions are an easy way of adding pops of color to an otherwise monochromatic space. They can also be used to reflect seasonal colors.

For throw blankets - Is there a room that’s always a bit chilly? Is there a room that feels plain or unfinished? Who will be using them? Throw blankets can be casually draped over a sofa or across the foot of a bed for instant warmth and elegance. Like throw pillows, they can be easily switched out depending on the season.

For rugs - Area rugs anchor a room together. In an open floor plan, they can act as room dividers. You can have a bold patterned rug and keep everything else minimal or a neutral colored rug and bold furniture. The choice is yours.

Choosing Soft Furnishings by Fabric

Now consider a fabric option that works best with the type of furnishings you want. Each fabric has a tale (and price range) to tell.

Linen - Ideal for cushions and pillow covers, the O.G. fabric is fairly easy to clean and very soft. It comes in a range of colors and designs for both formal and casual styles.

Silk - Good for pillow covers, bed sheets, and lampshades. The luxurious fabric is a great way to make a room feel more expensive and ornate. Silk is also hypoallergenic. But the fabric will fade if exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time (so maybe don’t use it for curtains).

Cotton - The all purpose fabric can be used for towels, curtains, drapes, pillow covers, and bed sheets. It’s also fairly easy to clean and very soft. The downside: it wrinkles very easily.

Chenille - First introduced in the 1700s, chenille is a fuzzy cotton yarn. The name comes from the French word for “caterpillar” because it’s so incredibly soft and fuzzy. It’s often used in blankets and upholstery. Chenille is great making a room appear cozier and perfect for any Bohemian design scheme. Unfortunately, because it is yarn, chenille can be pretty difficult to clean.

Burlap - This eco- and budget-friendly material can be used for curtains, upholstery, pillow covers, tablecloths, placemats and table runners. It’s incredibly durable and easy to wash. Burlap is also heat resistant which is good for hot, dry climates. It’s rustic look makes it perfect for any modern farmhouse design scheme.

Sisal - This extremely sustainable eco-friendly material is very similar to burlap and commonly used for carpets and rugs. It’s just as hardy, stiff, and durable. Also like burlap, sisal does not do well when exposed to moisture.

Velvet - Add a touch of pizzazz and luxury to your couch, chairs, throw pillows, and headboards with smooth velvet. The fabric adds some dimension and warmth to a room without being too distracting.

Wool - This is ideal for homes in cooler climates. Wool can be used for blankets, rugs, pillow covers, and drapes. It’s also good for noise reduction but it can be a little tricky to clean.

Leather - This expensive fabric actually improves with age. Quality leather is durable, long-lasting, easy to clean, and it won’t hold pollen and dust like other fibers will. You can always buy faux leather. Just be aware that faux leather, while it can have the same look and feel, it does not have the same longevity as real leather.

Vinyl - This fabric is extremely durable and stain resistant. And it’s definitely cheaper than leather. It’s often used for upholstery in restaurants or in outdoor spaces because it’s so easy to clean and sanitize. Vinyl is even flame resistant.

Suede - Best suited for couches, headboards, and pillow covers, this fabric is very similar to leather. Suede is also made from animal skin and, like leather, it has a very long lifespan. Although, it can be slightly harder to clean and suede does not do well when exposed to moisture. Faux suede is also widely available. Faux suede won’t have the same longevity but it will be much easier to clean.

Your soft furnishings are really just a collection of fabrics with which you surround yourself.

So choose what you enjoy and what works best for your lifestyle.

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