Christopher Lowell: QA Fabric

Christopher has the answers to your decorating dilemmas. He has sorted the questions by category and offers his tried and true hands-on advice. Check back often. You are sure to find just the answer you're looking for.

The Fabric of Your Lives

Q: Dear Christopher:

I spent all day in a sewing shop trying to pick fabrics for my home. I got so confused that I left with nothing. What am I doing wrong? Overwhelmed in Overland

A: Dear OO:

Outside of choosing wall color, coordinating fabric is the number two most difficult task for the inexperienced decorator. The first thing I should tell you is that even if you couldn't make up your mind, you should have left the fabric shop with as many cuttings as you could hold. Almost every fabric shop will assign you an assistant who can snip off a small piece of any fabric you might be interested in. That way you can move them around in the privacy of your own home until your arrive at something that pleases your eye.

Now having said that, it's important that you understand a few rules about layering various fabrics into a room and more importantly where they go. So here I go:

High-ticket Upholstery fabrics: Use: For sofas, love seats and oversized chairs: These pieces which you will have professionally done, should be confined to solids and textures like chenilles, weaves and tapestries. If you choose a print, give it the eye squinting test. If when you squint and the pattern appears to be more textural than print, this is a safe fabric to use for your high-ticket upholstery pieces.

Accent upholstery fabrics: Use: For small side chairs, club chairs, dining room chairs and ottomans: These more formal fabrics are a medium, less rugged upholstery weight to be used on occasional pieces that will add a sense of luxury and formality to a room without dominating it. Stripe-on-stripe, damasks and subtle tone-on-tone silks will do for a room what a great tie will do for a man's suit.

Background room accents: Use: Table skirts, multiple window drapes, upholstered walls -in essence anywhere where you will be using an abundance of the same material. Here, it's also best to focus on solid color and texture so the amount of fabric simply softens the room but doesn't dominate it. Velvets, sheers, polished cottons, raw silk and the like, create a luxurious background when used in a layered effect with the rest of the rooms' fabrics.

Foreground room accents: Use: Limited to small room accents that will add drama and theater to a space such as table runners, throw pillows, table toppers, curtain bands, and even covered boxes etc. Here's where you can pull out the stops and indulge yourself in dynamic prints, geometrics, bold stripes and florals. But be sure to find ways to use these fabrics sparingly but evenly around the room for visual balance. When you tire of these fabrics, or they go out of vogue, you can easily replace them with little financial consequences.


Q: Dear Christopher:

I'm having a hard time finding an area rug to not only fit my weird room size, but one that won't dominate the whole space. Can you help? Footloose in Fargo

A: Dear FF:

Where wall-to-wall carpet falls into my second layer of design, area rugs fall into Layer Number Four: Accent Fabrics. This is because they're not built into the shell of the room. They need to be coordinated with the rest of the room's fabrics and can be removed as tastes change.

However, finding an area rug that goes with your color scheme, in the motif that you desire and in the size that you need is often a daunting goose chase. Fear not! Do what the professionals do. If you can't find the rug-make it yourself. I do it all the time. Many carpet stores will allow you to buy wall-to-wall carpet (available in pattern, texture and solids) by the square foot and to your exact room measurements. Then you can choose from a variety of complementary solid bands or fringes to bind your new custom carpet. They'll do all the work for not much more than you'd pay for a ready-made. How cool is that!