When it comes to interior design and great home interiors and furnishings, what may seem at first like small details can make something somewhat ordinary, well, extraordinary. Think of the perfect dress or suit. What makes an ordinary piece extraordinary? It may be the fabric, the lining, the tailoring, the classic lines, or the notion details. When a clothing designer takes the time to consider these elements, the item remains in your wardrobe as a key piece for years to come. On the flip side, you can pick up a suit or dress at a local retailer that was mass-produced and is less expensive. The fit won’t be as forgiving, the fabric is not likely to hold its integrity over time and the style details probably aren’t as classic and timeless. The less expensive, mass produced piece didn’t take careful consideration and expertise to create. With the same amount of wear, this piece will also need to be replaced much faster than the well-made, carefully crafted piece. Somehow you can tell by looking in the mirror the difference between the two articles of clothing.
The same is true with home furnishings but it may be an even more important point than an item in your closet. How often will you wear that article of clothing each year? Now think about your sofa, a club chair, dining chair, ottoman, or headboard. How often will you use it? Probably at least once a day.
As an interior designer I know the following to be true: a well made frame, finish, fill and fabric will outperform a less expensive (cheap) version, and it will always look better. I use the word “cheap” on purpose. Many large scale retailers fill their spaces with poor furniture construction, inadequate fill options for cushioning and sub-par fabric. The results are pieces that don’t look great in your home on the first day they are placed (or delivered) and they start to sag, wear and otherwise underperform within the first two years. In contrast, I do believe that inexpensive pieces may have their place in some of our homes. Target, Fred Meyer, Pier One and IKEA and similar furniture warehouses have inexpensive options that if you know what you are looking for sometimes look fairly good in your home. However, it is important to not expect the same quality and ability of wear and tear in these pieces. What can you expect in pieces that are well made? Here are some guidelines for you to consider. Main Photo: Writer’s Loft Interior Design by Angela Todd Designs.
It is not your kids or your husband’s football parties that are making your chairs and sofa sag. Honest. It’s the construction. Your frame should be kiln dried and made of hardwood materials. The springs and cushions should be rated to hold up over time. If you are shopping for a sofa or chair and the store isn’t able to tell you about their construction it is a good indicator you are buying low quality. Photo: Sagging cushion courtesy of a kind homeowner.
Once I started experiencing custom furniture for my clients and in my own home, I realized there was no other way. Imagine having input on the depth of your sofa and the length. Imagine tweaking the style of the arm or cushion . Customize how the cushions feel to your own specifications. Imagine getting to sit on several cushions once your frame is made to decide what feels the best to you and your family – we call this a sit test appointment. During this appointment you can see your own sofa(or chair) naked. No gl ue was used to cut corners – no hiding defects under fabric and cushioning. Imagine buying your piece local and knowing where it was made. All this service and attention to your needs for a piece of furniture, and it virtually costs the same as a furniture store? Why wouldn’t you build custom?
Trust me, you need pattern and something unique
Furniture and upholstered goods that are inexpensive and made to appeal to the masses are generally, well, made for the masses. They come in a series of neutrals and predictable solids. If you are lucky, what is in stock might have a pattern, but you risk getting tired of that pattern fast because other mass retailers will use that fabric often. Besides, savvy visitors at your home will probably know you purchased the items from (insert store) in (season/year). Dang.
Here I am making the same point I did above. Order your furniture from a furniture store will allow you to choose from hundreds of fabrics – or order from a custom furniture builder and choose from unlimited fabrics. You can determine your fabric colors, quality and durability. Personalize it to your family. Place a contrast welt or trim on the piece. And for the sake of a great interior, considering picking a pattern for that sofa or those club chairs, instead of purchasing them in a solid color.
I was at Pier One Imports the other day and heard a clerk admit to a customer that although the pillows were filled with poor performing polyfill, they were just decorative and could be thrown away when she was tired of them. Have you ever seen a flat, lumpy pillow sitting on a sofa? Have you ever tried to sit with one behind you and found it uncomfortable? That is poor polyfill that retailers and furniture stores sell like hotcakes. It wears down in less than a year. It feels like a lump in your back and you find yourself throwing your pillows on the floor rather than sitting against them. They don’t hold their shape, and over time they can’t be re-fluffed. It is kind of like trying to fluff back up cotton candy. Nothing ruins a great sofa like a flat, lumpy mishaped polyfil pillows.
Down (or a high quality down alternative) is a far superior option for pillow inserts. When placed on a chair or sofa, you can sit on the piece and lean back comfortably. The down responds to you. You feel supported sitting against the pillow, not like you want to pull it out from behind you and toss it aside. They look amazing year after year as well. Let’s say you find a store bought pillow you just LOVE and it has a polyester fill? (The ones at Pier One were pretty cute.) Buy it and replace it with a down insert. Most pillows are sold now with hidden zippers, so changing it is fairly easy.
Of course making your pillows is the most fun. Have you ever seen Steel Magnolias? I have a favorite quote from the movie I have retooled for interior design. Here it is, “What separates us from the animals is our ability to pattern blend and accessorize.” My point being, make it your own. Blend large scale patterns with something small, blend a soft chenille with a shiny silk, blend a fun stripe with a Ikat print. Photo: Sofa and pillows custom fabricated, butterscotch down filled pillow from Crate and Barrel.
Just like a skilled dressmaker, we are hear to help you design and create a great interior that looks great for years to come . We have a vast array of resources from workrooms and custom furniture makers in Portland, Oregon and throughout the Northwest. Contact us when you are ready.