How to choose fabrics for upholstering chairs

Upholstered chairs are an elegant and practical solution that has dominated the furniture trends for hundreds of years, and is very modern even today. Combining the right fabric with a model enables you to adapt upholstered chairs to the most diverse styles, ranging from classic to modern.

How can you choose fabric for upholstering chairs? Which variables should be considered when choosing the right furnishings for your rooms? Let’s analyse the different possibilities.


How to choose fabrics for upholstering chairs

Many variables need to be considered when choosing to furnish a room with upholstered chairs. In fact, before considering the model you need to consider various factors that will inevitably guide your choice, including:

  • intended use of the room the upholstered chair is to be placed in
  • cleaning frequency of the chair upholstery fabric
  • expected required chair lifespan
  • furnishing style of the room
  • form of chair upholstery: firm or soft
  • colour adaptability of the upholstery fabric in the room context 

For example, cotton may not be the best fabric for upholstering chairs in a restaurant because there is a high risk of it being stained with hard-to-remove foods. In this case, it could be more suitable to choose a washable chair fabric, possibly even water-resistant, natural or synthetic.

Then, when choosing the fabric to upholster the chairs with, due consideration must be given to variables connected with safety of the premises, especially when they are expected to accommodate many people. In fact, for restaurants, theatres and conference rooms, it is important to choose fire-resistant fabrics for upholstering chairs; fabrics not dyed using substances containing heavy metals or azo dyes.

And when choosing the right upholstery, you must also consider the entire setting the chairs are to be placed in, and coordinate its colours and fabrics with the sofa and armchair upholstery as well as with the lamps and curtains.


Upholstery fabrics: natural or artificial fibres?

Cotton, linen and leather have been used as fabrics for upholstering antique chairs for centuries, whereas more modern chairs are often upholstered with synthetic microfiber or faux leather that combine aesthetics with practicality and functionality.

As a broad basic principle, note that woven fabrics are more convenient and comfortable because they are breathable, unlike leather and faux leather which are compact materials that do not absorb moisture naturally produced in contact with the body.

Chair upholstery fabrics can be composed of natural fibres or artificial fibres.


Natural Fibres

Natural fibres for the upholstery of chairs, sofas and armchairs are fabrics derived from the processing of materials normally present in nature. They can be divided into fabrics of animal origin or vegetable origin. The first category includes fabrics made from animal coats, such as wool and cashmere, from cocoons e.g. silk, or from pelts.

Vegetable fibres, on the other hand, are those obtained by processing plants, such as cotton, linen and hemp.


Artificial Fibres

Artificial textile fibres are created in a laboratory using a raw material of natural origin part (cellulose) combined with manmade chemicals. Be careful not to confuse them with synthetic fibres that have no natural parts but rather oil products. Artificial fibres include viscose, modal and acetate, while polyester, nylon, Lycra and PVC are synthetic fibres.

Microfiber is also classed as a synthetic fibre because it is made from nylon, polyester, polyurethane or mixtures of these fibres. However, it is a fabric with the advantage of being soft to the touch, supple and very strong.


Fabrics for upholstering chairs: faux leather or fabric?

Being able to choose the fabric for upholstering chairs from endless types of material, colour and finish is one reason why padded chairs are in such high demand for furnishing any type of area.

Design, however, is not the only criterion to take into consideration, especially in relation to the chair’s use: the fabric’s resistance to rubbing and abrasion, its reaction to light, and its pilling tendency should be evaluated.

Faux leather and cotton, for example, are some of the most popular materials in use for chair upholstery, not only because they are aesthetically pleasing but also because they meet functionality and practicality needs well. But the main difference between these two fabrics is the ease with which they may or may not be cleaned. Faux leather is a widely used material now, as it combines the elegance of leather with the convenience of a washable fabric. Although it is synthetic, faux leather is a high quality material that ensures elegance and durability.

Cotton, on the other hand, is a chair upholstery fabric that allows a great variety of adaptions and customisations. In this case, for example, fabrics with patterns or raised effects may be chosen to further enrich chairs, sofas and armchairs with exclusive finishes. Cotton is also a washable fabric, but it is more suitable for upholstering chairs with removable covers so that the seats and backrests can be easily washed at any time.