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Upholstered Furniture 101

What to know and how to get the most value for the price

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Photo 3 of 4When it comes to the outer fabric or "cover," the most important decision is between natural or synthetic fabrics.

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Natural fibers include cotton, linen, silk and wool; synthetic fibers include acrylic, nylon and polypropylene.

Generally, the tighter the weave and more durable the fiber, the better the wear. Synthetics and synthetic blends generally can withstand the stress of an active, young household. More delicate fabrics, such as satins and damasks, are best used on furnishings that don’t get a lot of wear. Most fabrics are pretreated with a stainresistant finish to keep them looking better longer. Some synthetics, such as Sunbrella’s indoor/outdoor fabrics, are specially designed to resist fading and shrug off dirt and stains.

Leather is the most durable of all natural choices, and has become more affordable in the last decade. While leather tends to improve with age, it can stain. Like all upholstered furniture, it needs regular vacuuming.

At most furniture stores, you can select a fabric from a manufacturer’s offerings to create the look you want. If you find a chair style you like, but want to use a specific fabric—something that matches your window treatments, for example—some retailers will upholster your piece in a fabric you supply for an extra charge. You may also be able to choose a variety of decorative touches, such as nailheads, fringe, piping or even wood finishes to customize your piece. If you can’t find exactly what you want, you may want to consider the custom route and use a designer. This can be much more expensive, but the choices are plentiful.

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