Choosing Upholstery

Okay, I admit it, I love choosing custom upholstery. Facing that long wall of beautiful swatches as they neatly hang by tiny hangers and subtly whisper their cleanability and price codes, I get a little rush of excitement.  Imagining the chair below in a gorgeous damask or a clean, simple stripe makes me happy.


If you’ve ever experienced the process, adding custom upholstery to your order can lead to serious sticker shock. Finding just the right fabric and pattern without completely breaking the bank is an art that requires discipline and usually some self-compromise.

These days, I am finding that clients are growing attached to upholstery found in showcase homes on Houzz and Pinterest. Heck, I grow attached to what I find online on Houzz and Pinterest. But danger lurks in them thar hills. All too often, the question “Where did you get that chair?” is answered with “We had it cu$tom made.”

When you choose custom upholstery, arm yourself with the general rule that you’ll spend more than you would for the stocked version.  So if you’ve already determined that the stocked version of a particular piece of furniture isn’t your cup of tea, here are a few tips to guide you on your custom upholstery journey:

  1. In general, patterns cost more than solids. Why? Mostly because patterns are more difficult to line up and place correctly on the furniture.
  2. Be prepared to wait. Most custom upholstery takes 6-8 weeks. And if the product is made overseas, you might have to wait three months.
  3. Those letters on the label provide important information: price and cleanability. The price grade simply indicates how much it cost the manufacturer to make the fabric, which translates to a higher price when it’s put on your chair. The swatch below has an O fabric grade, which, in this case, adds about $400 to the base price of a chair.IMG_0757
  4. Unless you’re made of money, don’t fall in love with double letters.  At the very top of the price scale, ZZ will slap you wide awake with its bottom line.  To be on the safe side, stick with letters A through F. Be careful, though, because H is sometimes the highest grade. Ask to see the price difference between each grade so you can do the math while looking through swatches.
  5. Definitely let go of the image of that perfectly patterned mod chair you saw on Houzz… you know the one with celadon circles and little rust rectangles on a khaki background…  Yeah, that one. Let it go.  Think of what you love most about it – the color combo, the pattern, the shape of the chair – and let it inspire you to find your upholstery. It’s do-able, it’s out there.
  6. A good way to begin is to have your general color scheme in mind. Most fabrics are organized by color (don’t you wish they were organized by price?). Once you determine your palette, then move on to the fabric style. Pull off the rack everything you think you might like, then put back anything not in your price range. Some furniture stores have more than one upholstery rack, so make sure you’re looking at the right upholstery for the furniture you’re buying!
  7. Don’t confuse the cleanability code (usually a W, S, WS or X) with the fabric grade. “W” means the fabric can be cleaned with water-based shampoo or foam upholstery cleaner; “S” means it requires a dry cleaning solvent. “SW” or “WS” means it can be spot cleaned with either a mild detergent, upholstery shampoo or mild dry cleaning solvent. If you have pets or children, steer clear of “X,” which can stand only a dusting or vacuuming.
  8. Trust your eyes when it comes to quality. If you see that the swatch is pilling, fraying or separating, don’t have it put on your furniture.  Play with the fabric. Touch it, drape it, sit on it. How does it feel against your skin?
  9. Ask the salesperson if the upholstery you like is displayed on a piece of furniture in the store. Seeing it on a larger scale will help you picture it on the furniture you have in mind. Also try to see the swatch in the light of your own home. Ask if you can check out the swatches (usually for a refundable deposit).
  10. Take pictures and take your time. It’s a big purchase, so don’t feel rushed. If it’s on sale now, it’ll probably be on sale again. Assure the salesperson that you’ll ask to work with him or her when you return to buy.

Hopefully, these tips will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed at the racks. Happy hunting!

The Ultimate Casual Tablecloth

Today’s blog is brought to you by my mother. (Of course, a little voice in my head says, “aren’t they all?”) And it’s true, I have her to thank for so much of my eye for design and color. She says it’s the other way around, but that’s only because she’s humble.

So at an impromptu dinner at her house last night, my mother pulls a tablecloth from the dryer and proclaims, “I’ve found the perfect tablecloth.”  She shows me how it comes out of the dryer with no creases, no wrinkles, no curled edges.  She’s right – it lays perfectly on the table.


Then she tells me to guess what it’s made of.  It’s stain resistant, so I figure it’s polyester.  She shows me the label…Image

100% Post Consumer Recycled RePET.  What???  Plastic bottles?  Yep, 100% plastic bottles, people.  Read more about the material here – it blows my mind.  The fabric is pliable – you’ll absolutely never guess that it comes from what would otherwise would be landfill. Kohl’s sells this particular version.


Bon appetit!  (Oh, and thanks, Mom.  Dinner was delicious!)

Pillow Talk

Happy New Year!  Sitting around the dinner table last night, the conversation turned to what the new year means to each of us. For some, it’s just another day. For me, I have an inherent desire to refresh and renew. This translates into 1) taking down holiday decorations, 2) new paint for one of the bedrooms and 3) swapping out pillows. 

I was in a store the other day and a fellow shopper turned to me, holding out two burgundy pillows.  She asked “Which one do you like better? It’s for my living room.”  I told her I preferred the one with more texture, then gave my usual advice (I get asked these questions a lot).  “Get both and decide when you’re at home – the lighting will be much different there and you’ll get to see the pillow with your other furnishings.” She thanked me, took my advice, and left me there in the pillow aisle as I contemplated my next blog entry.

As I stood in the midst of velour, velvet, chiffon flowers, striped upholstery and embroidered cotton, I realized how daunting it can be to simply choose a couple of pillows for a sofa. First off, they can be expensive.  And the two accent pillows they throw in with the couch are usually too small and not very comfortable.  And how many do you need? 

1) My favorite place to shop for pillows is at one of the discount retail stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Ross.  At full price, a good quality pillow runs between $50-100. At one of the discount stores, you can find the same pillow for $20-40.

2) For most sofas, five pillows is the magic number. For loveseats, it’s three. Pillows on chairs are optional.

3) The size of pillow should complement the size of furniture. If you have a petite, tailored, mid-century modern sofa with pole legs, stay away from gigantic fluffy marshmallow pillows and choose something tailored instead. If you have a gigantic sectional with mushy seating, dive right in and surround yourself with big fluffy pillows.  The safest bet? Go with standard sized pillows: 18×18.

4) Every home magazine suggests swapping out pillows for the seasons.  While I’m a big proponent of changing a look with new pillows, not all of us have room to store 15 fluff balls all year long (4 seasons, 5 pillows each season… that’s 5 on the couch and 15 in a closet – sheesh!).  If you’re in the same boat, consider purchasing five 18×18 pillow inserts, then invest in much-easier-to-store pillow covers to change the look. Nope, HomeGoods, Ross, TJ Maxx and Marshalls don’t sell just the pillow covers, but you can look for standard sizes with covers that can be removed, then donate the unused pillow inserts.

5) How to combine? Assuming your couch is a solid, neutral color (tan, beige, cream, brown or black), you can go to town with combining pillows to suit your personality and taste.  Choose two pillows with complementary patterns and colors, then choose another three for their color and texture. 

I’ve put together four seasons’ worth of pillows below.  If you want these exact same looks, click on the picture to go directly to Project Decor, where you can purchase the slipcovers for your very own. Or use these photos as a guide and create your own combinations. Happy New Year!


The Ottoman

Well I did it – I went with the grass ottoman. Pros: it looks lovely in the space and is just the right size.  Cons: it’s not a storage piece and the kids can’t sit and draw without a hard surface underneath. The bright side is that they’ll get into the habit of using a hard surface when they draw. Yes, I’ve harped on them about not gouging Papa’s table with their pencils…


I was craving a little texture and got it.  It’s casual, which feels just right these days. And storage, schmorage. I need to get rid of stuff!  Ah yes… a topic for another post.

West Elm Giveaway

Giveaway and West Elm in the same breath. Yes, please. Knowing that as entries increase in number, my own chances of winning dwindle and fade, I give to you, dear readers, the ultimate sacrifice – an opportunity to enter for a chance to win. The giveaway has been going on for a few weeks and they’re on their fourth week now. Entries received this week are for $250 worth of market personal care products. Ooh, those Rewind Candles look mighty nice. Ends December 16, 2012.

West Elm is now offering, according to their website, “clever, hard -working, time-saving, clutter-busting solutions for everyday living.”  Translation: tools for kitchen, garden, care & repair, and personal care. Yay! Now excuse me while I salivate over this garden mister. And this porcelain cake stand.  Not quite sure how either of these things will save me time or bust my clutter, but I certainly like them very much.

The $11 Skinny Wreath

We live in a sweet little mid-century ranch (hence our little living room in need of a little coffee table – see previous post).  Every holiday season since we moved in, I have silently cursed the tiny space between our front and storm doors. Hang a normal sized wreath and it’s subjected to a good crushing whenever the door is closed. Unacceptable!

Being a thrifty girl, I occasionally find myself at the Dollar Store. During a recent trip, I was inspired to create a wreath that a) would be the right size, b) wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg and c) I’d be willing to hang on my front door for all the world to see.


  • 7″ gold tinsel wreath with loop of string at top for hanging – $1 at Dollar Store
  • 11″ craft wreath – $1 at Dollar Store
  • 4 strands of tinsel, about 36″ each (I used a silver rope style) – $1 each at Dollar Store
  • gold and silver doorknob bell hanger – $1 at Dollar Store
  • two twist-ties from my junk drawer
  • 3M command hook – I sprung for the silver style, around $4 at CVS

wreath ingredients


  1. Using a twist tie, fasten the outer circle of the 7″ wreath to the inner circle of the 11″ wreath so that the smaller wreath nests inside the larger wreath with equal space between the two.
  2. Using a twist tie, fasten the bottoms of the wreaths as in Step 1.  Once fastened to the larger wreath, the smaller wreath can be pivoted to make room needed for Step 3.
  3. Wrap the 11″ wreath with four strands of tinsel – one strand for each quarter of the wreath, knotting each strand together and tucking in unsightly strands as needed. Continue wrapping until the 11″ wreath is completely covered.
  4. Pivot the tinsel wreath back into place. Secure with additional twist ties on the sides (optional).
  5. Using the loop at the top of the tinsel wreath, hang from 3M hook.
  6. Hang the bell doorknob hanger on the 3M hook to finish the look.


It took me about 20 minutes and I’m pretty pleased with the result!