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Amanda Hanley by design

A new look for your home

Amanda Hanley with some hints and insider tips for choosing the right upholstery to give your new or existing rooms a spring makeover
Amanda Hanley by design

"Your home is not a show home"

Changing your home’s look does not have to mean big money. The inspired use of soft furnishings, adding a few separate touches to your living space, can make all the difference, whatever your budget.


There’s much more to upholstered furniture than a comfortable seat; the shape of the sofa and armchairs you choose, and the material they’re covered in, will define the style of your sitting room.

Amanda Hanley by design


Traditional upholstery comes in a range of well-known styles from Chesterfields to low-armed Howard style sofas and corner sofas as well as countless classic shapes more loosely inspired by historic designs. You can buy sofas in the most popular of these styles or you can invest in a similar piece that has been handmade using traditional materials and methods. And always consider reupholstering to keep within your budget.

If you like to change your decorating scheme or move house regularly you might keep upholstery for a relatively short time and then replace it If you think of furniture as central to the evolving style of your home, you’ll want it to last for years with the option of recovering or reupholstering it when necessary. The more you spend, the longer you can expect your furniture to last and some manufacturers guarantee their seating for up to 25 years while others offer a renovation service for their own designs.

If you’re furnishing a room from scratch, start by deciding what seating arrangement you want. There are several permutations for seating groups but mapping out a plan of your sitting room and marking the positions of the windows, doors and fireplace and the number of people you need to accommodate is a good way to find out what will work best for you.

Think carefully about seating choices. There is a well-known rule that no matter how long a sofa is, only two people will sit on it. Upholstered coffee tables are a good choice for providing another seat, as well as a comfortable place to put your feet. Cubes are excellent and versatile.

For a more relaxed look that creates the impression that the room has grown up over the years you could team a sofa with two non-matching chairs or, for a neat, symmetrical effect, choose two matching sofas and add an occasional chair for visual contrast. Try putting a sofa with a cushioned back together with chairs with fixed backs or vice versa.

Fabric is key and some manufacturers offer a range of fabrics. Plain and textured fabrics continue to be the favourites. Printed velvets are extremely popular. Velvets, linen mixes and wools have become very popular. Large scale prints are being used on accent chairs and sofas with some fabric houses revisiting and recolouring their archive print collections with this in mind.

Covering the chairs and sofas in a seating group in different fabrics can be very effective. Choose fabrics in similar texture, colour tones and patterns for a harmonised look. Velvet, felt and leather work well together as they are tactile, giving a sumptuous and cosy feel.

Upholstery fabrics for domestic use must pass the cigarette and the match test or, if it is made from more than 70% natural fibre, can be used with a fire retardant lining so long as it passes the cigarette test. Other fabrics can be back coated with fire retardant chemicals.

It pays to choose a long lasting fabric. Most upholstery cloth is graded for durability using the ‘Martindale rub test’ which scores fabrics according to how many rubs they will take before the fabric frays. Upholstery fabrics for use in the home often have a rating of 20,000 rubs and cloth with a score of 15,000 rubs or fewer should be used on occasional furniture only. How a fabric wears depends on the sort of fibre it is made from, how tightly the yarn is spun and how closely the yarns are packed in the weave.

Good quality upholstery always carries a high price tag but it really will last. My advice is to turn and plump cushions with feather or fibre fillings and to use arm caps to protect areas that are prone to marks and spills.

Try to keep furniture out of direct sunlight and choose light coloured covers for furniture in sunny rooms – any fading will be less apparent.

Always remember, though that a home is for living in, first and foremost. Your home is a personal sanctuary not a show home. Don’t worry about imperfections. Things happen, drinks get spilt, fabric gets scratched and torn. It’s part of life. Quality choices will mean that your look is enhanced and given more character by the wear and tear of normal life!


- Amanda Hanley


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