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Choosing office coverings can be both exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time. You begin to see life being breathed into a room through the harmony of colors and textures. Yet, the thousands upon thousands of options can often be paralyzing.

By defining your needs and organizing the possibilities, you can narrow the search. Below are just a few things to consider to help make your selections more manageable and optimize your time spent with your designer.

So where do you start?

To begin with, coverings are normally referred to as textiles and/or fabrics. But don’t let this confuse you. Typically, the term “fabric” is associated with furniture upholstery. Most likely because it is raw in nature, the term “textile” is usually used to reference to most everything else including the windows, walls and floors. Admittedly, the terms are also used interchangeably at times. It might help to simply think “coverings.”

There are typically four main areas of the room that require some type of covering whether you are replacing or complementing them – the walls, furniture, windows and floors.

Once you know what you are covering, it’s easier to determine the specific requirements you might have for the fabrics and/or textiles. For further refinement, you could classify coverings into two broad categories:

  1. Special Use Fabrics/Textiles
  2. General Purpose Fabrics/Textiles

1. Special Use Fabrics/Textiles

Some coverings have unique qualities that make them purposeful in certain environments. Defining your needs helps eliminate some of the options.

  • Stain Repellant – These coverings resist liquids better than most. Krypton is still quite popular as a topically applied solution. But products such as Nanosphere and Nanotex have become popular in recent years. These products use woven-in nanotechnology to prevent stains that now take hours to set in, instead of minutes. Clean up is a breeze.
  • Acoustical – These coverings absorb sound waves, making them perfect for noisy or high-traffic environments. Great for walls and floors.
  • Antimicrobial – These coverings help prevent the spread of germs and are commonly used throughout hospitals and other healthcare environments.
  • Flame Retardant – These coverings prevent fires from spreading quickly by resisting flames. Specialized materials such as Trevira CS and Alcantara® are commonly used for drapery in hospitals because they easily pass FR (fire rating) codes for vertical use.

2. General Purpose Fabrics/Textiles

The options for upholstery are virtually endless. Here is a list of some of the main categories of upholstery options you can expect to find when buying or specifying furniture. Choosing the type is a result of knowing not only your needs, but how you want the room to take shape aesthetically, too.

  • Woven – Materials include wool, nylon, cotton, polyester (typically used as panel fabric), linen, viscose, rayon and silk. These materials come in most every color imaginable. When starting off, you or your designer will have to determine if you want solid, tone-on-tone, or multicolored. You’ll also have a choice of patterns, including:

• abstract or geometric
• stripes
• textures
* Keep in mind, it’s also possible to have custom images printed on certain fabrics.

  • Genuine Leather – It’s animal skin. Plain and simple. Leather is always comfortable and classy, but it can be expensive as well.
  • Leather Alternatives – Materials include vinyl (PVC), polyurethane (most common today) and nylon microfiber. When textile manufacturers were looking for cheaper, easier-to-clean alternatives to leather, they began manufacturing vinyl as a type of faux leather. Recent years have seen the rise of polyurethane (PU) leather and nylon microfiber as suitable alternatives to vinyl, that are better for the environment.
  • Metallic – Although most metallic textiles are woven with metallic fibers, this category of fabrics can be synthetic as well. Metallic coatings can range from translucent to iridescent to highly reflective.

Although this list is not comprehensive, by first eliminating some of the major categories of fabrics and textiles, you can focus more on the options that work best for your environment. And, as always, when in doubt – be sure to ask your interior designer.

Hat tip to Kristi Murray from Designtex for her help with this article.