Jennifer Sheahan: Choosing fabrics for your home interiors 

A room's sensory elements are as essential as its colours, says Home of the Year winner Jennifer Sheahan
Jennifer Sheahan: Choosing fabrics for your home interiors 

Jennifer's living room: She chose couch fabric (microfibre velvet-effect) that can be sprayed with Scotchgard and easily wiped clean with a cloth.

Shorter days mean longer evenings on the couch nestled in soft cushions and wrapped in cosy blankets. What a wonderful time of year! 

Sometimes the sensory experience of your chosen interiors items can be overlooked, but the impact of texture is as important as anything — beyond cushions and throws you’ll need to pick couch fabric, curtains, armchairs, bedding, rugs, carpets, and towels. 

Perhaps wall art or even wallpaper, if velvet damask is your thing. Fabrics, as much as colours, convey very different sentiments and can transform a room — and the choices are seemingly as endless. 

Wrap up and read on.

CAN I CLEAN IT? (YES) 

Believe me, I know that fabric care is the last thing you want to think about when letting your hand glide along kiss-soft silk sheets, or sinking your fingers deep into an impossibly plush rug. 

But heed my words, for I know what I am talking about: I have lived in my newly renovated home for two years now, and I can confidently say that the best decision I made — besides choosing my excellent builder — was to use “can I clean it easily” as my number one criteria for everything I chose. 

Unless you’re basically the opposite of me, you do not want to spend your life worrying about spilling something on your couch or needing to find a good curtain cleaning specialist. 

 Jennifer Sheahan at her home in Rathmines. Picture: Moya Nolan
Jennifer Sheahan at her home in Rathmines. Picture: Moya Nolan

Therefore when shopping, I implore you to first ask “is this easy to clean”, and do not proceed if the answer is “no” — especially for your most-used items. I have chosen rich colours that hide stains well. 

I have picked a couch fabric (microfibre velvet-effect) that can be sprayed with Scotchgard and easily wiped clean with a cloth — something I was thrilled about when it was hit with its first spray of puppy pee. 

My living room rug is dark and as low-pile as it gets, and all of my blankets can be thrown in the washing machine. My carpet can withstand any cleaning agent I throw at it. Make life easy for yourself — walk away from the deep-pile rug!

LAYERING TEXTURES 

Combining textures is like creating a colour palette for your home — it makes the space interesting and provides depth. 

Similarly to building a colour palette, the key is finding the main texture in the space and building layers around it — if you have a leather couch and hard floors, the next step is to bring in contrasting softness with a soft throw, a variety of textured cushions that highlight each other, and a soft rug (or layered rugs!) to balance it out. 

Jennifer's key advice: Get samples of everything.
Jennifer's key advice: Get samples of everything.

All textures should be considered beyond just the fabric — your flooring, paint finish, wooden furniture, etc. In my living room, where I have wood-effect vinyl flooring and a matte finish paint, I have layered a sheepskin throw for contrast against my velvet-effect couch, and fringed cushions for added depth and interest. All that softness is balanced by my cowskin rug which, although soft, is not too plush. 

In my office, I love the contrast of my rough textured herringbone stitch sofa against the soft velvet-effect cushions, which contrast well against the bare birch plywood desk. It’s always a good idea to get samples of everything and play around with what works together.

COSY AND WARM 

How you want your space to feel is the key decision factor in choosing fabric types, and right now as temperatures drop and Samhain nears our natural instinct is to nestle into cosy fabrics — especially in our living rooms. Rich soft fabrics such as wool, fleece, bouclé, corduroy, and velvet are excellent for cosying up into. 

To really tip your space into extreme cosiness, you can combine multiple textures — for instance, a boucle armchair with velvety cushions and a chunky knit throw is just screaming for someone to curl up in it with a cup of tea and a book. 

Jennifer uses layered textures in her living room. Picture: Moya Nolan
Jennifer uses layered textures in her living room. Picture: Moya Nolan

If you like buying local, check out Irish companies McNutt and Foxford for the softest woollen throws and Scatterbox for gorgeous cushions. Etsy is a great place to find some beautiful locally handmade chunky knit blankets. 

Animal hides (real or faux, as you prefer) are also excellent materials for creating a rich cosy atmosphere — check out Irish Hide Designs for responsibly sourced throws, cushions, and rugs.

LIGHT AND FRESH 

Of course, sometimes we can overdo it on the pumpkin-spiced latte vibes. The space where I prefer lighter fabrics is in the bedroom. I’m a morning person, so I like to wake up to a fresh atmosphere. 

I also sleep hot, so I tend to kick off heavy blankets and I’m not one for fighting my way through piles of cushions to get into bed. 

 Jennifer's bedroom: How you want your living space to look and feel is key to the fabrics you choose, she says. Picture: Moya Nolan
Jennifer's bedroom: How you want your living space to look and feel is key to the fabrics you choose, she says. Picture: Moya Nolan

I do have a velvet-effect headboard for a nod to cosiness, but I have chosen linen sheets (from Irish-owned company Amurelle), one thin waffle-weave cotton throw, and a pair of exorbitantly priced silk pillowcases which admittedly do result in my hair being less of a crow’s nest come the morn. (I broke my own rule with these and bought white pillowcases which are impossible to keep white — if you’re going silk, please buy a darker colour or a pattern!) 

My curtains are textured embroidered cotton. I adore the contrast of silk, linen, and textured cotton; luxurious yet still fresh and light.

DRAMATIC AND DIFFERENT 

Playing with fabric is a great way to give a whole new look to an existing piece. A faded old armchair or worn dining chairs are perfect for reupholstering in bold and unexpected fabrics. 

You can also bring in fabrics beyond the usual for additional layering and contrast — the classic example being fabric-covered lampshades with fringes and tassels, with some alternative options being fabric wall art (also great for absorbing sound if needed), suede-covered side tables (faux for easy cleaning!) or rich fabric wallpaper for some serious drama.

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