Understanding Fabrics and How to Use Them
By Amy Locke, Director, Interior Design, Hatchett Hospitality
The look & feel of various materials can vary the look & feel of your hotel space. Fabrics set the mood for any hotel space - with color, pattern, and texture. Sometimes they lead the décor, while sometimes they simply play a supporting accent role. Certainly today there is an almost limitless variety of fabrics to help create your desired look.
It all can be a little overwhelming and confusing. So let's review some basics that may help you make better decisions about fabric selection and usage for your property.
Fabrics, sometimes also called textiles, are flexible materials that consist either of natural or artificial man-made fibers - referred to as thread or yarn - which have been woven, knitted, crocheted, knotted, or pressed together.
The most common fabrics and fabric terms used in our industry are:
- cotton - made from a short plant fiber, it's among the most popular fabrics because it is easily washed and resists fading plus other signs of wear. However, it wrinkles and becomes soiled easily, so a cotton/polyester blend is often preferable.
- polyester - a strong and durable man-made fiber, it is wrinkle-resistant, can be washed without requiring dry cleaning, and dries quickly - but stains don't remove easily. Polyester blends are usually seen in drapes, bed spreads, and sitting areas.
- nylon - a strong and lightweight man-made fiber, it is easy to wash and care for. It is resilient, has a silky texture, resists moisture and stains, dries quickly, and holds color extremely well.
- silk - one of the strongest natural fibers, it's spun from the fibers in the cocoon of a Chinese silkworm into a smooth, soft, shiny fabric that is not slippery, unlike many synthetic fibers. However, it is delicate and difficult to care for - for example, it will wrinkle and stain easily - so it's better suited for accent uses than high-traffic areas.
- rayon - often called "art silk," it is semi-synthetic and a wonderful alternative to silk because it has silk's shiny texture but is more durable. A drawback is that it will wrinkle.
- satin - this word refers to a weave which has a glossy surface and a dull back. When made from long fibers such as silk, nylon, or polyester, the resulting fabric is called "satin" while when made from short fibers such as cotton, the resulting fabric is considered a "sateen."
- microfiber - this refers to fabrics that are made using extremely thin synthetic fibers, most often polyester. The exact shape, size, and combination of synthetic fibers depends on the desired characteristics of the final fabric, including softness, durability, absorption, water repellency, and wicking properties, or breathability.
- wool - a protein animal fiber, the word typically refers to hair from sheep. Fabric made from the hair of goats is called cashmere or "mohair"; hair from animals in the camel family is called "vicuna," "alpaca," or "camel"; and hair from rabbits is "angora." Wool is very versatile because it can be made into materials that range from very coarse such as used in carpeting to very fine such as used in Merino fabrics. It has a high ignition temperature and a low flame spread, so is favored for fire-sensitive environments.
- linen - with two to three times the strength of cotton, it is among the strongest vegetable fibers. It can withstand high temperatures plus resists dirt and stains, so is easy to care for. However, it wrinkles easily - which some people consider part of its charm. It is expensive so is used in limited quantities.
- acrylic - a synthetic fiber, it was created as an alternative to wool and is also used as an alternative to cashmere. It is soft, comfortable, durable, holds color well, plus resists shrinkage, stains, wear, and wrinkles.
- Olefin - a synthetic fiber, it is comfortable, durable, holds color, and is resistant to stains, sunlight, and mildew. It is ideal for high traffic areas.
- Jacquard - fabric with a complex, ornate pattern woven or knit into it, such as tapestry
- blend - a fabric which consists of two or more fibers. If a particular fabric isn't right for a certain situation - such as silk in a high traffic area - consider using a fabric blend of that product as an alternative - in this example, rayon would be a possible silk substitute - because the blend will typically be more durable that the 100% pure version of the fabric.
Additional materials often used to complement and coordinate with fabrics in various hotel applications are vinyl, suede, and leather - which comes tanned, with the hair still attached, or synthetic.
This list is by no means comprehensive - it's offered merely as a brief overview or orientation to the many, many choices you have.
Each fabric has its distinctive texture and each comes in a variety of colors plus patterns. Ultimately, it is the texture, color, and pattern of the fabrics you select that will work together to set the mood you want.
That's just as true for residential design as it is for commercial settings. However, fabric selection for hotels also requires consideration of three additional factors -- purpose, fire retardancy, and cleanability.
Let's look at each of these six decision-influencing components - texture, color, pattern, purpose, fire retardancy, and cleanability.
Texture is achieved in fabrics by the type of weave that's used during the manufacturing process and can include smooth, rough, soft, velvety, silky, or lustrous.
Use texture to help establish or enhance the "feel" of your property. For example, rough says "outdoors" and is appropriate in rural, mountain, or western-style settings, while soft whispers "luxury" or "formal" and is suited for upscale, traditional, or business environments.
Colors should be picked carefully based on the emotional or psychological response you want to achieve in your guests. For a more thorough discussion of this topic, see my column titled "The Vocabulary of Color - What Colors Mean & How They Affect Your Guests" which appeared in Hotel Executive in January, 2010.
Patterns similarly come in many styles from traditional to contemporary, from geometric to scenes to abstract. Regardless of the specific pattern that's right for your situation, consider whether the fabric is solution-dyed or print-dyed.
Solution-dyed fabrics are the most durable because the color and pattern is "locked" into the yarn during manufacturing. For example, carpet manufacturers are increasingly using this process.
Print-dyed patterns are sprayed or rolled onto the fabric, so colors typically only go halfway down the yarn shaft. Check this by creating an opening in the yarn tufts with your fingers and looking into the fabric.
Suffice it to say here that fabrics today come in a rich array of colors and patterns - and many manufacturers have the sophisticated technology to prepare your selected fabric in custom colors or patterns to match a particular design scheme - and they can do it at a reasonable cost within an acceptable turn-around time.
Work with your designer, who can work with the manufacturer or fabric vendor to create the exact color and pattern you want.
Purpose is an important criteria in fabric selection. Just as you buy clothes for specific situations - you wouldn't get a tuxedo to work in the garden just because it looks good - you want to choose hotel fabrics for the way they will be used day-to-day onsite.
For example, consider the amount of usage the fabric will experience as well as the amount and kind of light. Sturdy fabrics are suited for high-traffic areas and leather doesn't do well in direct sunlight. The typical hotel room requires about 175 to 200 yards of fabric for such applications as:
- sheets and pillowcases
- upholstery for the lounge chair, sofa, ottoman, and desk chair
- bedding, notably the bed skirt, duvet, and scarf which is draped across the mattress near the foot of the bed
- decorative pillows
- draperies and sheers
- headboard, if an upholstered and padded style is used
Your first task is to decide what type of fabric is best to use in each application. Then you can choose colors and patterns, with your designer helping you every step of the way.
Every fabric is rated for fire retardancy so be very aware of this rating as well as of local fire codes. Typically, no materials with a tested smoke development rating over 300 are permitted in commercial applications - with 0 representing non-flammable and 500 being highly flammable.
This is a critical consideration - and it will be evaluated differently based on how the fabric is used. For example, bedding is cared for differently than draperies.
Consider if the fabric is washable or if it must be dry cleaned. The answer will impact both housekeeping costs and manpower - some fabrics require more time and money to maintain.
There has been an increasing demand in recent years for fabrics that are recyclable and manufactured from green materials. However, given the current economic conditions, some designers and owners prefer to choose fabrics which are lower-priced rather than paying a premium for sustainable fabrics.
Still, the long-term interest in green fabrics will continue. For example, bedding is now available which is made entirely from recycled plastic bottles yet feels as soft and cozy as cotton. Another product uses a blend of eucalyptus and cotton to create a material which has a silky, luxurious texture - and is environmentally responsible.
Of course, owners aren't going to buy products just because they are sustainable - they're going to buy them because they're beautiful and the proper price points.
With the suggestions in this article, you're sure to select fabrics that look good, feel good, and perform well - plus add richness to your design scheme and your profitability.
Amy Locke is director of interior design at Hatchett Hospitality. She works with franchisers and franchisees on a wide variety of hotel brands, styles, and themes – from economy to luxury, from resort to business conference, and from traditional to modern. Previous to joining Hatchett, she held a position in interior design with Ethan Allen Interiors. Ms. Locke earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Art Institute of Atlanta. She is completing a degree in feng shuiand is an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Ms. Locke can be contacted at 770-227-5232 or Amy@HatchettHospitality.com Extended Bio...
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