High Performance, Low Stress | Today’s Fabrics Let You Live and Entertain Without Worry

A home is meant to be lived in. We understand this intuitively, even as we flinch when our darling child gets ketchup on the dining room chair, that adorable new puppy has an accident on the rug, or Uncle Fester spills chili on the sofa.

“C’est la vie” may be an admirable mantra, but it doesn’t mean we have to resign ourselves to ruined decor unless we rope off rooms or coat the furniture with plastic covers. Today’s fabrics combine technology with designer looks to create textiles that feel like regular fabric but are tough enough to handle whatever life throws at them
(or drops on them).

Living near the lake can add an extra challenge to interior design with wet towels, people and pets making their way indoors at various times. Add to that dirt, food
and drink stains, the wear and tear of daily living, frequent guests and occasional parties, and you could find yourself wincing when anyone gets near your favorite upholstered piece.


Durable fabric designed for indoor and outdoor use often seems more “outdoor” than “indoor,” and can evoke images of scratchy patio pillows from a home improvement store, with their stiff, waxy finishes and bold patterns. Those are great for your porch or dock, but not necessarily what you want inside.

There is good news, however. While there’s no denying that early outdoor fabric had all the glamour of an old diner booth, the latest generation of indoor-outdoor fabric is surprisingly chic and worth considering. There’s also a new trend in the textile industry that’s making a big splash in interior design: high-performance fabric.

Kris Willard, owner of Interiors by Kris at Westlake Corner, has been decorating homes and businesses in the Smith Mountain Lake region for more than 30 years. Her shop and showroom carries a large selection of both indoor and outdoor furniture, and she says high-performance fabrics are becoming the design standard.

“I do believe this is the way the whole industry is going,” says Willard. “If you’re going to invest money into buying furniture, you want it to hold up.”

Willard says that while clients initially can be skeptical about the idea of high-performance fabric, once they see what’s available and how easy it is to maintain, “it’s all they want.”

At last autumn’s furniture market in High Point, North Carolina—the world’s largest home furnishings trade show—high-performance fabrics were all the rage. Crypton, a company that specializes in indoor upholstery performance fabric, offers an array of fabrics from licensed mills to which its special “performance technology” is applied, resulting in a product that features stain, moisture, and even microbial protection, while still feeling like a “normal” fabric. The company even has a promotional video showing half-guilty, half-gleeful kids mauling the fabric in various ways—coloring on it with crayons, spilling blueberry pie, and rubbing in chocolate ice cream with their toes—followed by a quick and easy cleanup with a spray bottle and toothbrush.

todaysfabrics-2Sunbrella fabrics were also showcased at the High Point furniture market for the first time. Well-known as a leader in performance fabrics, mainly in outdoor and marine applications, Sunbrella has recently paired with various designer brands to expand its color and pattern offerings and positioned itself as offering a textile for indoor use with a new, softer fabric.

Whereas traditional outdoor fabric is often 100 percent polyester with a protective coating applied to the finished product, Sunbrella’s new solution-dyed acrylic is a liquid acrylic solution that is mixed with dye, then shaped into fiber which is spun into yarn. The result is a smooth, pliable fabric whose stain- and fade-resistant properties are built into the material. It’s pricier than traditional outdoor fabric (around $30-$60 per yard; more from high-end sources) but its softer drape allows it to be used in new ways, including upholstery and even drapery. You may have to spend a little more upfront, but the enhanced durability means you may save both time and money down the road.

Believe it or not, these new high-performance fabrics also are a health-conscious choice. Moyanne Harding, owner of Interiors by Moyanne in Lynchburg, says both she and her clients are increasingly aware of off-gassing, the release of chemicals from some construction and home furnishing products.

“I try to stay on the side of more organic materials,” she says, noting that VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in older outdoor fabrics may be a health concern when used indoors. Harding says that for residential design where durability or high use is an issue, she uses Crypton fabrics, particularly in rec rooms, dens and kids rooms. Both Crypton and Sunbrella have a “Greenguard Gold Certification” for low chemical emissions, meaning they comply with strict standards for use in environments such as schools and healthcare facilities.

Whether you’re looking for new furniture, to recover a cherished piece, or even just to swap out some tired throw pillows, high-performance fabrics are a smart option. “We always recommend it because it’s going to hold up forever,” says Willard, who notes that they also don’t fade in sunny areas.

Willard says she and many other designers are turning to high-performance fabrics to give their clients a high-end look with low-maintenance upkeep. Especially in today’s homes, where rooms are often multifunctional and embrace a more casual atmosphere, having decor that can withstand the demands of daily living while entertaining in style is a worthwhile investment in both your home and your sanity.