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Choosing Historically Correct Patterns for your Upholstery Fabric

Classical fabric for upholstery

When you're new to the world of vintage reproductions, you may not pay too close attention to the different fabrics used for your collection's upholstery, outside of ensuring that the colors match the rest of your furniture. But the experienced vintage furniture collector knows when a piece of fabric doesn't match the historical period of its vintage piece. To avoid making this collector's faux pas, here are some tips for making sure you choose the historically correct fabrics to match your French Provincial, Victorian, and Chippendale furniture.

French Provincial Fabrics

People who lived in the 18th-century French countryside had furniture similar to that found in Louis XV and Louis XVI's royal courts, just without all the rich embellishments. Despite its humbler background, though, French Provincial furniture decorates luxury five-star hotels all over the world today. Why? The style embodies sophistication, charm, and class even without its royal cousin's gilded pretension. Though gold and pastel-painted finishes each have their places, the French Provincial style is flexible in that it blends well in formal and casual environments.

One trait that distinguishes French country furniture from the rest is its wide array of white, cream, and pastel-colored finishes. While the courts of Louis XV and XVI adorned their palaces with gold and finely inlaid marquetry, provinces such as Lyon and Orleans focused on softer and lighter painted colors, sometimes even mixing paints with dirt to produce wonderfully complex earthy tones. It's important to choose an upholstery fabric that complements the furniture's wood as you sort through historically correct options.

Ivory damask, striped ivory jacquard, or Nadia tapestry upholstery fabrics will all match well with your French Provincial pieces, though almost any pastel, cream, or subtle floral print will do. The original French Provincial fabrics promoted gentle yet dignified aesthetics in the home, but they also paid a romantic tribute to nature. After all, the French have always been romantics at heart. To keep with the romantic mood of the French countryside, choose a floral print with a sheen or a solid pastel in velvet.

Victorian Fabrics

The Victorian era remains a constant presence in the world of home furnishings, offering the beauty and elegance only found in 19th Century England. Renowned for its graceful curves and rich tones, Victorian furniture provides a sense of regality that elevates the atmosphere of any home. The Victorian era of interior design is marked by its indulgence in diverse styles and excess ornamentation. Still, because of Victorian England's preference toward eclecticism, there wasn't one distinctive style of furniture known for that era. Rather, there was a national leaning toward modifications of other historical styles, borrowing specifically from the Gothic, Tudor, and Neoclassical periods.

The need for special ornamentation was especially important in a time where there was a strict separation between a home's private and public rooms. Guests who arrived couldn't be given a tour of the home's bedroom or kitchen but would instead be ushered into a special room known as the parlour, which generally sat near the front of the house. It was important to impress guests with the appearance of wealth and dignity in 19th Century England, and since the parlour was where any guest would remain for the entirety of their short visit, Victorian-era parlours were decorated in the expensive furnishings and bold fabric colors that we know the Victorian era for today.

Victorian upholstery fabrics tend to be darker in color than its French provincial cousin, appropriately matching the style's darker woods. When choosing fabrics for Victorian pieces, we recommend gravitating toward reds, dark neutrals, and floral prints with darker and bolder patterns than you'd choose for French Provincial furniture. Burgundy velvet is a bold and distinctive touch that fits well with the dark, rich wood of Victorian-era furniture.

Chippendale Fabrics

One of the most influential cabinet makers and designers of the 18th Century was Thomas Chippendale. With the publication of his innovative designs, he displayed his mastery of the craft and his incredible sense of artistry, which changed the world of furniture design forever. Even all these years later, Chippendale furniture is revered and beloved for its striking visual appeal and implied elegance. Adding even one element of the famed designer's style to a room can instantly compose an air of refined taste in even the most modern homes.

Inspired by the Rococo resurgence, Chippendale incorporated naturalistic flora into his designs. Indeed, as iconic as Thomas Chippendale's designs were, his signature style of furniture took many cues from classical aesthetics, such as Roman and Gothic architecture and Chinese fretwork. Chippendale was much more than a cabinet maker; he was an interior designer who advised people on other aspects of decor, such as what color a room should be painted. No doubt he would have strong opinions about the upholstery fabrics used to decorate his masterpieces.

Because Thomas Chippendale lived in 18th Century London, which was before the bold Victorian era but contemporary with the sophisticated styles emerging from the French countryside, we would recommend choosing fabrics somewhat of a middle ground between French Provincial and Victorian styles. Robert Allen designs fit this aesthetic well and can add a quiet dignity to the piece of furniture, while the jacquard fabrics, especially in a salmon or rose color, can create a bolder, more elegant feel. Solid colors will let the Chippendale carvings shine, but the correct pattern will turn even a simple accent chair into a statement piece without sacrificing historical accuracy.

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