The velvet touch
This versatile woven fabric is enjoying a resurgence, making the leap from the catwalk to interiors, writes Nathalie Courtney Marquez
One thing is for sure, the new crop of buttery soft interior pieces dressed in velvet are a million miles away from your granny's faded couch. The fabric made a strong showing at this year's Milan Furniture Fair, pairing with other luxe materials (such as marble and copper) to edge out the homely, natural finishes of seasons past. It popped up on 50s-style blush-pink sofas, modern Ottomans and statement chairs.
"Velvet has had a complete resurgence," says Emma Lamb, co-founder of interiors and lifestyle store Lamb (lambdesign.ie). "People used to think of it as being very old fashioned. But now there are amazing contemporary pieces in gorgeous colour palettes."
Gone are the overly fussy sofas and heavy drapes of yesteryear. In their place are clean lines, modern finishes and bold new hues.
"The new colour schemes such as ochre, rich grey and hunter green, are much easier to use in modern homes," says Emma. She is drawn to a mustard finish -"it looks incredible on a sofa, when everything is neutral, maybe with a little marble or teal" - but dark navy and green have also proved hugely popular and, as we come into spring, pale blues and pinks are being favoured.
Velvets are surprisingly multi-purpose: in vibrant, jewel tones they brighten up a sparse or bleak corner, while more natural hues like green and yellow help ground a space. The soft, plush fabric also adds much-needed texture and warmth to contemporary rooms, breaking up strong lines and balancing raw finishes.
"It looks amazing with Scandinavian interiors, where everything is very simple and you have this luxurious piece that stands out," says Emma.
The trick to making velvet work in a modern space is to layer it with natural fabrics and even rich metallics to create a fresh, balanced look.
"A client recently bought these beautiful, dark green velvet chairs with brass-dipped legs for her kitchen, which she's mixing with a really rustic table and chevron floors," says Emma. "Before, people would have shied away, thinking a chair like that would have to be paired with a formal dining table - but now, we are being much braver, and aren't afraid to blend it with rustic and modern finishes."
Advances in fabric technology have played a huge role in velvet's revival. Aside from a much wider variety of colours, we now have durable, machine-washable, fade- and stain-resistant finishes, making it a more practical, low maintenance option than before.
Emma says: "Delicate velvet, ie, a silk mix, is best for areas that get the least amount of wear and tear, such as headboards or formal dining room chairs, whereas a cotton or synthetic velvet would be better suited to the places where accidents are likely to happen - bar stools, couches in family living spaces, etc.
"Mohair velvet offers the best of both worlds. It's basically the velvet finish applied to mohair fabric. You get the durability and high-quality look of mohair with the high plush and soft feel of a velvet. It's an extremely durable fabric and would be an excellent choice for use as an upholstery fabric or curtains."
Now there's no reason not to show your soft side.
The new velvet: top tips
- It's key to start with an accent piece, and build slowly from there. "Don't go OTT," advises Emma. "Stick to a single velvet chair or Ottoman or throw some lovely cushions on your current couch." The more velvet you add, the more lavish the finish.
- Look for light and airy hues in soft pastels or go for a muted, neutral palette, such as slate grey and graphite.
- Keep the look fresh by mixing velvet with other fabrics and textures, like linen, cotton, marble and mixed metals.
- Consider upholstering an existing piece for a quick update - the seat pads on a set of industrial high stools, for example.
- Think outside the box: Velvet isn't just for couches, cushions and pouffes. It can work on lamps, elegant throws and even headboards.
- Craving some luxe velvet curtains? Opt for clean lines and avoid ornate flourishes like tassels for a modern look.