What to look for in contract upholstery fabrics

We know a thing or two about sourcing and selecting the right contract upholstery fabrics. When it comes to choosing some for your own project, these are the first things to consider

Let’s start with a definition. Contract upholstery fabrics are robust, hard-wearing upholstery fabrics that can withstand the wear and tear that materials are subjected to in large-scale commercial environments – from office spaces to cruise liners.

At Agua, we deal with all the major sectors that need contract upholstery fabrics, including leisure, healthcare, hospitality, cruise and workspace. Each of these environments varies hugely in its character and requirements, and will by necessity need very different kinds of fabrics. A busy fast-food restaurant with banquette seating will need materials that perform differently to that of the comfy bedroom chairs in a luxury hotel. 

So, when you’re looking for contract upholstery environments, always start with the environment and work from there. Making the right choice first time can add years to the working life of your furniture – a valuable boost to a project’s sustainable design creds.

The other key thing to look at is the fabric’s performance. Is it appropriately durable? Which, technically speaking, means does it have a good Martindale abrasion rating? At Agua we don’t launch any collections that aren’t tested and cope with a minimum of 50,000 Martindale. 

Our new Eden soft fabric meets all modern contract fabric requirements

The Martindale unit of measurement refers to the number of times a machine can oscillate sandpaper or wool abrasive pads across the surface of a fabric before it starts to show distress. 50,000 and upwards is rated for “severe contract” use, which is as hardy as can be. We know from our clients’ collective experience that our fabrics can perform in the toughest contract environments, including hospital wards, coffee shops and theatre auditoriums. 

Next on the list – is the fabric fire retardant to crib 5? In contract environments in the UK, this is a legal requirement. Likewise, for cruise ships, fabrics will need to meet IMO fire retardancy regulations and be highly resistant to combustion. At Agua, all our fabrics meet these regulations as standard, so you can use our entire range safe in the knowledge you’re meeting your project’s legal requirements. There are many fabrics marketed for contract use that aren’t crib 5, so be wary when browsing.

Beyond durability and fire-retardancy, the best contract fabrics will have a number of other key characteristics for you to look for. Is it waterproof, anti-microbial or stain resistant, for example? All our collections in Agua’s standard performance range, bar VerdEco (which is sustainable and cannot be chemically treated) come as standard to be waterproof and stain resistant. In a busy, restaurant, cafe or hotel, where food and drinks are served constantly, the attributes are a must, if they’re to stand the test of time.

Our new Fleck collection, an easy-to-clean vinyl with the texture of a soft fabric

You might also need to consider the merits of a soft fabric versus a vinyl or faux-leather fabric. In some environments that require frequent cleaning or disinfection (in hospitals or perhaps care homes), vinyl fabrics are easy to clean and won’t mark when sprayed or wiped down. Microfibre contract upholstery fabrics can be a smart solution too, particularly if you want to upholster furniture that feels homely and soft, but it needs to be stain-resistant. Microfibre fabrics have very tight weave that stains struggle to permeate, so they’re easier to maintain for longer. 

We’ve not even got to whether your fabric will live indoors, outdoors, or both. Contract fabrics intended for al fresco use also need to be colourfast to sunlight (see our Aura UV range for inspiration here) – and don’t forget about the need for water-resistance and anti-microbial protection too.

The last thing we always recommend you look for is a reliable supplier, with good stocks of fabrics. Contract design projects often need to come together quickly, and of course, you’ll need large quantities of fabrics for sizeable environments. Finding a fabric you like is one thing, but finding one that a supplier has in stock is often another. At Agua, we pride ourselves on keeping all our stock in the UK and ensuring that we always have a healthy stock position of fabrics available for immediate dispatch. At present, only 24 of our 1,125 lines are out of stock, some 2.4 per cent of our total range. This figure never exceeds three per cent at any one time.

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