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A Stroke Of Luxe At Home

The newest decor fabrics, adorned, encrusted and shimmering, are fit for a Paris runway--without the haute couture price tag.

July 19, 2001|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What can you sit on that has 760,000 Swarovski crystals embedded in it? Edra's Diamond Sofa, upholstered in Lycra/crystal fabric, which retails for up to $180,000. It may be just just the most opulent example of upholstery and drapery fabrics on the market today, in styles that emanate from the family tree of haute couture. Says Cecile Bradbury, owner of the Bradbury Collection in the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, "It used to take three years for fashion ideas to hit home design. Now it takes just one."

On a tour of her showroom, Bradbury points out that last year's red and orange upholstered pieces have been changed to blues, violets, purples verging on brown, and grays, most with a shiny finish that's very Art Deco, very glamorous. "'These are also the colors you'll see in fashions for fall. Blue, especially, has come back in a big way."

Not only are the colors shimmery and cool, so are the actual fabrics. For this, fabric designers are taking advantage of modern technology and using microfibers and microfiber blends to create looks unheard of just three years ago.

"This is real luxury," says Bradbury, pulling out yards of such fabrics. Some are hand-beaded with pearls or rhinestones; others are machine-embroidered with flowers, leaves or stars; still others are laser-cut to create lace-like effects in which faux gems can be suspended. "You can layer these fabrics on your windows, and many can be used for upholstery too, since they're very sturdy as well as comfortable." Even Edra's Diamond Sofa, with all those crystals, isn't any rougher than an ordinary nubby weave.

So what is a microfiber? For one thing, it is not really a fabric. Rather, it's the generic name for an ultra-fine synthetic fiber, finer than the most delicate silk, that can be woven or knit into a fabric. One important attribute of microfibers is that they can be tightly woven so water can't penetrate, but they differ from much-maligned polyester because their wicking ability lets perspiration move through the weave, making it comfortable. These qualities are obviously advantageous for upholstery fabric, since stains don't set and liquids can be washed off. The tight weave also makes the fabric strong and durable for draperies, since they won't decay or be affected by sun or moisture, which is why they're also used so extensively in clothing.

At the Bradbury Collection, a dark blue couch upholstered in pleated velvet is a microfiber blend. It has the look of silk velvet, and yet won't spot, crush or discolor.

"The pleating gives it dimension," she says. "And you can even cover the walls with it." Another couch is upholstered in a rattan/microfiber blend that gives a natural fiber look and yet is extremely durable. Bradbury has used this fabric on the seat and then used a gold lamee-like microfiber to cover pillows and spike up the style quotient.

At Arden House, an antiques store on La Cienega Boulevard, designer Laurie Frank has taken the idea of unnatural naturalness to another level by upholstering an ottoman in fake mink, a chair in synthetic alligator and a couch with a gray fake fur, making it look like a giant stuffed animal. Mixed in with all the antiques at the shop, they look as if they wandered in off an eccentric set from "Doctor. Doolittle." Felicia French, owner-designer of the OpuZen fabric line in Culver City, is known mainly for her hand-painted silk fabrics, but she also uses unusual blends like a cellophane-linen combo that adds trendy shine to the traditional linen.

"I think we're going to see fabrics like cotton painted with water-based paints and then heat-set and washed," French says. "That way you can still feel the natural fiber, but it has a modern waxy look that's durable and can be mixed with other textures.

"I'm also starting to put 'memory' in slipcover fabrics by adding Lycra so they become nice and slick with lean lines. These fit sofas as tight as dresses and hold their shape, yet they're so practical they can be washed. An added bonus is that there are many different colors available. I'm so sick of beige."

At Decor Delux on West 3rd Street in Los Angeles, owner Holli Thomas has upholstered a chair and ottoman in microfibers that mimic silk taffeta. "This fabric comes in lots of colors and only costs $20 a yard, versus $40 or more for silk." Thomas' source is Decorative Fabric House in Fountain Valley.

One of the design leaders in a microfiber field is Switzerland's Baumann. Bradbury has examples of their Gentilezza fabrics, which look like glossy, monochromatic pieces of paper and can be creased, folded and crushed. (They pop right back into place afterward, and, at about $34 a yard, are a relative bargain.) Filigree, floral and geometric designs are often laser-cut into them. Another laser-cut fabric is made from polyester chiffon and has Velcro dots and appliques sewn into the weave in different colors.

For an ultra-contemporary look, some microfibers are woven with gold and silver metallic threads, creating iridescent sculptural draperies that can be molded and twisted. The color range on these fabrics is extensive, from deep purple to soft gray. "I'm going to use this fabric for upholstery material too," says Bradbury.

"We're moving away from chenille; today, people want something more formal."

Could all these elegant, dressy fabrics mean an end to that shabby look that's been around for so long? Is it good-bye to the loose fit in home design as well as fashion? Perhaps. It's now possible to get an expensive look with lower-priced clones: velvet on the walls, gold on the couch, heavy silk on the windows.

Scarlett O'Hara would've gone wild.

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