Exploring the soft option
This month, by way of something a little different, I thought we’d take a look at soft furnishings.
Soft Furnishings, or just “Softs” as it was affectionately referred to when as a mere slip of a lad I was managing the department in Barkers of Kensington in the late 70s, encompasses a cornucopia of interesting and useful articles to enhance the home. Whether you are putting the finishing touches to a newly decorated and re-styled room, or simply livening up an existing one, accessories can be the key factor. We all know the importance of getting the right artwork to set the mood and perhaps the drama of a room, but soft furnishings are so often forgotten, or relegated to the back burner.
Enter the humble – or indeed not so humble - cushion. As well as having the obvious function of adding comfort to an otherwise back breaking sofa or chair, cushions can subtly or dramatically change a room. Soft chenilles or velvets add texture and sensuality when in neutral colours such as stone and peat, and warmth when in earthy or heraldic colours like brick, emerald or jade. If your room has a contemporary feel, why not add a splash of strong colour such as cherry, hot ginger, or cobalt blue. You’ll need to balance the room by introducing it somewhere else too, for example in the shade of a table lamp, a glass vase, or a piece of art.
If you are on a budget try the high street (or what’s left of it – but don’t get me started on that one !!!) for off the shelf cushions. You may just be lucky and find exactly what you are looking for. However for ultimate co-ordination and luxury you can’t beat bespoke. Not only will the range of available fabrics be vastly wider and more exciting, but you can really go to town using a combination of fabrics, a gorgeous wide braid, or a contemporary fringe to trim the edges. I know bespoke cushions can be pricey, but believe me you won’t regret it.
You may think I’ve been banging on about cushions ad nausiam (and of course you may be right), but they really do add a certain something to a room. Most designers will incorporate them into initial schemes, to set the tone or balance of a room.
There are of course other items of soft furnishings that also make a huge difference. Whilst tie backs aren’t much used these days in contemporary rooms, in a traditional setting they can make a pair of curtains truly sing! In this case size really does matter. Small and weedy tie backs look mean, and do nothing to enhance curtains, but a pair of heavy tie backs with grand tassels will add a stately feel. One word of caution when using tie backs, or indeed any other forms of passmenterie: don’t try to match the colour exactly to the fabric they sit on. The more exact the match, the less they will be noticed. It is often better to make your tie backs or trimmings a little more intense in colour, and generally speaking, the smaller or more delicate the trim, the stronger the colour needs to be.
For a while now, furniture throws have been in evidence, although I have to say they are not a personal favourite of mine. Whilst a strategically placed sash of a wool or cashmere fabric across the back of a sofa certainly brings something to the party, I’m not a fan of the type of throw that is supposed to completely encompass a whole sofa or chair. It always looks dishevelled, and never seems to quite cover everything, giving me the irrepressible desire to lift it up to see what lies beneath.
So far we have talked mainly about living rooms, but soft furnishings can really come into their own when used in bedrooms. Here, a new bedspread can change the feel of the room instantly. Whether it be something simple and readymade, or beautifully quilted, the impact is immediate. Quilting on bedspreads has many forms, ranging from the ornate and sumptuous look of outline quilting, where the seamstress guides the machine by hand around the intricate design or print of a fabric, to the simpler and far less pricey, but extremely effective technoquilting. This is a process where the quilting machine is programmed to produce a more regular design, such as a diamond trellis, a series of channels, or something crisp and contemporary. As most of us now use duvets instead of sheets and blankets, the majority of bedspreads these days are throwover rather than fitted. A good halfway house is a three quarter length bedspread, revealing a smart, kick pleated bed valance. This gives you the scope to incorporate more than one fabric, perhaps tying in the valance with an occasional chair or the headboard. If however you are the type of person whose bedspread spends most of its time in a crumpled heap in the corner, a bed sash could be more suitable for you. As with cushions, because of the relative size of the sash to the proportions of the whole room, you can use a stronger and more impactful fabric to add warmth or drama. And talking of the good old cushion, why not throw a few on the bed for good measure – we at John Charles Interiors always do.
Lastly, and by no means leastly (is that a word? If not it should be), let’s talk about headboards. For many a year now, the importance of having a strong, impactful headboard has been appreciated. 10 years ago in this very editorial I was advocating having it up to a metre and a half tall in the right setting, but these days they just seem to be getting bigger, bolder and more beautiful. In fact we have recently installed several full wall headboards, where the bedsides sit in front of the headboard, and pendant lights hang from the ceiling instead of bedside lamps. Even if this look wouldn’t suit your bedroom, the headboard still has an important role to play in bringing pizzazz to a room. It can be in a striking fabric or combination of fabrics, and can be deep padded, buttoned or squared.
So there you are, from items as big as headboards to as small as cushions, the thoughtful use of soft furnishings really can lift and refresh your room.
John Biddell, John Charles Interiors
Live 24 7 magazine editorial - JUNE 2021