The art of color and fabric

Color and upholstered furniture are foundations of a room’s design, but selecting them shouldn’t be intimidating April 24, 2013 


    FORGET THE CARPET If you’re moving into a new space or redecorating an outdated space, don’t plan your interior to “go with” the old carpet. Just choose colors and a scheme that you love and the new look will likely overshadow any shabby or oddly-hued flooring. Then you can replace the carpet and complete your look when your budget permits.

    PUT IT IN REVERSE Many items in Arad’s Chameleon Style design schemes are reversible, which means you have two different looks for a room and can redecorate quickly. Custom pieces allow you to select your favorite two fabrics and repeat them throughout the room for a pulled-together look. Some possible two-sided options are window coverings, tablecloths and bedding.

    SLIPCOVER SAVVY Chameleon sofas are covered in tailored slipcovers that are secured with Velcro and look like regular upholstered furniture. Custom, washable slipcovers may be worth the investment if you have kids or pets or if you like to change the look of your furniture from time to time.

This monthly feature focuses on local interior designers and their ideas for choosing color schemes, furniture, art and an overall design style or scheme. Today we focus on Camay Arad whose various enterprises include Chameleon Fine Furniture and Arroyo Grande’s Chameleon Home, a shop that offers decorator fabrics, reupholstery services, as well as custom drapes, bedding and pillows. She can be contacted through her website, , or by calling 481-4104.

Camay Arad is a home décor innovator who aims to streamline the decorating process with a trademarked design method she calls Chameleon Style.

According to Arad, two common problematic areas are color and furniture. Both are part of the foundation for a room’s design, so a misstep can derail an entire project. Here she offers some tips to simplify the selection of color and upholstered furniture, two of her specialties.

Find a bridge fabric

It may seem natural to pinpoint a new palette by thumbing through hues at a paint store. But Arad, a self-proclaimed “fabriholic,” believes textiles provide a shortcut.

Customers at Chameleon Home are encouraged to select several fabrics that appeal to them. Each pattern should have at least three colors, and the more fabrics you can identify, the better. Staff will then find a “bridge fabric” that ties together all fabric choices.

That bridge fabric is used for long-term pieces such as upholstered furniture and window treatments. A light hue pulled from the bridge fabric can go on walls. The original “inspiration” fabrics can be used for decorative accents — but sometimes, they will not be used at all.

To illustrate the process, one client selected several fabrics that Chameleon designers realized all contained turquoise. Fabric selection went quickly from that point, including selecting a bridge fabric for upholstery — an embroidered turquoise cotton.

Sounds simple, but with thousands of bolts and swatches in the mix, the process can be daunting.

“We tell customers to imagine picking a throw pillow first, with all the colors and feel of what they would love to have in the space,” said Arad.

Picturing each fabric print on something in your home, like a table runner, pillow or placemat, offers a quick way to check fabrics against your personal style.

Fabric selection can be especially challenging for the pattern and coloraverse. For those who always drift toward brown, beige or white, Arad cautions that subtle undertones make neutrals less versatile than is commonly thought.

“If someone starts out with buying a new neutral warm beige carpet, but the lovely stripe they found is a grey-beige, your decor scheme will always look like you tried but didn’t quite make it,” she said.

Those who recoil from assertive patterns and strong contrast can take inspiration from Arad’s boldness.

“I have never been afraid of color. In the 1960s I painted my dresser black and put on Asian handles, used a bright orange throw rug, zebra bedspread and hot pink, orange and black flowered sheets,” she reminisced.

While not everyone is prepared to be this audacious, she says to at least be brave enough to use colors you love and not be restrained by trends or others’ opinions.

“I feel great and at home being surrounded by things I love,” she said. “If I ever feel alittle down, I just go into my fabric cave and find a fabric I love, then start dreaming about what I could do with it and boom — my spirits soar immediately.”

Reupholster wisely

It’s undeniable that upholstered furniture doesn’t last forever. It’s also true that a good quality chair or sofa isn’t cheap.

Arad, who produces her own line of custom sofas with changeable, tailored slipcovers, survived the economic downturn by also offering reupholstery.

So how do you know if it’s more cost-effective to reupholster or buy new?

“If the piece was bought in the late ’90s to the present it was likely made offshore, and was made with the haste to supply the real estate boom of mid-2000s,” Arad said. “Many imports were made with plywood and cheap foams, so are not worth reupholstering.”

Fortunately, consignment shops, antique stores and estate sales are often brim ming with good quality pieces that, once reupholstered, may last for decades.

If you do buy secondhand, Arad advises looking for good quality antique and mid-century items with firmly built frames. The fewer structural flaws, the better.

“If it’s wobbly, that’s the best indication that it is not worth reupholstery,” she said. “Pretty much everything else can be fixed, it just gets expensive.”

Buy new

If it’s time to buy a new upholstered piece, it may be tempting to go for the lowest price. But Arad notes that better quality pieces will last longer, and are therefore easier on the pocketbook and the environment in the long run.

Frame construction is the most important factor to look at. Look for 100 percent hardwood that has been kiln-dried. Chameleon uses poplar or alder and its frames are screwed, glued and double-doweled for lasting strength.

The seat should be comfortable, of course, but consider how easily it can be renewed in the future. Many furniture makers now use an envelope system for seat and back cushions. Look for one where the entire envelope can be laundered and the foam core can be easily replaced when it becomes soft or misshapen.

In the body of the piece, look for high-resiliency foam, which, according to Arad, may last for decades.

As for pillow filling, down is on the decline.

“Many people are experiencing the downside of down, losing feathers and no way to restuff,” said Arad.

She favors a down alternative called angel hair, which is a washable polyester fiber that mimics the feel of feather-down pillows and resists clumping.

And if neither new nor reupholstered furniture fits into your budget at the moment, Arad maintains that one unsightly piece won’t necessarily spoil a well-designed room. She happens to live with her own “light blue and dusty rose olefin monster from the 1980s” — a recliner she says fades away amidst her brightly colored walls and well-coordinated furniture and window coverings.

“If you do everything else in the room in colors, fabrics and details that you love, no one will notice the recliner.” she said.

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