Soft furnishing finesse

After a long affair with casual and minimalist fashion, bold and lively prints, bright colours and more traditional elements are now back in the soft furnishing spotlight for stylish hotels across the region

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By  Sarah Gain Published  August 29, 2006

|~|Soft-furnishings-Lead-L.gif|~||~|The whole concept of “soft furnishings” has undergone a shift in the Middle East: while in the past, the notion used to be restricted to fabric for sofas, curtains and bedspreads, it has now become a focal point for hotels with the use of throws, decorative headboards, drapes for four poster beds and so on, and influences have gone global, with fabric drawing on looks from Asia, Australia, France and Finland. “Given the multi-cultural diversity of the region and the fact that hotel guests are increasingly well travelled, the prevalent style in hotels today is a fusion of everything,” says Veenu Kanwar, architect for Warps & Wefts, a Dubai-based fabric and furniture source company that specialises in the specific requirements of the hospitality industry and has executed a number of large projects in resorts and hotels around the GCC. Animal prints such as leopard, cheetah and tiger are adorning upholstery, accessories and larger accent pieces in many hotels this year. Part of the appeal is the camouflage effect, which allows animal print to blend in with a variety of settings, for a formal or casual look, paired with classic antiques or ultra-modern designs. Leather is still a popular upholstery cover, and is now being used for an accent to beds and other wooden pieces. Artificial leather has now moved on from being the tacky plastic material found in years gone by — it is possible to get any number of convincing fakes, from crocodile hide to suede, and these faux alternatives are easier to clean and maintain, making them even better than the real thing when it comes to furnishing high traffic areas. “The soft, seductive feel of leather implies luxury and expense and provides an elegant texture,” says Peggy Lepp, A+D representative, at Canadian company, CC Leather, which distributes European and North American upholstery leathers and showcased new products such as its leather floor and wall tiles at The Hotel Show in Dubai in June. While the more traditional, “drawing room” look, using rich, dark leather with nail-head trim and rope welting, may be making a come back, Lepp also endorses more creative uses of the material: “We carry everything from an antique and distressed look to very modern, solid-colour leathers, including specialty leathers and custom colours,” she explains. “Leather walls make any interior look luxurious and unique. The rich and lustrous patina of leather, as well as the seductive aroma, gives a sophisticated image unequalled by other materials,” she adds. CC Leathers also offers custom products for headboards, tabletop inlays and handrails, specifically targeting the hoteliers of the Middle East with its upholstery and wall-panelling services. “As well as our leather-wrapped panels and LeatherTile wall panels we also have a collection called LeatherLok, which is a large-scale, woven leather look. The individual strips may be made from different types or colors of leather. The modules go together easily to create a seamless appearance so the tiles can be used to cover an entire wall or just a focus wall,” Lepp says. Soft furnishing patterns are somewhat weather-dependent and, understandably, lighter pastels are a year-round favourite in the Gulf as they are fade resistant. However, while hotels in the region tend to feature lots of cool, crisp whites, more vibrant colours are starting to be introduced for accent pieces. “The new Freetime collection from Création Baumann mirrors the free and easy feeling of summer,” says Kanwar of Warps & Wefts which, together with sister company, Design Co-ordinates, is the exclusive regional marketing representatives for Création Baumann and several other international fabric and furniture brands in the GCC and neighbouring countries. “The Freetime collection encompasses a total of just under 100 items, along seven nature-inspired colour themes, from sandy beige and earthy brown to light blue, vibrant yellow, red and orange, refreshing green and muted mauve,” he explains. The decorative fabrics are ideal for use in upholstery, cushions, curtains or tablecloths and are highly functional, with mixed weaves of cotton that are soft to the touch, but at the same time hardwearing and easy to clean. Another of Warps & Wefts’ brands, Pollack has introduced a variety of new fabrics, including four extra-wide window fabrics and 22 upholstery designs. Hang Ten, a new window fabric, combines waves and horizontal stripes in complimentary colours, reversing for an alternate colour balance and pattern, and is woven in three weights of flame retardant Trevira CS polyester yarn. The new collection also includes two silk fabric designs. “We not only want to innovate, but also to create. Utility is in the forefront, but it is not the sole driving force. The actual materials, plus the process, construction, yarns and finishes you can apply to alter the surface are all just as important as the pattern; pattern does not always come first,” says Mark Pollack, textile designer and design director of Pollack. For Kenzo, on the other hand, pattern is clearly a priority. The 2006 collection features nine designs. Lelievre is the French company that holds international distribution rights for the Kenzo brand. “The new collection is a mix of the floral profusion of the 1920s and 30s, touched with a note of the hippy chic of the 70s and blended with the elegance of the French Riviera marine style,” explains Patrice Muscat, area manager in the Middle East and Asia/Pacific for Lelievre. The combination of bold designs with varied touch sensations is a recurring theme in most the major summer collections, with bold designs such as bright stripes on cotton satin, shaded swirls on silk and coils, or zigzags on linen gauze. Goulbourn Silk Cocoon’s collection of textiles is based on the tradition of handloom weaving but with a modern flair. Using silk, the fabrics often incorporate indigenous fibres like abaca hemp, pineapple fibre and metallic wire to create various textures. “The hand-woven silk textiles combine coarse elegance with tactile sensuality,” says designer Katrina Goulbourn. “The blend of yarns and natural fibres with earthen forms and an industrial mix of wires or man-made threads is a new proposal for the concept of luxury living. The creations range from incandescent and supple through to rigidly structured and are ideal for hotel suites and lobby areas, boutique hotels, resorts and spas,” she adds. The Goulbourn Silk Cocoon line can be woven up to three metres wide, allowing the fabrics to be applied to a range of uses, from drapery, roman shades and blinds to room dividers, pillow cases, lampshades and upholstery. “We offer product development, creative services and custom-designing for textiles and embroidery. Each fabric is carefully hand-woven with natural fibres that are unique in colour and texture,” says Goulbourn. The emphasis on texture is also in evidence in other collections, with the use of fabrics such as brocade, velour, taffeta, moiré and satin. In the new Lelievre collection, for instance, the company offers heavy-duty fabrics for upholstery, delicate chenille for cushions and transparent sheers for drapery, as well as a decorative silk line that is woven in Lelievre’s own factory. “In the new Soieries silk collection there is a return to classic, understated elegance. Taffetas and damasks give both neutral and intense colours with an atmosphere of charm and refinement,” says Lelievre’s Muscat. “This year, there are also contrasting textures and a profusion of colours available in the Contract 10 line, Lelievre’s new, fire retardant collection in 100% polyester Trevira CS,” he adds. The new Aquaria Collection from Perennials Fabrics also features textured fabrics. The Shoreline Stripe design features horizontal stripes in varying shades, separated with raised stitching, while Spongy gets its name from the bumpy texture of the material; Very Terry is a soft terry towel fabric with a non-snag construction, and Nubby is decorated with small cotton-wool bobbles. “Perennials’ 100% solution-dyed acrylic fabrics provide soil-, mildew- and UV-resistant options suitable for any venue and ideal for use in high-traffic areas,” says Kanwar. Textiles designers have been hard at work in recent years to herald a new generation of hardwearing and practical fabrics. The experts at Creation Baumann, have developed soil resistant finishes, which use substances such as Scotchguard to protect fabrics against staining. Flame retardant finishes, in which a protective coating is applied to the weave, reduce the supply of oxygen to the fibre in the case of fire so that the material chars without flaming. These finishes can be made permanent for applications such as curtains, making the coating wash and dry clean resistant. The company has also developed a high-tech process of vapour coating in which an extremely fine layer of aluminium is sprayed onto the fabric, coating the surface to afford optimal protection from glare. The treated material can then be used for curtains, blinds, curtain lining and even underlay. “The fabric is ideal for the UAE, as opposed to blackout curtains that are used all over the region to block out sunlight. The shiny, metallic layer reflects heat and light, making a significant impact on the temperature of a room, and aluminium-coated fabric does not crack like the older types of blackout curtains,” says Kanwar. While colour, pattern and texture trends may come and go, Kanwar is confident that practicality is a far more enduring quality: “Needless to say, fabrics that are easy to care for and fire retardant are always in fashion.”||**||

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