How To Choose Upholstery

From sofas suited to busy family life to elegant occasional chairs, choosing the right upholstery to suit your needs, and your home can be difficult. With so many choices out there, The Conran Shop has compiled a handy guide on how to select your ideal fabric. Plus, you’ll find further information about our exclusive collection of fabrics.

Key considerations

A sofa, armchair or ottoman is not only an investment in your décor but also in the comfort and ambience of your home. As a result, it’s important to find upholstery that will continue to complement your furnishings and provide lasting comfort for its entire lifespan. Here are some key things to consider when choosing the perfect upholstery:

What colour will complement my room? Whether you’re wanting to make a statement or looking for something more subtle, it’s important to think about the complete look you want to achieve when selecting your upholstery. Don’t forget, you can accent neutral upholstery with statement cushions for a versatile aesthetic.

Which texture is right for me? Texture plays an extremely important role in any room so don’t be afraid to mix textures by experimenting with your upholstery and soft furnishings to create inspiring combinations. Soften leather upholstery with a cashmere throw, or pair natural linen upholstery with chunky knitted cushions.

How much wear and tear will my upholstery endure? If your furniture is going to be used in a high-traffic room, make sure you select upholstery that is durable enough to keep up. A fabric’s Martindale rub-count will help determine this.

The Chiltern 3-Seater Sofa with fabric upholstery
Build Your Own Sofa fabric detailing

What is the Martindale test?

When selecting fabric upholstery, you are likely to come across the Martindale test. This clever test has been specially designed to show how much wear and tear a fabric will take before there is a change in appearance. The test’s results are measured in ‘rubs’ and are useful for determining the durability of a fabric.

10,000 rubs or less: A fabric with less than 10,000 rubs is recommended for decorative accessories, such as cushions, and is not suited to general use.

10,000 to 15,000 rubs: Ideal for light domestic use and perfect for upholstering occasional furniture.

15,000 to 25,000 rubs: This fabric is perfect for furniture that will be used every day. It is not suited to extremely high-use seating as repeated use will place unnecessary stress on the threads.

25,000 to 30,000 rubs: A fabric with this level of durability is ideal for heavy domestic use on furniture such as swivel chairs and sofas.

30,000 rubs or more: Fabrics with this standard of rubs are commercial grade and suited to heavy-use furniture in busy homes.

Key leather upholstery terms

Aniline leather: One of the most luxurious forms of leather, aniline leather is renowned for its soft texture and natural finish. Dyed using a water-soluble dye to ensure the leather’s grain remains visible, this leather doesn’t have any colour coating on its surface for a natural, refined finish.

Corrected grain: If a full-grain leather displays scratches or scarring, it is further processed in a process called correcting. This process simulates a natural grain pattern for a flawless finish.

Full-grain: Full-grain leather is taken from the upper layer of animal hide and displays natural marking when left uncorrected. This is one of the hardiest and most durable forms of leather.

Natural grain: When leather is described as having a natural grain, this means that the hide’s original blemishes, follicles and scarring have not been corrected and can be seen on the leather. This lends the leather a truly authentic finish and texture.

Pigmented leather: Pigmented leather is one of the most durable forms of leather. It is achieved by buffing the leather to remove natural blemishes and creating a new top surface using a coloured polymer coating which is then embossed to create an appearance of a grain.

The Cross Leg Lounge Chair & Ottoman with nude Old Velvet leather upholstery
The Conran Shop Exclusive Fabric Upholstery Edit

All of the sofas, armchairs and ottomans in The Conran Shop’s Build Your Own collection are upholstered in fabric from our very own fabric edit. Each fabric has been specially selected for its high-quality finish, durability and texture. Explore each of our upholstery options in further detail below, and if you’d like a closer look you can order complimentary samples of each fabric here.

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Cotton in 'Cadet'

Cotton

Textural to the touch, this robust fabric is woven in Italy using 100% cotton. Suitable for high-use furniture in dining spaces, living rooms and bedrooms.

Technical specifications:

Composition: 100% Cotton

Country of origin: Italy

Martindale rubs: 40,000

Suited to: High-traffic furniture

Texture: Textural to touch

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Cotton Texture Weave in 'Ecru'

Cotton Texture Weave

A chunky textural fabric woven in Italy, this material has an incredibly soft finish thanks to its cotton-polyester blend. This fabric is perfect for upholstering everyday furniture.

Technical specifications:

Composition: 52% Cotton 48% Polyester

Country of origin: Italy

Martindale rubs: 24,000

Suited to: Daily-use furniture

Texture: Soft and chunky relaxed weave

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Duro Velvet in 'Bondi'

Duro Velvet

Woven in Italy using 100% cotton, this incredibly soft fabric features a thick pile and is stain and crush resistant – perfect for extremely high-use furniture in dining and living spaces.

Technical specifications:

Composition: 100% Cotton

Country of origin: Italy

Martindale rubs: 70,000

Suited to: Extremely high-use furniture

Texture: Soft, thick pile that is stain and crush resistant

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Linen in 'Laurel'

Linen

A durable, breathable, 100% natural linen fabric, woven in Italy to create a supremely soft textured weave, this fabric is suitable for everyday furniture.

Technical specifications:

Composition: 100% Linen

Country of origin: Italy

Martindale rubs: 25,000

Suited to: Daily-use furniture

Texture: Soft, textured weave

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Linen Texture Weave in 'Coral'

Linen Texture Weave

This supremely soft textured fabric with contrasting threads is woven in Italy using a linen, viscose, polyester and cotton blend. The fabric is ideal for upholstering everyday furniture.

Technical specifications:

Composition: 50% Linen 25% Viscose 15% Poly 10% Cotton

Country of origin: Italy

Martindale rubs: 20,000

Suited to: Everyday furniture

Texture: Textural weave with soft, contrasting threads

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Velvet in 'Forest'

Velvet

This incredibly soft, fine pile velvet is woven at a 1930s mill in Lancashire using 100% cotton. The fabric is suitable for high-use furniture dining spaces, living rooms and bedrooms.

Technical specifications:

Composition: 100% Cotton Pile

Country of origin: Lancashire, England

Martindale rubs: 40,000

Suited to: High-use furniture

Texture: Fine pile with a soft texture

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Wool in 'Mustard'

Wool

Woven in Italy using new wool and polyamide, the robust fabric has a beautifully soft finish. Perfect for extremely high-use furniture in busy family homes and reception areas.

Technical specifications:

Composition: 80% Wool 20% Polyamide

Country of origin: Italy

Martindale rubs: 80,000

Suited to: Extremely high-use furniture

Texture: Soft

The Conran Shop Exclusive Leather Upholstery Edit

Why not give your Build Your Own furniture a premium finish with leather upholstery from The Conran Shop’s very own edit? Each leather finish has been specially selected for its beautiful grain, durability and smooth texture. Explore each of the six leather upholstery options in further detail below and remember to order your complimentary samples here.

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Brenta Leather in 'Zinc'

Brenta Leather

This extremely robust leather is produced in an Italian tannery using European cowhide with a corrected grain, a pigmented finish and a subtle texture for a uniform aesthetic.

Technical specifications:

Composition: European Cowhide with a pigmented finish

Country of origin: Italy

Durability: Incredibly durable

Suited to: High-use furniture

Texture: Corrected grain with a uniform surface and subtle texture

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Fermo Leather in 'Shaker'

Fermo Leather

Fermo is a high-quality aniline European cowhide with a velvety touch and subtle texture. Produced in an Italian tannery, the leather’s natural grain is enhanced by a wax-oil treatment that gets better with age.

Technical specifications:

Composition: Aniline-dyed European Cowhide with wax treatment

Country of origin: Italy

Durability: Durable but susceptible to light and liquid absorption

Suited to: Everyday furniture

Texture: A velvety-like touch and subtle texture

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Mustang Leather in 'Rust'

Mustang Leather

This supple matte cowhide has been finished with a soft wax finish to achieve a cracked, matter finish. Mustang Leather is a typical pull-up leather, which means its slightly-contrasting base colour can be seen when the leather shifts position.

Technical specifications:

Composition: 0.9-1.0mm thick leather

Durability: Robust with strong colour retention

Suited to: Everyday furniture

The Conran Shop’s Exclusive Fabric Edit: Romagna Leather in 'Caramel'

Romagna Leather

A premium soft natural leather with a visible texture, Romagna is produced in an Italian tannery using European cowhide. This aniline leather features a full grain and is enhanced by a wax and oil blend finish.

Technical specifications:

Composition: Natural full-grain aniline European hide with a wax and oil blend finish

Country of origin: Italy

Durability: Incredibly durable

Suited to: Extremely high-use furniture

Texture: Soft and natural with a visible texture