On October 2, Interior Design and Crypton—a Detroit-based fabric innovator—hosted a roundtable at the magazine’s Manhattan office. Fortified by coffee and pastries, an intimate group of designers engaged in a discussion about the perks and challenges of specifying performance textiles. Interior Design’s Executive Editor Jen Renzi kicked off the conversation by asking designers about recent projects, which ranged from healthcare spaces to residential interiors.
The industry-focused discussion touched on topics such as the importance of fabric longevity, how to define performance when it comes to contract fabrics, and the challenges of finding new materials. “One of the biggest struggles I come across when specifying fabric is that I want it to be unique—with performance fabric, it’s usually mass-produced to some degree,” says Emma Fowler, senior associate at SHoP Architects.
Designers agreed that when it comes to fabric, tactility matters. “I think texture is key…if a fabric doesn’t feel good, it loses my visual interest,” says Theodora Guilfoy, senior designer at TPG Architecture. Texture is especially important given the increasing demand for contract fabrics in residential interiors. “Performance fabric used to be just for outdoor projects, but now people want to use it for homes,” says Fanny Abbes, founder and creative director of The New Design Project. “People still have a very emotional reaction to things: Fabric needs to perform, but first it needs to look good.”
But designers must also navigate a rapidly evolving commercial market—one in which a given space may house several different companies over the course of five or 10 years. One solution: think beyond an individual client. “There’s a big push from partners for longevity of materials,” says Diego González, associate at SHoP Architects. “We try to see what a building is going to be and ask: What will outlast any of the tenants here?”
One of the most contentious questions during the two-hour discussion centered around what manufacturers mean by "performance" when marketing contract fabrics. Performance, as a blanket term, leaves uncertainties about what qualities factor into such a promise, whether that’s cleanability, durability, stain-resistant capabilities, or a moisture barrier.
Designers agreed it's nearly impossible to find a fabric that does it all, so what often distinguishes one contract fabric from the next is its story and real-world application. For instance, videos demonstrating a fabric’s ability to withstand extreme situations or insights into a company's sustainability efforts can impact a specifying decision. “I love when a manufacturer comes in with a video of someone trying to destroy something to demonstrate a fabric’s longevity,” says Fowler.
The takeaway: Product education is essential, especially for manufacturers looking to break into competitive markets.