Q: We have limited finances, and we're unable to replace our old living room set and will instead have to re-cover the seating pieces. We're considering using slipcovers as opposed to new upholstery, though many slipcover fabrics seem rather matronly to me. What kind of material would you suggest for a young family living in the Southwest?
A: Southwest or Northeast, slipcovers are fairly expensive. But no matter where you live, they're still likely to be less costly than a high-quality reupholstering job.
My own taste in fabric and color runs toward a sturdy cotton in white or a natural shade. If you prefer a pattern, stripes and checks would be appropriate, as would plaids. In general, the material ought to look casual and fresh, since slipcovers aren't meant to be used in formal settings.
Whatever you choose, make sure that the fabric can be easily spot cleaned and that it can be washed professionally. But there's also no need to panic just because a drop of something falls on the material. Pillows in assorted colors can be strategically deployed to camouflage a soil on the arm or seat of a chair.
For looks appropriate to the Southwest, you might get some pointers from either of two books recently published by Rizzoli. The more obvious possibility is called "Santa Fe Style," while the other goes under the apparently unrelated title, "Nantucket Style."
This photograph of a living room is taken from the Nantucket book. Like many of the charming and sophisticated interiors depicted in that volume, this is a readily adaptable design that could appropriately be re-created in any climate zone.
Because it's not thematic and does not involve any regional decor, the room doesn't seem cute or tiresome. The absence of a predictable motif also allows any artifact of good quality and style to be introduced into the setting.
The pale, natural fibers used for both the fabrics and rugs are complemented by the white walls. A richly colored collection of baskets, ceramics and other art objects adds balance to the composition.
When the sun streams into such a room -- regardless of whether it's situated on an island off the Massachusetts coast or in the Arizona desert -- the colors and textures will look vivid and arresting. All that white will capture and reflect whatever other colors are present, making for a very exciting and beautiful combination.
You're right in not wanting to settle for a slipcover fabric that's trite or, as you put it, matronly. As I hope this model suggests, it won't be hard to add some flair to your living room -- even on a limited budget -- as long as you select the fabrics wisely and imaginatively.