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Does the phrase velvet couch give you terrible flashbacks? Well, a contemporary velvet sofa is nothing like the much-abused piece of furniture in your dorm house that you were squeamish about sitting on. A modern-day velvet sofa is usually a cool shade — not a Swinging ’60s orange — and has plenty of style benefits you may have overlooked. If you’ve been considering getting your hands on some velvet, here are some great reasons why you needn’t hesitate.


Velvet 1: Lori Smyth Design, original photo on Houzz


How Do I Care for Velvet?

If you’re considering a velvet sofa, you might be wondering how easy it would be to care for. First, it’s important to understand that velvet is a fabric, not a fiber. Velvet can be made out of various materials: silk, mohair, wool, or polyester, for example. This means that not all velvets are created equal. Silk is usually considered the finest material for velvet, and it will generally carry the highest price tag. Wool and mohair rank high as well.

You may find that purely synthetic velvets will be harder to sit on, because the fabric tends to get warm and doesn’t wick moisture. However, the tightness and density of the weave is important too, and manufacturers may or may not skimp here, so fiber type isn’t the only factor. Ask to see a sample of the fabric you’re considering (even online retailers will often send one) and rub it to make sure fibers don’t immediately fall out from a loose weave — and to make sure it feels great.

Assuming you find a quality material, you should be able to care for your sofa with nothing more than a velvet upholstery attachment for your vacuum (to help suck out fibers like cat hair but not the sofa fibers) and a little quick reaction time in case of spills. Velvet isn’t as wipeable as, say, leather, but it isn’t much more difficult to care for than a typical woven fabric.


Which Colors Work for Velvet?

You can get a velvet sofa in literally any color you can imagine. However, they’re most often found in vibrant, medium-to-dark shades, with blue being an especially popular choice.

Classic navy. I’ve discussed before how a gray sofa is one of the best, most timeless staples you can invest in. However, navy sofas are almost as neutral, while also bringing a bit of easy-to-work-with color into the mix, which makes them a popular alternative for those who prefer a little more drama. What better material to pair with a deep, oceanic blue than a luminous velvet? The subtle sheen of a quality velvet reveals highlights and lowlights in the color, which gives it beautiful depth.


Velvet 2: Altura Tower, original photo on Houzz


Daring hues. The extra color-richness that velvet delivers makes it an excellent fabric choice when you’re considering a bold color, such as a royal purple. In another material, like a plain cotton, such colors will look more flat and uniform, which can make a “fun” fabric look like one big block of eye-searing color when stretched out over an entire sofa. In velvet, the tones automatically become more rich and complex, creating almost a gradient effect that makes any hue more subtle and nuanced, even when used on a large sectional.

Demure grays. Neutral-hued velvets are just as beautiful. A mid-to-dark-toned gray will look sumptuous in velvet even without the obligatory pop of color. The tone-on-tone effect gives plenty of character already.


What Does Velvet Go With?

One of the best uses of velvet is to add a little softness to a space with lots of rugged materials, such as wood and leather. If your home has a very neutral palette rich in these “masculine” textures, a little velvet softness and sheen will play well against them.


Velvet 3: Oleg Klodt Architecture & Design, original photo on Houzz


Contrasting Fabrics. You can easily use a single velvet sofa contrasted with other seats in completely different upholstery. To make sure the disparate pieces feel related to each other, try using matching pillows on all or several of the pieces — notice how this space uses the same orange accent pillow fabric on either end for a sense of cohesion.

Modern Shapes. Love funky modern furniture in cool, unique shapes? Velvet is an excellent material for contemporary designs, as its textural nature highlights the interesting silhouettes. It looks especially great in tufted styles, as the sheen of the fabric will highlight the curves in the surface. Plus, the softness of the fabric adds a certain approachability to styles that otherwise might feel too minimalist to actually sit on.


Velvet 4: OOO Bonhoum Dizayn, original photo on Houzz


Vintage Pieces. Love mixing old and new? A velvet sofa works beautifully with traditional vintage furnishings, as the fabric carries both a sense of modernity and of traditional opulence. This room manages to have a sense of decorum without feeling like a museum because it blends both classic and contemporary elements.


Velvet 5: Plath & Company, original photo on Houzz


Patterns. Velvet, with its touch-me texture, works well mixed with patterns. It even looks especially decadent when rendered in a pattern itself, such as this blue animal print or the more subtle geometric of the two lounge chairs. Velvet sofas in vibrant hues look beautifully dramatic placed in front of wallpapered walls or graphic curtains, layered with painterly patterned pillows. If this seems too intense for your taste, consider adding a simple geometric or traditionally patterned rug to your space. The contrast between the pattern and the lush texture will make both sing.

Pillows. Velvet sofas look great piled with pillows. However, you’ll want to make sure these stand up to the level of richness of the velvet or they may look off. Look for pillows in highly textural materials like shearling or wool, or elaborate patterns like this floral print.


Velvet 6: Jay Corder Architect, original photo on Houzz


Mixing in some pale hues and some contrast colors will help enrich the look of your sofa and break up the jolt of color if you’ve chosen something more bold. A few print pillows with a white base, or oversized fluffy shearlings, are a great way to tone down a sofa if you choose a color that’s a bit risqué, so you have even less reason to worry about making a bold choice.

So go ahead, forget that orange upholstery you once knew and embrace a modern velvet sofa. It can make a world of difference to your design, adding a bit of retro flair, contemporary cool, and a touch of texture all at once. Now, that’s a design element you can really sink your fingers into.