Many of my clients have kids, or pets, or both. My own family falls into this camp, so I’m very familiar with the struggle to keep things neat and clean. Or cleanable, at least. (With a toddler in the house, sometimes neat flies out the window.) There are varying degrees of cleanability when it comes to furniture, and you can make your life a lot easier by selecting the right fabric for your living situation.
One client (with a baby boy, dog and cat in tow) asked if we should consider reupholstering her off white cotton sofa in a darker cotton, because it might help “hide the dirt.” My advice to her was no. Both of her pets have light colored fur, so a darker color would show that much more, making her sofa look dirty, or at the very least, hairy. She’s absolutely right that darker colors tend to conceal the grunge that inevitably builds up over time. But, as I told her, using a material like leather, or an indoor/outdoor fabric from a company like Sunbrella or Pindler + Pindler, is going to offer a much better solution in the long run.
Leather is great because you can wipe any dirt right off. It isn’t quite so successful with things like pen or puncture marks (hello, cats!) Not all cats love leather, so I’m tempted to try this for my family’s next sofa, and just hope that our two fall into that camp. I'd most likely do a test run with a used model, though. Leather furniture is one of the few household items that gets better with age, and if the cats do go to town on it, we wouldn’t have splurged on a new piece.
Note that if you want your sofa to weather a beating, use a leather that looks like it’s already been through one. Buttery smooth and sleek leathers can make for a handsome sofa, but any scratches or marks will be readily apparent on them. Better to choose a material that already looks weathered, even when new. The leather on this Collins Collection sofa from Restoration Hardware is ideal. You wouldn't be able to tell the new scratches from the old. It just looks invitingly rumpled from the get go.
Another note: pay special attention to the shape of a leather sofa before purchasing it. A bad leather sofa is really, really bad. There's something about the material that is extremely unforgiving, especially in an overstuffed state. A trim model is generally much hipper. (For more info on leather sofas, be sure to check Emily Henderson's excellent guidelines, too.)
Indoor/outdoor fabrics are another great option for a cleanable, durable sofa. This couch would be a nightmare to maintain in a standard material, but if it's made of an indoor/outdoor one, that's no problem.
I’ve upholstered some chairs for various projects in Sunbrella’s linens, and they’ve held up beautifully in families with both pets and kids. Plus, they have a variety of weaves and colors that work for nearly every situation.
Wouldn't it be great to make this gorgeous sofa kid friendly? Pick the right material and you can. I’m a big fan of Sunbrella’s velvets, which have a nice hand and beautifully saturated color. They usually retail for upwards of $50 a yard, which is actually on the low end for this type of material. However, Housefabric.com has a good selection of Sunbrella velvets at the even better price of $16.95/yard. And, unlike many fabric retailers, they sell to the public as opposed to being trade only. They may only have a limited supply and color selection, but it's still worth checking out.
The benefits of these materials are so great that other fabric giants are following suit. Kravet, Donghia, and Pindler + Pindler, which made the sofa fabric shown below, now make comparable products, and in some very sophisticated colorways, too.
These types of indoor/outdoor acrylics are fantastic for a few reasons. Like wonder rugs, they're extremely easy to clean: water and mild soap will remove most stains and dirt with minimal effort. And a lot of these materials are also very tightly woven, so pet claws will have a difficult time getting through. It’s also easy to find heavy duty versions of these fabrics, so you know they’ll last for the duration.
If you have kids or pets--or are just especially hard on your furniture--choosing one of these materials for your sofa is a really smart move. It may be a bit more expensive than some products in terms of initial commitment, but its durability makes it more much cost effective in the long run. Just be sure to pick a sofa that you really like; with these materials, it will likely be around for years.