Upholstery can make or break the look of a room. The right upholstery fabrics and details give furniture a polished, upscale aesthetic. When selecting upholstery, it’s important to consider the overall style you want to achieve, as well as durability and maintenance needs. Paying attention to subtle elements like piping, skirts, and trim can take a piece from basic to beautiful. Here are 11 distinctive details to look for when aiming for upscale upholstery.

Choose High-End Fabrics

The fabric itself sets the tone for upholstery. Opt for quality materials like:

  • Velvet – This lush fabric has a sophisticated look and feel. It’s available in a wide range of colors from vivid brights to deep, moody hues.
  • Linen – Natural linen has a casual, breezy vibe. It resists pilling and gets softer over time.
  • Leather – Genuine leather offers a luxury touch. It ages gracefully and comes in various grades.
  • Wool – Extremely durable wool fabrics add cozy texture. Mohair and tweed suit traditional styles.
  • Silk – Shimmering silk makes a bold statement. Look for durable blended silk upholstery fabrics.
  • Cotton/linen blends – These blended fabrics combine cotton’s durability with linen’s refined look.

Take time to seek out upholstery-weight fabrics with rich colors and appealing textures. Quality materials are an investment that will pay off for years to come.

Add Contrast Welting

Welting or piping adds a tailored finish along seams and edges. Using welting that contrasts with the main fabric pumps up the visual interest. For example, charcoal gray welting along the edges of navy upholstery fabric makes each detail pop.

Thicker welting provides even more definition. Integrating two colors of welting, like yellow and white, creates a striking stripe detail.

Accent with Metallic Thread

Metallic threads infuse upholstery with subtle glamour. Look for metallic embroidery, stitching, or appliqués that coordinate with the main fabric color. Metallic details are particularly striking on velvet or linen upholstery.

Strategically placed metallic accents on chair legs, borders, and piping lend elegance without going overboard. For a bold touch, use metallic threads in large-scale floral or geometric patterns.

Choose Skirts and Fringe

For a clean, formal look, boxed upholstery with slim skirts is a fail-safe option. If you prefer a more relaxed vibe, consider incorporating fringe, gimp, or fuller skirts.

Long fringe dangling from the bottom of sofa skirts has a playful, eclectic feel. But smaller fringe used sparingly along the leading edge of skirts or accent pillows makes for an understated accent.

Gimp trim involves cords or braids woven along interior edges. This detail offers interest while remaining subtle. Scallop-edged skirts add feminine charm to upholstered pieces.

Attach Antique Buttons

Buttons make wonderful decorative details on upholstered furniture. Reclaimed antique buttons with carved designs, inlaid mother-of-pearl, or other embellishments provide vintage flair. Look for antique buttons made of bone, wood, porcelain, or fabric-covered types.

Sew buttons onto the outside backs and arms of chairs and sofas. Line them up spaced evenly apart or cluster them asymmetrically. Ensure the buttons securely attach to the frame to avoid safety issues.

Upgrade the Leg Shape

Turned, tapered, or fluted wood legs immediately bump furnishings up a design level. Square block legs or simple metal legs read as more casual. Carved moldings along chair legs also contribute visual weight and elegance.

To integrate ornate legs with more relaxed upholstery fabrics, stick to neutral, uncomplicated fabrics. Otherwise the combination could feel overly fussy.

Nailhead Trim Accents

Shiny nailheads tracing trim lines and shapes add eye-catching polish. You could outline the arms and front border of a sofa for a handsome effect. Nailheads also beautifully complement leather and vinyl upholstery.

For ornate furniture, nailhead patterns that emphasize corners and curves make the details really stand out. Go for a subtle take with nailheads placed every few inches along linear seams.

Tufted Details

Deep button tufting brings stunning texture and dimension to upholstered furniture. Tufted headboards and sofa backs make an elegant style statement in bedrooms and living rooms. Make sure tufting is well-secured and evenly spaced.

Look for furniture with tufting embellished with nailheads or contrasting threads. Unique tufted patterns, like waves or diagonals, also catch the eye.

Choose Tailored Cording

Hide seams and edges of upholstered furniture with neatly applied cording or welting. This trim conceals spots where dust and dirt could gather while contributing a finished look.

Opt for cording made from high-quality wool or cotton, not synthetic fibers. For upscale pieces, integrate decorative cording designs like attached tassels or contrast colors.

Select Unique Legs

Legs play a big role in the overall aesthetic of upholstered furniture. Instead of basic metal legs, go for wooden legs with carved or turned designs. Materials like mahogany and walnut add natural warmth.

For a striking mixed media look, pair ornately carved wooden legs with smooth, modern upholstery fabrics. Or match detailed legs to large-scale baroque or floral prints.

Contrast Floor Length

Floor-length upholstered pieces make a dramatic style statement. The long skirt dropping all the way to the floor contrasts with the exposed legs in an elegant way. This also helps anchor the furniture, making it seem grander.

Combine floor-length skirts with shapely exposed legs for a lighter feel that allows the leg details to shine. Fully cover just the front skirt section to maintain a visible profile.


It’s the little touches that take upholstery from basic to beautiful. From lush fabrics and sumptuous tufting to metallic accents and carved legs, these distinctive details breathe sophistication into furnishings. Pay attention to contrast piping, antique buttons, and tailored skirts for a polished upscale look. With quality materials and fine craftsmanship, your upholstery will stand the test of time in both durability and style.

Frequently Asked Questions

What fabrics say “upscale” for upholstery?

High-end fabrics like velvet, leather, linen, wool, silk, and cotton/linen blends convey luxury. Seek out textured, durable upholstery-grade materials.

What trim details add elegance?

Contrast welting, metallic threads, nailhead trim, and quality cording offer extra polish. Buttons, fringe, and tufting add interest as well.

How do legs influence the look?

Legs with turned, tapered, or ornately carved designs elevate the style. Match the legs to the formality of the overall piece.

Should skirts touch the floor?

Floor-length skirts are dramatic against exposed legs but could get dirty. Loose, boxed skirts are versatile. Add fringe or gimp for flair.

What factors make upholstery last?

Quality frame construction, durable fabrics, and secure trim attachments help upholstery endure. skilled craftsmanship also contributes to longevity.