One Guy’s Take On… Fabric

Quick note: We’ll be in Cincinnati tomorrow at the Books By The Banks festival at the Duke Energy Convention Center where we’ll be giving a talk at 11am and then signing books (advanced copies will be available for sale there!) and most likely being fantastically awkward (more details here). Hope to see some of you there! 

And now for a fabric-fest. I know not all husbands enjoy being as involved in decorating decisions as I do, but I’d be willing to guess that many guys are more interested than you’d expect. We’re opinionated creatures. Heck, even I fall into that I’m-pretending-not-to-care-about-that-lampshade-as-much-as-I-really-do trap sometimes (and then later I end up disputing its purchase to a shocked you-never-said-anything wife), so I thought that it might be enlightening to peek into the male brain – well, at least this particular male’s brain  – on a topic that we fellas may pretend not to care about.

The word “fabric” itself sounds like it’s a subject that guys shouldn’t care much about (like it should fall somewhere on the list between mascara and handbags), but men actually choose which ties and shirts they like (while saying things like “I’d never wear that” about others) so they must have at least a few thoughts on the subject. And since fabrics are such a big player in how your house looks (pillows, curtains, bedding, upholstery, etc) it ends up making a huge difference. So I, for one, think it’s worth sticking my manly nose in when fabric decisions are being made – so I feel just as home in our house as Sherry does. And in case any of you have trouble getting an opinion out of your man – or if as a dude who’s reading, you’re hesitant to give one – here’s this guy’s take (*points to self with thumbs*).


It should come as no shock that sticking with a stereotypical “male” color palette is usually a pretty safe bet. Blues, green, browns, grays (nothing too bright or neon, but more deep and muted) usually will make me say “this one’s not hurting my eyes.” Along with that, another safe approach can be sticking with masculine patterns: stripes, checks, plaids or even a plain old solid color. Just think of things you might see on a shirt in the men’s department. There’s something about subtle patterns that are smal-ish in scale that usually make me feel more comfortable than something really bold. And generally anything with sharp corners and crisp lines rubs me the right way. So if you stick within both of these zones, there’s probably a good chance that it’s dude-friendly.


But if you stick with both a masculine color and a masculine pattern you could, well, end up with a very masculine fabric and – if it’s not balanced by distinctly feminine items in the same space – you could end up with a very masculine room. Which is cool, but if that’s not the look you’re going for, the next option is to go masculine in either color OR pattern, but not both. I think Sherry and I do this a lot. We have ornate gray & white patterned curtains in the living room (ornate = Sherry’s jam, gray and white = my jam). Same thing for the green (my thing) and ikat (Sherry’s thing) curtains in the dining room. Take these fabrics for example. The top two are man-friendly patterns (as least to my eye) with a bit of feminine color worked in for balance. And the bottom two are manly colors with subtly feminine curves or shapes, so they seem to even out in my head as well.


Sometimes people (myself included) are quick to write off flowery fabrics as distinctly non-man-friendly. But when I think about it more, I don’t actually think it’s true. I love our headboard fabric. It’s leafy and graphic and nature-ish and the colors are really us… but guess what, it could be described as a floral. Shocker, I know. But when it’s balanced with the moody gray walls, a rustic wood dresser, and graphic blue rug it doesn’t make the room feel too girly for me.

So maybe instead of ruling out florals completely, just try to think of them as “organic” patterns (since the word “floral” can evoke some pastel lace monstrosity). Sure, they might still have flowers on them, but they also include leafy patterns with vines, branches, and, um, leaves. And at that point you’re like two degrees away from natural items like wood, tree bark, and rocks. And I, for one, love rocks. So maybe we should stop thinking that patterns with flowers are off-limits to guys. I think these four are pretty cool, actually. Especially the one on the top right. Come to papa.


I said earlier that I tend to lean towards small scale patterns since they remind me of men’s shirts. I think it’s mostly because the smaller the scale, the less crazy-pattern-y it looks. But I’ve learned there’s any easy way to go bolder with pattern without scaring myself off: keeping it to two or three colors (even better if one of those colors is white). Large patterns are less scary to me if they’re graphic and crisp. And if they’re geometric enough, I’m usually even willing to step out of my color comfort zone. I think all four of these are pretty darn snappy.

So that’s one man’s dork-tastic fabric analysis (I like grids, what can I say?). Just like with anything else, there are definitely exceptions and we’re not all the same (we’re not just pieces of man-meat and eye-candy you know) so what one guy may like might be deemed “completely terrible” by another. For example, in certain applications I kinda really like toile. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. Maybe it’s the history nerd in me, but the little detailed scenes are very amusing to me in a weird way. Some guys may love damask, or leopard print, or the floweriest pastel pink floral the world has ever seen. You never know. That’s why the best bet is always just to ask (or to speak up if you’re a quiet-but-secretly-rooting-for-something lad). I’m 99.9% sure the world won’t spontaneously combust if guys get on the fabric train a little too.

Psst- All fabrics except for the first one, which is from Ikea, are from (and that first shot of me and the bean is from an awesome local store called U-Fab).


  1. Caity says

    Can’t wait to meet you guys tomorrow and hear you speak! Hope you have safe travels.
    P.S. My husband is letting me buy another copy of the book since my pre-ordered one isn’t here yet! Happy Sweetest day to me :)

  2. Anika says

    Thank you John for such an honest and straightforward discussion – I really appreciate you sharing the specific ‘why’ you are drawn to certain fabric choices (it’s much more helpful than just saying you don’t like things or dismissing entire patterns/colors).

    As always from you, an enlightening post – thanks for sharing!

  3. Julie says

    Oh my gosh, I just sent this to my husband! PERFECT post!!! We are trying to pick out fabric for drapes in our living room, and I think you hit the nail on the head with your “dork-tastic” description and grids!! LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog! Thanks! PS your daughter is precious!

  4. says


    I’ve been watching your website for a while now, but never actually commented on any posts [don’t know why because some of your post were really informational (ex. building of the deck)].
    you are totally correct on the fabric subject. Guys like to say they don’t care, but they actually do. It is pretty humorous what silly things guys won’t admit to. my household on the other hand, it is reverse. my wife is the one that doesn’t care – well let me reverse that..she does care.. she just acts like she doesn’t care so i do the job and then she’ll care :) .
    Anyway, i just wanted to drop in say HI and wish you guys Good luck on the book tour. It is amazing what a little blog turned into! Congrats!!!

    p.s. Don’t forget, while visiting these great country, please do eat at local establishments and don’t forget as Andrew says “if it looks good, eat it!”

    • says

      I’m sadly going to miss you guys tomorrow (I’ll be on vacation in Tennessee), but have to echo Reuben! Skyline Chili, Skyline Chili, Skyline Chili, and Graeter’s Ice Cream. Please don’t leave our fair city without trying a three way (not as dirty as it sounds, I promise!) and having any Graeter’s Ice Cream flavor that includes the famous mammoth chocolate “chips”!

    • Lauren says

      I grew up in Cincinnati, and I would like to second the three way and Graeter’s. Skyline isn’t for everyone, and please don’t judge it based on the way it looks, but it is so darn good… give it a try!! And when I visit home, I always have to get a scoop of Raspberry Chip ice cream from Graeter’s (Coconut Chip is a close second). It is the best!!

    • Shona says

      Hmm. A word of warning about Skyline. It’s not actually chili. When I was in 7th grade my family moved from the South to a suburb of Cincinnati, and all we heard was “Skyline, Skyline, You Must Have Skyline Chili, Best Chili Ever OMG.”

      It’s gross. The beans are processed to a paste, and then they add cinnamon to it, serve it over spaghetti and call it “chili.” Being a native Southerner, I cannot abide it. AT ALL. My sister says that if you’re drunk, and don’t actually expect “chili” when you eat it, then it’s pretty good. I can’t vouch for that, though, because the first time I tried it was the last. Oh, and I don’t drink. :)

      But I will second the Graeter’s ice cream rec. If you like peanut butter and chocolate together, I recommend “peanut butter chip.” It is pb-flavored ice cream with HUGE chunks of milk chocolate in it. Mmm, mmm, mmm!

  5. says

    I just want to let you guys know that you are doing a great job here! I’m all the way from the Philippines and it will definitely help when I pick fabrics for the items that we what to upholster for our house! My husband tends to go to the safe side of using solid colors for a lot of things. :)

  6. says

    John, you’re brilliant. No seriously, this is awesome. My husband and I fall into pretty traditional categories with our home care, but just like I care about the big things, he cares about the little things. Now that I think about it, he’s had pretty similar reactions to fabric samples I’ve brought home as you did — I just didn’t consider that there might be a method to the madness! Thanks for the help!

  7. Christina says

    HAHA! “Come to papa.” Made me laugh.

    On a more serious note, this post helps me as a wife. I feel stuck in picking out patterns to spruce our place up. My husband only tells me what he doesn’t like and says “I don’t know” or picks something extremely masculine when I ask him for what he does like. Thanks for the insight, John!

  8. says

    Thanks for this, John–it’s like pulling teeth for me to get my hubs to tell me what he likes (funny, he’ll usually tell me what he DOESN’T like, only after I bought it, haha)!

    I’m still trying to find the balance between a way-too-feminine space and a way-too-masculine space, but this helps.

  9. says

    This is great, John! Much like the post about how to talk to the husband and get him interested. I’m sometimes jealous of my girlfriends who’s husbands don’t care a smidgen about decorating. My mom once redid the bedroom from taupe to morning glory blue (including bedding and curtains) and my dad didn’t notice for EIGHT MONTHS.

    Nate is a lot like you because he likes to be included in all of the decorating decisions. I’ll make a mood board to get a springboard and then sometimes he’ll get so into it that he’ll completely take over (like our dining room) Decorating a home is definitely a team sport and I think you guys do an amazing job!

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