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).


    • N Shirley says

      My husband used to try and teach my son to work on cars, after a while I told him he had the wrong kid in the driveway- my daughter is very good at mechanical things. I notice when Sherrie sews she really doesn’t seem to enjoy the process, I tend to think John would be much happier running the sewing machine! And making a quilt- what’s not to love? Geometry AND mechanical things!

  1. Sarah says

    This is so insightful. I never know what to grab that will even stand a chance of appealing to my husband. That’s not to say all men think alike, but at least it gives me a starting point. Good luck with your travels, such an exciting time!

  2. robyns says

    yep, I’m a bit of a fabric-o-holic, and I even though i admit I have a problem I have no desire to get treatment! and bravo to your good taste, the last graphic orange pattern (mandarian dorrest premier print) is exactly what I am doing for curtains in my 8 year old son’s room. I ordered lots of swatches from and he picked the same one I did. I guess the kid’s got good taste too!

  3. Kari says

    I went to the U-Fab event to see ya’ll for the first time and missed you by TWENTY MINUTES (according to my Instagram stalking!). It was the saddest day!

    But then again, I left and headed straight to Yapple, so I suppose there are worst things in life ;)

  4. Dawn says

    You’re awesome! My husband is kinda like, “whatever you want” when it comes to design, but every once in a while, he’ll pipe up and say “I really like that” when he sees something colorful or cool. I really appreciate it and think it’s great when men get excited about decorating.

  5. says

    For me, as a male, I don’t mind looking at fabric. I just don’t like to look at them for hours & hours.

    It goes back to how most men and women shop differently. I’m pretty quick to know if a fabric is the right choice.

    Amber on the other hand, requires a month long soul-searching quest to decide if one shade of grey linen is better than the other.

  6. Mallory says

    I am pinning this to show my husband! I want so badly to do something floral (like the top right, that you said you like) for our shower curtain in our gray and white bathroom, but he says he wants nothing “girly.” I think we need that bit of floral to keep the room from feeling too harsh and geometric–the floral will soften it up. Here’s hoping this post helps! Thanks John!

  7. Anne says

    Oh, my love/hate relationship with Some cute stuff at good prices, but isn’t it a total NIGHTMARE to navigate? It would probably take me half the day to try to find the fabrics John used in this post. How do you guys find what you want on there? Any particular sections of the site that you find lucky?

  8. Nancy says

    My hubby never seems to care, but I wonder if he’s holding back on me. Could you tell me the name of the blue leafy fabric?

    • Joy says

      Hi Nancy,

      I think it is P. Kauffman Chloe Sapphire. Why I know that? Because I’ve been eyeing it for a year now. Why I can’t seem to get myself to buy it?

      1. It’s always sold-out and at $23/yard, I’m gonna need a lot of explaining (graphs and scientific proofs that I need it) to the hubby.

      2. The hubster might not like it.

      So, just once in a while, I get in the website — drool over it and dream about how it would look nice hanging in my master bredroom window. Sad! LOL!

  9. says

    It’s nice to hear a guy’s take on this! My hubs is fairly opinionated about fabrics (so I bring him shopping when I’m making pillows or curtains) and decor items. I think we’ve found the perfect balance of not picking fabrics that are too girly or too masculine.

    Have fun this weekend!

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