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. Shellie says

    My husband has a very……unique input into design. He only cares about bedding, and he is extreme. I can decorate the whole house in neon pink leopard print and he wouldn’t really care, but GOD FORBID I buy a new set of sheets or comforter without his express approval, LOL! It makes me a little crazy!

  2. Karen says

    Love this post! I could’ve used this insight before dragging my husband to Joanns to pick out fabric for our headboard. “I don’t like that one.” “Why not honey?” “Uhh I dunno. I just don’t.” Painful experience!

  3. says

    My husband confessed that he sometimes feels silly about how much he enjoys furniture/decor/tile/fabric shopping for our home. He likes to be involved and definitely has an opinion about how our home looks and feels. You’re not the only one, John! Promise! lol!

    He tends to go for more simple patterns in “manly” colors too. For him though, texture plays a huge role in fabric choices. He is always concerned with how a fabric feels, hence the reason he likes suede and velvet type fabrics.

    It took us hours to pick a fabric for our sofa because we bickered between feel and style. We found a compromise though. 5 hours later.

    As always, thanks for the dude’s perspective!

  4. says

    John – THANK YOU!! I loved this post! (Seriously, there were parts that still have me chuckling! “Come to papa.” and “I, for one, love rocks.” Bahahaha!) Giving us the male’s perspective and the way you break it down, is truly helpful for this gal. My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to fabric and our bedroom has been totally masculine for 10 years!! Aaaggghhhh! (Him: safe neutral solids and stripes. Me: longing for some natural, organic shapes w/ more movement and a pop of color.) After reading this I’m really excited to see if we can come to a compromise. Can’t wait to show him some of the swatches from this post to see what he thinks! PS. I like tree bark & rocks too! LOL!

  5. lisa acosta says

    Really great post! Clear, informative and still fun, like design sense… You guys should write a book! ;-) Woo hoo, can’t wait for CT!!

  6. Erika says

    Kudos to you for actually knowing what toile is! Impressive :)

    It’s nice to hear a man’s opinion on stuff like this.

  7. Andrea T says

    Excited to meet you tomorrow! Just an FYI that the Cincinnati Half Marathon is tomorrow at 8:00. The beginning of the race is downtown, but it doesn’t go past the convention center which is to the NW. Depending on where you’re staying, and how early you get to the convention center, you might have some road closures though.

    • says

      Thanks for the heads up. Makes me wish I were running! I think we’re within walking distance to the convention center so fingers crossed we’ll be good.


  8. MegS says

    Thanks, John!
    Like you, my husband is really involved in decorating our home. Sometimes the fabrics that he likes really surprise me, but this post helps me understand why some “girly” colors or patterns work for him while others don’t. Another thing I thought about the “floral” aspect is that my husband is obsessed with our bright, bold “floral” Anthro quilt, which is really more of a Moroccan medallion print (it’s the Alhambra quilt in apple green!). This doesn’t fall under your “organic” pattern category, but perhaps it’s the geometry and repetition that make it work. How do you feel about medallion patterns?

  9. says

    Love this post, John. My husband mostly doesn’t care, but sometimes he speaks up and helps me get out of my comfort zone! He loved these curtains from IKEA that had a grommet top and a few squiggly lines going up and down in neutral shades (the background is white/cream) and he LOVED them (I thought they were too retro). Anyway, we ended up trying them out in the living room and they looked so great we went back and bought them for all the other windows in the house! :-)

    See you guys in Cincy tomorrow (I’ll be the one too shy to say anything, ha), so I’ll say it now – I’m Kristen and I write the blog Kristen Loves Design and I’ve been reading your site since about post 20 or so…now I just have to practice saying that over and over today! :-)

  10. says

    Ooh, this post makes me want to go to U-Fab right. Now. And bring my husband! (He’s more opinionated about home décor than he cares to admit, too.) I saw on Instagram that you guys went to the little party they had to celebrate the remodel. What did you think? Is there lots more to choose from?

    We’re going to be picking out nursery fabrics soon, and your suggestions for blending the masculine and feminine will come in handy (we want to keep it sophisticated and gender-neutral-ish whether it’s a boy or a girl). Thanks, John!

  11. says

    John, you are not alone. My husband always makes decorating decisions with me…and he should. Since it’s OUR house I think it’s important that we BOTH like something that we are going to look at and live with everyday. I think this post is great and I’m glad you wrote it! There is another blog that I love (and will not name) and they have so much pink in their home (and I love it) but I look at it and go “what does the husband think about all this pink?”. We limit pinks to our daughters room. I actually find my style shifting to more masculine hues these days and I think it’s because I now make considerations for my husbands tastes.

  12. Joanne says

    So excited that you’re coming to Cincinnati. I didn’t order my book yet. Will the books for sale at the event at the pre-order prices?

    • says

      They’ll be set by the bookseller at the festival, so we’re not quite sure. My guess I’d that it won’t be quite as low as Amazon (for example) because brick & mortar stores have trouble getting that low. But who knows! Either way, you’ll get to get it earlier than Amazon could. :)


  13. fd says

    Thank you John. You have just confirmed what I always suspected; that I, a woman, have a man’s taste in fabrics and my boyfriend has a woman’s taste. :-D I have finally succumbed and accepted one or two small floral prints in our house.

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