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Selecting Fabrics And Finishes For Fixed Seating

By Anne Chapman

January 7, 2021

Northview Church 7725

The combination of fabrics and material finishes you choose give your venue its unique look and feel. At Irwin Seating, we offer a wide range of options for both, and can also, when needed, accommodate custom requests. The most important concern is that you choose fabrics and finishes that will hold up well to your venue's use and that will look their best from the day they are installed, and on through the years.

Ideal Chair Finishes

Plastic and Powder Coat

The type of chair style will determine what sort of finish is available. In many cases, a plastic or powder coat is used. These are available in a range of colors to fit the look and feel of your facility. Our chair finishes and fabrics are designed to complement one another. Many colors in our collection are made to fit the needs of colleges and professional sports teams. We have the shades that fit your school or team colors for a spirited look.


In addition to the choices above, laminate is sometimes used on tablet arms or end panels. Laminate can bring texture and color variation to a chair. Laminate surfaced products have lacquered edges to match the dominant color in the laminate. We offer over 40 standard laminate color options, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, we may be able to source a custom laminate for your projects.

Certain residential laminates are not available or appropriate for high-traffic public seating, so we take care to use the best laminate sources to provide a lasting and quality seating finish. We strive to work with you to create your signature look.

Wood & Wood Stains

Wood is a classic choice for seating and can meet a variety of style needs, while adding an upscale, vintage, or natural touch to your space. Many of our chairs, especially those for historic and renovated spaces, are wood. We offer red oak and maple for wood choices, with 16 standard stain colors to achieve the right look and feel for your space (to be used whether we’re restoring historic chairs or starting from scratch with a new venue). When properly taken care of, wooden chairs last and look beautiful for years to come.

Fabrics That Fit

Upholstery is usually the costliest component of a chair. Fabric costs vary widely, with prices running from $5 a yard to $100 a yard or more. Choosing the wrong fabric for the job can mean costly repairs or replacement later on. Doing thorough research here pays off throughout the life of your venue.

The Right Material For The Job

Pick fabrics that are appropriate for your facility and for the people who will use it. For instance, a private elementary school will want a luxe look for their auditorium; however, since the people who will be using it most are elementary students, a fabric that resists stains and wear is the better choice. Plush, luxurious fabric can be both costly and more challenging to keep clean. In outdoor venues, vinyl provides protection against moisture and sun degradation. Polyurethane, while durable, is not intended for outdoor use.

Once the customer has reviewed the fabric options online and chosen some favorites, we’ll have physical samples sent for them to feel and review under their own lighting.

Picking a Pattern

Should you choose a solid fabric or one with a pattern?

Irwin's chairs are durable and last for years. When choosing a pattern, think about whether it will still look stylish in 10 or 20 years. Avoid trends and go for classic options in order to get results that will look as good a decade from now as they do today.

When considering more unusual fabric patterns, think about how any pattern or color will look when used throughout a facility. A bold pattern, for instance, may look great on a small sample, but can be overwhelming when applied to a thousand chairs. Also, with patterns, it can be difficult to guarantee that the repeat will show up as intended. This can mean that each chair will look slightly different, leading to a disruptive appearance when repeated throughout your whole facility. It's like cutting out cookie dough; we have a pattern cut out on a machine, which will not always put the pattern in the same place.

In some cases, clients will have an idea of a specific emblem from a pattern that they want to appear in the same place. For instance, a client may want a coin emblem to appear top and center on a seat. This can be an arresting look when applied, but it's something that will also be more costly to achieve. This sort of precision requires hand cutting, which is more labor-intensive. Also, it will require using far more fabric to cover the same number of chairs.

Stripes are often tricky. Even a small amount of skew on the stripe can be very noticeable, which makes it far more challenging from an upholstering point of view.

At Irwin, we are dedicated to getting you the look and feel you want, and creating a space that will serve well for years to come. We have fabric specialists who can help you select an option that appeals to your budget as well as your theme. Get in touch today to start designing a space that works well for you.