Tap Into New Kitchen Textile Options

The kitchen goes global as exotic patterns and organic, eco-friendly materials now pervade everything from potholders to place mats.
By: Rose Kennedy


FLOR modular carpet tiles can add texture to the kitchen floor.

FLOR modular carpet tiles can add texture to the kitchen floor.

Fragrant root place mats from Indonesia; swags made of bacteria-resistant suede-look fabric; and a napkin, table runner and seat cover set with four intermingled bright patterns. These are definitely not your grandmother's kitchen textiles. Maybe not even your older sister's.

"Ten years ago, the average consumer couldn't create a global style in the kitchen with just the click of a button," says Marissa Muñoz, international sourcing coordinator for Novica, an online store that's part of the National Geographic family that sells home decor handmade by artisans around the world. "Back then, you'd either need to travel to exotic locations to purchase directly from the artist or perhaps find something at an expensive boutique or department store. With the onset of the Internet and the ability to work directly with artists around the world, we're able to find beautiful works of art at affordable prices. Consumers can also connect to the person who made the item and know the tradition behind it."

Affordable international flair isn't the only new wave in kitchen textiles. Recent technological, ecological and design advancements all make it easier to incorporate a variety of fabrics into your kitchen decor. "The kitchen is full of hard, cold and slick surfaces — glass, wood, stainless steel and ceramic," says Deborah Burnett, residential design spokesperson for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). "The savvy use of textiles is the best way I know to add a softening touch and to give the kitchen that 'heart of the home' look."

Homeowners may also benefit by developing new kitchen display and storage habits no matter what their taste in textiles says Burnett, also an interior designer and licensed building contractor in Nashville, Tenn. Below, Burnett, Muñoz and Emily Main, associate editor for the independent, nonprofit consumer newsletter The Green Guide, examine the latest textile options and share tips for making them work in your kitchen.


Organic kitchen textiles are becoming more common as well, and are a choice you can feel good about, says Main. Just don't expect a wide selection or many bright colors. "Usually, companies that make organic textiles won't use chemical dyes and they tend to be small operations," she says, "so no single one offers a huge array of products."

Online retailer Native Organic Cotton sells napkins, place mats, potholders and even a tea cozy handwoven from organic cotton on antique shuttle looms in its California facility. Rawganique.com offers napkins, kitchen towels, oven mitts and the like made from organic hemp. While the former has mostly muted tones, the latter does feature some deeper, richer colors — including blueberry, burgundy, forest green and russet orange — all made from biodegradable fiber-reactive dyes.



Smith+Noble London Shades soften kitchen windows.

Smith+Noble London Shades soften kitchen windows.

"The hemp feels similar to linen and has a finer drape than cotton, which can be a little stiff," says Main, who also recommends hemp for kitchen area rugs. "It's a hearty fabric for high-traffic areas."

Keep in mind, too, that there are dozens more companies selling organic fabrics than those that make, say, organic swags or potholders or place mats. "So you can always buy the fabric and then make what you need or have it tailored," says Main.




VivaTerra's cushy sweater rug is an eco-friendly, soft accent.

VivaTerra's cushy sweater rug is an eco-friendly, soft accent.

Just a few of the hot global artisan textiles from novica.com include a Mexican Zapotec wool table runner and patchwork Andean highland-inspired potholders. "Handmade items are easy to mix with your decor," says Muñoz. "My suggestion would be to start with a must-have piece and work around that, choosing items that have similar colors. But if the original item is very colorful, you can choose another base color and work the original piece into that scheme. For example, you could easily mix Indonesian fragrant-root place mats with a beautiful Thai Akha tribe wall hanging. The natural colors of the place mats blend nicely with the weave and details of the wall hanging."

Another idea: "Mix a beautiful Peruvian olive wood bowl with a Mexican Zapotec wool table runner," she says. "The natural grain of the woods will blend well with the naturally dyed fibers of the table runner."

On the other end of the spectrum from individual global artisans is another kitchen textile trend: major American retailers offering entire lines of coordinated kitchen textiles, from seat covers and area rugs to oven mitts. "Pottery Barn, Target, HomeGoods and even Kmart are now well aware of how precoordinated goods appeal to homeowners," says Burnett. "If you want the appeal of the diverse fabrics but don't trust your instincts, you might look at what they have to offer. It's a very sophisticated approach to marketing and is a no-fail way to incorporate several patterns into one kitchen, which is the look for today."


Even if you're completely up-to-date with place settings of batik, hemp or bright cotton paisley, one textile habit can set your kitchen's look back decades, says Burnett. "Don't leave a cloth on the table or set the place mats and cloth napkins out between meals," she says. "That's a strictly 1960s- and '70s-era habit. Today, your design depends on the wood or the wooden veneer of the table to complement the cabinets and lend a warm ambiance to the room. You don't want to cover it up, or it can't do its job."

Instead, Burnett recommends keeping a tall, deep basket or ceramic canister at the center of the table or nearest the counter you use to fix snacks on and keeping your place mats rolled "hot dog style" inside. "That way you can just grab and go and then put them back when you're done," she says. "Within two weeks, you can train everyone in the family, and your table or counter will have that clean and unobscured look that we're going for in today's kitchen design."


While textiles are a fine way to add texture and warmth to your kitchen, they're also an open invitation to unhealthy airborne particulates. Whether it's finely processed matter from a box of powdered sugar or incomplete combustion from a candle flame, particulates float down and land on soft surfaces, where they have incredible staying power, particularly on materials like old-fashioned velvet or ruffled cotton curtains.

For Burnett, the solution is a proprietary technology — crypton fabric with stain, liquid, bacteria and odor resistance integrated into every fiber. "It comes in thousands of colors and textures — even suede looks — and still drapes so well you can use it for window treatments and seat covers," says Burnett. "It does have a bit of sheen to it, but it doesn't squeak."

While Crypton products aren't available off the shelf, it's a simple matter to order the fabric and have it custom sewn into whatever you'd like.

Burnett says another way to prevent particulates is to custom order wipeable place mats from an outfit known as Custom Laminations, a fabric finisher based in Paterson, N.J. "You select the fabric and send it to them, and they quote you a price per mat [for the vinylizing process] that's typically $8 to $20," she says. "The mats aren't shiny, and they wear for a very long time in any fabric that works with your design."


Deborah Burnett
Design Services, Inc.

Marissa Muñoz
Novica Global Art and Home Décor

Custom Laminations

Crypton Super Fabrics

Native Organic Cotton

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