The cool, smooth touch of leather. The grainy, textured feel of shagreen. The crisp, sleek look of acrylic. If fabrics and textiles make us feel giddy like Amy Adams in Enchanted (read our fabric and textile guide here), then hard goods make us feel proud, sensual, and grounded—like how Beyoncé must feel mid hair flip during a concert:
Alright, so maybe we’re fibbing about our relationship with the Queen B, but we are an expert in hard goods. Hard goods make up the majority of furniture and decor we place in our homes. Hard goods define the spaces we live in, and they also define our personal design style. The Kuotes has created this guide as part of The Designer’s Handbook as a field guide for all things hard goods—from different types of wood to different grades of leather to product origins to product care. We, of course, encourage you to read through this post in full, but we also want this post to be your return location for all questions and concerns about hard goods, so don’t be afraid to whip out the Ctrl-F and find whatever answer you might be looking for in your day-to-day projects. Can’t find something? Contact us, and we’ll update this post to accommodate your needs. Let’s get started.
What is acrylic?
When you hear the word “acrylic,” your thoughts may jump around: acrylic paint, acrylic nails, acrylic glass. Acrylic is a chemical compound that can be manipulated to fulfill a wide variety of purposes. So, what does acrylic mean for interior design and shopping at KKH? When we deal with acrylic, we actually deal with acrylic thermoplastic—a clear, shatter-resistant material with an appearance of glass that is shaped into furniture. We are lovers of acrylic at the Kuotes, so you will find a wide array of gorgeous acrylic furniture at Kathy Kuo Home.
There is a common misconception that acrylic is a cheap material. This is because some acrylic is made by extrusion, an inexpensive process in which liquid plastic is pressed into sheets with rollers, leaving the acrylic soft and filled with air bubbles or cloudiness. Beware of cheap acrylic! What you want in your home is cast acrylic material. Cast acrylic is the only high-quality acrylic we support at the Kuotes, and it is formed during a perfected chemical process in which liquid plastic is pressed between pieces of a glass mold and then gradually heated.
Cast acrylic can be bought at several grades: US grade acrylic is very thick and has exceptional clarity (think of the “glass” used in aquariums—that’s US grade acrylic). We use US grade acrylic for many of our products, including our Hollywood Regency acrylic hair-on-hide desk. Notice the thickness of acrylic that we use: we require a minimum of 1-inch thick acrylic. The thicker and clearer the acrylic, the more exponentially expensive the acrylic will be. If you’re at all confused, just think of a diamond ring. The price difference between a 2-carat and 3-carat ring is exponential; acrylic pricing works the same way. A few of our products, like our acrylic blue mohair velvet dining chair, are Italian grade. Italian grade acrylic is a whole new level of gorgeous and has a crystalline look to it.
When to use acrylic:
The crisp, transparent nature of acrylic furniture makes for a bold modern look. Due to how acrylic is shaped and cast, acrylic pieces tend to have a modernist simplicity featuring straight lines or simple geometrical shapes. You will find a lot of our acrylic furniture in our Modern Classic collection, but an acrylic piece can also add an eclectic edge to styles like Hollywood Regency or French Country. Some other advantages of acrylic? Acrylic is a lighter and much stronger material than glass, and it’s also much clearer than glass. Acrylic allows 92% of visible light to pass through it, which adds a bright, clean, and airy feeling to a space. Use acrylic to make a space look more open and less densely filled with furniture.
How to care for acrylic:
One other misconception about acrylic is that the material will yellow or crack. While this can be true of some plastics, acrylic is actually an extremely durable material that is long-lasting and can deal with sun exposure. Use a fresh, super soft damp cloth every time you clean your acrylic surface. It is possible to scratch acrylic, so NEVER use scouring compounds or chemical glass cleaners such as Windex. Basically, pretend you’re cleaning a baby’s face. And if your acrylic were to get scratched, contact us for our list of recommended furniture medics near you! Unlike glass, scratches on an acrylic surface can be buffed out.
What is capiz shell?
Capiz shell comes from the windowpane oyster, a species predominantly found in the shallow waters of India, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Capiz shell is an extremely versatile good, as it’s used for windowpanes, glue, chalk, varnish, and a variety of home goods.
When to use capiz shell:
Naturally, shell decor looks best in coastal homes, and you’ll find it incorporated into our Coastal Beach collection. Add capiz shell to your accessories to weave a subtle touch of nautical into your design (to learn more about nautical design, read our article here), or make a statement with capiz and use it as your material for a two-door chest cabinet or a grand chandelier, like in the photo above.
How to care for capiz shell:
Routinely wipe down your capiz shell piece with a soft damp cloth.
What is ceramics?
Close your eyes, let out a deep sigh, and imagine Patrick Swayze wrapping his arms around your shoulders as you shape pottery. For most of us, that’s all we really need to know about ceramics, but for those of you unimpressed by the herculean limbs of the Swayze, read on…
Ceramics is really an umbrella term for stoneware, earthenware, bone china, and terra cotta. Each of these ceramic types are made from materials that are mined from the ground and then shaped, painted, and fired in a kiln. The ceramic process is thousands of years old with the oldest ceramic artifact being a ceramic statuette of Venus created in 29,000 BCE. Ceramic material can be naturally-colored and left unglazed, like terra cotta, or it can be colored, shaped, and then glazed in a high gloss or matte finish, such as our hexagon-pierced ceramic garden stool. Porcelain will be included under this ceramic section as well. Porcelain is composed of super fine clays that are fired at extremely high temperatures to ensure a denser, harder, and white ceramic. Additionally, ceramic products at KKH are triple fired for added luster and shine.
When to use ceramics:
Traditionally, you might think of ceramics for flooring, but the Kuotes adores the versatility of ceramics across furniture and decor. Ceramics can be placed both indoors and outdoors, so one of our favorite uses is the ceramic garden stool. Place a few on your patio for additional seating or as side tables for placing glasses and a pitcher of summer sangria. You can also bring your ceramic garden stools indoors and cluster them to be used as a coffee table. Ceramic is a great material to add into your home decor: Adorn an empty shelf with a ceramic Buddha, or brighten a room with ceramic vases filled with peonies. Bone china ceramics is reserved for high-end serving ware. And here’s a tip: real bone china (like ours at KKH) will have a luminous transparent effect when held up to the light.
How to care for ceramics:
As a general rule…don’t drop it? Otherwise, ceramic is an easy hard good material to work with. For indoor care, a routine dusting is best. If you’re using one of our terra cotta or stoneware pitchers for holding plants, don’t forget to add a metal liner as decorative vases are not meant to hold liquids over a long period of time. Most of our ceramic garden stools are made from earthenware ceramic and can be left out above freezing temperatures year round, but below freezing temperatures will cause the ceramic garden stools to freeze. If your ceramic piece is outside and collects dirt, washing with a mild soap and warm water should do the trick.
What is concrete?
When you think of concrete, the beauty of interior design may not be the first thing to come to mind… but the Kuotes challenges you to think again. The Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, the Pantheon in Rome—all of these breathtaking constructions were created from concrete, and more and more frequently, we’ve seen concrete implemented into gorgeous home design. The possibilities are endless: concrete can be formed into almost any shape, and it can be stamped, stained, polished, or coated to suit a variety of different looks and design styles.
When to use concrete:
Cement your style. (See what I did there?) Concrete is the most commonly-used man-made material in the world, so it should be unsurprising that concrete works best in our Industrial Loft style. (But did you know that the warmth of concrete also looks great in a French Country cottage environment too? Need proof? Check out this amazing chandelier). Concrete is a great choice for bringing an urban industrial material into the home in an unexpected way with your furniture and home decor. Add a concrete lighting fixture to your kitchen or dining room to use concrete’s structured and utilitarian properties to create a modern industrial atmosphere. Concrete tables and shelves also provide optimal storage and workspace while creating an industrial space. When designing with concrete, use lots of white and other light materials to create an interesting juxtaposition that actually lends to an airy atmosphere.
How to care for concrete:
While no material is truly maintenance free, concrete furniture is about as close as it gets. Dusting or wiping with a damp cloth will keep your concrete clean. Most of our concrete pieces are created with a metal armature underneath and concrete paste adhered on top. The result is a much lighter concrete product, but most of our concrete products will form subtle cracks over time. Do not fret! Hairline cracks actually add to the rustic charm of the product, and they are intentional and by no means a defect (nor does cracking alter the integrity or safety of the material).
What is leather?
Luxury loves leather. From leather handbags to leather shoes to leather jackets, leather is a statement material that adds richness and texture to almost any design style. Leather, as most people know, is created by tanning animal rawhide, and because of its durability, it is used to make a variety of everyday goods. What many people don’t know, however, is that leather comes in a variety of grades, and each grade of leather has unique qualities and pricing.
Here’s your guide to leather: Full grain leather is the best leather that money can buy. Full grain leather comes from the top layer of the hide, and the natural surface burnishes and becomes richer with use. Keep in mind that this leather comes at a very high price point, and due to its tough texture, it needs to be broken in and can be uncomfortable for furniture use. Top grain leather is another high-quality leather that is split from the top layer and then sanded and refined. Top grain leather is strong and durable and is used for the majority of our KKH products due to its flexible, smooth, and breathable qualities that are great for furniture. Genuine leather or split leather is a cheaper, softer leather that is pulled after the top layers of hide are split off. Genuine leather is typically used for detailing and for making suede products, but the Kuotes suggests to never buy genuine leather grade furniture due to its low quality and durability. Bonded leather is a nice way of saying “faux leather,” and it is typically made from the remnants of hide blended with other synthetic materials. Bonded leather does not last long and should be avoided; it’s fine for a leather keychain, but we do NOT want our sofas made from it.
Hair-on-hide is another form of leather that you’ll see at Kathy Kuo Home. Hides are made from cowhide that goes through a special tanning process that ensures that the skin and hair gets soft and remains odor-free. Hides are then dried and can be dyed to resemble zebra or tiger skins.
When to use leather:
Leather acts as a natural, neutral element that adds elegance to almost any design style. Leather is also one of the most durable materials, which is why we always recommend it for families with large dogs or young children that can’t deal with the headaches of cleaning traditional fabric upholstery. Leather should always work as a statement or accent piece that brings together a room. Avoid having too many leather pieces in one room (you want your leather to read “classy comfort”—not “crude cowboy”), and be sure to layer in texture by dressing a leather piece with interesting accent pillows. The Kuotes encourages you to explore leather’s versatility as well: a traditional leather chair and ottoman makes the perfect spot for Mr. Husband to kick back and read the WSJ, or place a white leather chair next to your vanity for ideal seating while you prep for your day.
How to care for leather:
For your day-to-day care, wipe leather with a dry cloth and vacuum crevices with an upholstery attachment. Leather also wants to be treated right—that means keeping leather out of the sun (can no one else relate to sensitive skin?) and applying an occasional leather conditioner, such as Leather Honey. For spills, wipe up with a dry cloth. Good leather is naturally water repellent so using water or soaps or cleaning products may damage the leather more than the initial spill itself.
What is shagreen?
Shagreen is a cherished untanned rawhide that typically comes from sharks, rays, or dogfish. Shagreen was a praised material for many ancient civilizations—including ancient Egyptians who used it for headdresses, and the Chinese Han Dynasty and Japanese samurai who used it for the hilts of swords. Shagreen was then brought into the spotlight once again as part of the Art Deco movement in France, made famous by furniture designers like Clement Rousseau and Jean-Michael Frank. While we love the history and the gorgeous pebbled texture of this material, the shagreen on KKH products is a high quality faux shagreen made from leather and resin. Faux shagreen has become an industry standard and is much more durable and repairable than real shagreen (and, of course, it is much more environmentally friendly to endangered sharks and rays).
When to use shagreen:
The Kuotes absolutely adores shagreen! The reason? The small, granular surface of shagreen flavors a room with moody texture that makes for a rich, delectable space. Shagreen pairs well with several other textures, and its variety of shades offers a vivid balance of pattern and color. Shagreen has an eclectic look, so it can find its way into many design styles, but you’ll frequently see it in our more bricolage collections, such as our Coastal Beach and Global Bazaar styles.
How to care for shagreen:
The best upkeep for our shagreen is to dust with a dry cloth. Do not let spills linger. If anything gets into the crevices of your shagreen, you can clean with a wet toothbrush and then dry with a cloth. As with leather, do not apply soap or cleaning products to your shagreen pieces.
What is wood?
We’ll assume here that everyone knows that wood comes from trees… but when searching through product, distinguishing between different terms associated with wood can be tricky. Below we’ve outlined some of the basic wood terms you’ll find while shopping at Kathy Kuo Home.
Distressed Wood: Distressed wood in interior design is like the ripped jean of fashion. Our manufacturers deliberately sand, dent, or scrape the finish off of a piece to give it a weathered and worn appearance. This look adds nostalgia to the home and creates a rustic, “lived-in” look while maintaining high-quality wood that isn’t actually old (we don’t want your furniture falling apart on you!).
Petrified Wood: Assuming you don’t take your two-by-fours with you when you go to the theater for a scary movie, the term “petrified” might seem a bit odd for describing wood. But it’s actually really cool! Technically speaking, petrified wood is a fossil. It is formed when plant material is buried under sediment and turned to stone from the rich groundwater as inorganic minerals replace the organic plant material. Alright, science class is over. What you really want to know is how to make petrified wood look great in the home. You’ll see petrified wood in more than one of our collections because its neutral palette and textured look serves as a great accent piece for many styles. That being said, our favorite place for petrified wood is in the interior loft. This material mixes the best of the best: earthy, natural, warm, rich, inviting, and luxurious. Petrified wood from KKH is all naturally found and takes around 5000 years to formulate, therefore, it definitely comes with a more premium price tag—but most designers swear by it and feel justified with the price-to-rarity ratio.
Reclaimed Wood: When people use the word “reclaimed,” your brain may jump to “used.” And from a technical standpoint, this is correct. But don’t worry! Buying reclaimed wood is not like buying your sister’s hand-me-downs. Reclaimed wood is salvaged from old destroyed buildings that used wood at a quality no longer available for purchase elsewhere. This reclaimed timber is stronger and has denser growth rings than the younger wood being taken to mills today, making for a much richer and textured body that is also more durable than newly processed wood. Reclaimed wood is also a great environmental choice since recycled wood is from buildings slated for demolition. By making a reclaimed wood purchase, you’re actually saving trees!
When to use wood:
Wood pieces have such variety that a piece can work in multiple design styles. More masculine wooden pieces can be found throughout our industrial loft style, and it’ll add a fresh modern twist that mixes together nature and industry. Wood can also create a serene and airy atmosphere in the French Country home, and the Kuotes loves big French Country wooden tables or large wooden cabinets and dressers for the bedroom. Regardless of where or in what style, wood adds warmth, richness, and texture to a room and connects a space to the outside world.
We also love us a lacquer (as does the rest of the world—just read our article about Kips Bay). Lacquer is a clear or colored wood finish that dries by solvent evaporation or a curing process that produces a hard, durable finish. The lacquered look is in right now. Lacquered walls allow your room to feel refined, classic, and unexpected all at once. The durable finish also makes lacquer great for high traffic rooms that may take a beating.
How to care for wood:
For all of our wood products, our go-to is Modern Masters’ Dead Flat Varnish. Apply a few thin coats of the varnish with a dry soft sponge to protect the wood. And don’t worry—applying this varnish will not leave a sheen; instead, the varnish will retain the wood’s natural beauty while enhancing the grain (keeping you safe from splinters!) and preventing drying and cracking. If you want to apply a wax, the Kuote‘s favorite is Howard’s Feed-N-Wax. For upkeep, make sure to use coasters and placemats to prevent unwanted stains and marks. To clean, water and a mild soap solution is perfect for any smudges.