Bring home an old New Orleans tradition with "summer dress."

Bring home an old New Orleans tradition with "summer dress."
Courtesy of International House Hotel

If you stayed at the Crescent City's International House back in the winter and then checked in again just recently, you probably noticed a transformation. For the past 20 years, the hotel has done "summer dress," adding white slipcovers to lobby furniture, dressing windows with white sheers, and decorating with banana, palm, and native ginger leaves. Not to be outdone, the staff dons stylish seersucker.

"International House is about New Orleans today, and the summer dress ritual gives our customers a visual taste of this place," explains owner Sean Cummings. "For generations, New Orleanians have practiced the tradition of transforming our homes in response to the high heat and humidity found in our Caribbean climate. As winter gives way to summer, formal wool rugs give way to sisal, sea grass, and airy cotton slip covers, allowing furnishings to breath and perspiration to steer clear of grandma's finery."

Why slipcover in summer? Because summer slipcovers offer both a visual and practical seasonal change, explains International House interior designer L. M. Pagano: "The hotel's public ‘winter dress' seating is upholstered in rich jewel-toned velvets and brocades during the cooler months. The white summer dress offers lighter, breezier visuals with which to welcome our guests during the heat and humidity of summer. It feels cooler on the skin, during this part of the season, to sit on something light and cottony."

Want to slipcover? Here are Pagano's tips:

Go for washability.

"Our slipcovers are washable," Pagano says, "something I would highly recommend for easy laundering and freshening up."

Keep the fit relaxed.

"Summer is traditionally a more casual, fun time of year, so try NOT making your fit too tailored or formal," the designer recommends. "It is a more forgiving approach in all ways and it's more fun, especially if your home already IS formal."

Texture matters.

"A good way to choose a summer fabric is to evaluate what will feel good to YOU if you were sitting on it in shorts or in a bathing suit," Pagano says. "Fabrics that have a high percentage of natural fibers—like cotton, linen (flax), or raw silk—wash and sit well. Think wash and wear. Summer fabrics from 100% manmade fibers tend not to have a welcoming hand (feel), and can encourage sweat and dirt. (The exception to this rule would be an outdoor rated chenille.) You don't want something too stiff for a slipcover."

Pre-wash your fabric!!!!!!

"When having washable slipcovers made, make sure that you pre-wash your fabric (yardage) before fabricating," Pagano urges. "This will ensure that you don't run into shrinkage issues later."

Get edgy.

"Have your interior fabric edges finished with an interlocking stitch so that your seams are secure and the integrity of your fabric is protected," Pagano recommends. "When washing these covers repeatedly, if the fabric edges are not secured, you will end up with what I call ‘shaggy dog' seams. They are messy, bumpy, and will shorten the life span of your slipcovers."

Wash but don't iron.

"Remember that a washed look done right (barely ironed or more preferably not ironed at all) is extremely appealing to flop down on," Pagano says, "and more in keeping with this casual, kickback time of year."

[Tip: Stretch your seams out straight when the slipcover is damp out of the washer, and then only partially dry it on low heat. Finish drying it laid out, not in the dryer. If the original fabric underneath the slipcover will not bleed color, finish drying your slipcover on the actual furniture.]

Modern vs. Traditional

"Using a welt or piping detail on your seams is a much more traditional visual," Pagano says, "while a mini welt, a blind or knife edge, a whip stitch edge, or a double top stitch (a plain seam with a straight line of stitching on either side of the seam), will give you a cleaner and more modern visual. If you prefer to have piping detail on your seams, make sure that it is not too stiff and won't curl up in the wash. I suggest piping out of the same fabric."

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