Channel Tufting is the Throwback Upholstery Trend You’re About to See Everywhere

published Oct 9, 2018
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(Image credit: Anthropologie)

It’s kind of hard to innovate when it comes to upholstered furniture. Truth is, it’s pretty darn comfortable for the most part already. Sure, you can stain-guard the fabrics, introduce more finishes and add decorative flourishes like nailhead trim to the equation. But lately, I’m digging the throwback to the more graphic, modern lines of channel back pieces. This silhouette is part-retro, part-’80s even, and we’ve talked about it as a wall treatment before. Now the channel back seems to be giving traditional tufting a run for its money not just on walls—but on all types of furniture.

I first noticed this shift in the latest Anthropologie Home catalog, the cover of which featured this channel tufted bed set up. There’s something a little feminine about this particular iteration of the channel back design, which is probably due to its more rounded, scallop-esque shape. With this particular bed, you’re still getting all the benefits of an upholstered headboard—the ability to watch tv and read propped up comfortably. But there’s something fresher about the look. It feels more unexpected than a rectangular headboard with button tufting, no?

Another place you can give the channel back a go is in a living room. Sofa construction is starting to go this way as well, from larger sectional styles to tiny loveseats. On the whole, the look can feel very glam and almost ’70s-inspired, but it can also be cute and quirky, as in this transitional living room. It totally depends on the styling.

Note the width of the mini channels in this living room here—kind of a micro (pun intended!) trend within the larger channel back story.

(Image credit: Bella Tucker)

One of my favorite applications of the channel back is in a built-in banquette. Who doesn’t love booth seating at a restaurant? Add a channel back here, and your eat-in kitchen or dining area will look like a stylish brunch spot. Come to think of it: You really do see a lot channel backs in eateries, which just proves the point that hospitality pushes home design. So, when dining out, take notice of the inspiration around you! And yeah, a built-in would be ideal, but you could fake a set up like this with the right channel back settee.

Adding a channel back chair to your living room, bedroom or entry is probably the easiest way of trying this trend. You can probably find desk or dining chairs with this design too. Again, it’s just a little less traditional than button tufting and feels different.

A lot of what you see crafted in this silhouette is made of solid linens and velvets, the latter of which speaks to that whole ’70s vibe I mentioned earlier. I mean, how amazing is the brass base on this channel back swivel chair? But printed fabrics can work too. The key is to choose a pattern that’s not too busy and works with the verticality of the channels—not against it. Plaids, for example, probably wouldn’t be the the best choice.

(Image credit: Room & Board)

That being said, you can find horizontal “channels” on pieces as well. I personally think these work better on chairs (like the Room & Board options above) than on headboards or sofas, where you might be looking for more of an elongated effect. But to each his own.

Right now, channel back furniture is all over the market at different price points. Here’s what made my shopping list.

(Image credit: World Market)

Inspired by Mandy Moore’s custom master bedroom bed, I bought this green headboard without seeing the fabric or its color in person, and it didn’t disappoint.

(Image credit: CB2)

Pillows are always a good way to try out a trend. And this sienna color adds an extra richness to the style.

(Image credit: Overstock)

This chair’s pattern isn’t totally my style, but I still think it works. The scale of the print complements the vertical lines of the seat back instead of camouflaging them.

(Image credit: Etsy/New Again Uph)

Further proof that you can find just about anything on Etsy, here is a vendor that sells made-to-order kitchen banquettes.

The Chelsea Sofa, from $2,099

(Image credit: Joybird)

Talk about customizing your sofa situation. Joybird’s low slung, mini channel back design, the Chelsea, comes in 18 different fabrics with three wood finish options for its gold-capped legs.

(Image credit: Pier1)

A cute, small space-friendly Wingback chair with channel tufting in rich jewel tones? Sign us up.

What’s your take on this throwback trend? Would you bring it into your space?