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For a kiosk that I am building for a small public library, I am considering options for how to decorate it. The library's palette is rather weird, and I am unable to think of a suitable solid color.

However, I think a fabric finish would look and feel very nice. Inspired by products such as the following:

Fabric covered VR headset from google (Source)

Fabric covered speaker (Source)

My concern is with wear, cleaning, and durability. I intend for this kiosk to last 5-8 years, and the materials will be touched by users' hands but not sat on. Do you have experience with such a project? What should I watch out for?

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  • Hi Anas, what material is that? Can you provide a name and its properties? If you do not know these, I think it would be better if first you ask a question to identify that material, and ask this one after you have received a good answer. Welcome to Arts & Crafts!
    – Joachim
    Nov 7, 2022 at 14:16
  • @Joachim fair question! I do not know, I was planning on buying "random" fabric by feel, which in hindsight isn't very smart
    – Anas Malas
    Nov 7, 2022 at 17:47

3 Answers 3

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In my personal opinion fabric is not a suitable material for any object that's supposed to last 5 - 8 years while being handled by a large number of people. If you cannot detach the fabric and wash it, it will look and feel dirty.

The durability shouldn't be a big problem if you use synthetic fibers. There are also thick and sturdy upholstery fabrics that should easily withstand being touched for several years.

The cleaning is a problem, especially if the fabric is glued to wood and cannot be cleaned effectively. Natural fibers like cotton soak up the natural oil and sweat from peoples hands and quickly look dirty. Synthetic fibers have a tendency to amplify odors produced by bacteria that live on our skin, so the fabric will smell dirty.

It just needs a single child with chocolate or ice cream on their fingers to ruin the fabric if you cannot clean it.

As an alternative I suggest:

  • Completely water-proof the fabric after it's glued on. This may increase the cost for the entire project and the feel of the finished object will be very different.
  • Use a water-resistant structured paint or even a water-resistant wallpaper to cover the kiosk. Wallpaper poses the risk of bored children trying to rip it off, so it has to be applied with a strong glue instead of usual wallpaper paste. Speckled or structured paint is usually available in home construction stores either in spray cans or in buckets to be brushed on. Please read the instructions on the buckets because you may need specific equipment to properly apply the paint.

Here's a random example (source) of speckled paint in a spray can. The lids give you an idea how the paint looks like.

enter image description here

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    If you want the look of fabric, you can get fabric textured wallpaper that is pretty convincing from normal viewing distances and washable. Nothing is indestructable, especially from children. It's common to just keep spare wallpaper on hand for repairs. Texture paint doesn't hold up well to handling and isn't cleanable. Washable paint, like trunk paint, won't give the same classy appearance as fabric even if it's speckled. But, (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Nov 7, 2022 at 22:38
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    you could glue up a coarse fabric like burlap, and coat that with something like diluted glue that soaks in and makes it firm (or saturate the burlap and then apply it to the surface). That will provide texture that you can prime and paint with a washable paint. A speckled paint on the texture might even enhance the appearance of fabric.
    – fixer1234
    Nov 7, 2022 at 22:38
  • @fixer1234 Interesting! Have you seen any projects that saturate fabric then prime and paint it? I cant imagine it looking anything but like the american landlord special
    – Anas Malas
    Nov 8, 2022 at 6:17
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    @AnasMalas, that cracked me up. :-) I haven't seen it done on the scale of whole walls, but it's a common technique on items like baskets, panels on furniture, etc. Generally, the paint soaks in or they use a flat paint so it looks matte. If you were to use just a glossy paint, like trunk paint often is, it would look glossy with no texture. The cloth at least adds texture to improve on that. But generally, you don't apply the paint so thick that you're creating a plastic shell over the cloth. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Nov 8, 2022 at 6:42
  • The glue treatment uses diluted glue, and it just needs to make the cloth less flexible so the paint layer doesn't break up. Once it dries, the cloth still has some absorbency, and the paint can still soak into the cloth a bit. Just to avoid confusion, you let the cloth completely dry after gluing it up. It gets stiffer, but isn't like a plastic tablecloth. That's why you use a thick, coarse cloth like burlap.
    – fixer1234
    Nov 8, 2022 at 6:42
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Using hard thin covering materials like Formica or Linoleum come to mind. They are durable, are typically attached using glue, and come in a wide variety of colors and textures including those that resemble fabric.

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  • Formica was my primary choice, although I hadnt heard about Formica that doesn't just look like wood or a flat color. Ill look into what our local suppliers have. Thank you!
    – Anas Malas
    Nov 9, 2022 at 11:12
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If you can find the kind of glue to stick to both materials (kiosk and fabric), then it might be an interesting idea. No paint will be able to match the visual feeling of a fabric. And if the fabric has a strong 3D structure (read: upholstery), or if you combine different fabrics... wow!

However, as already pointed out, cleaning ans wearing will kind of destroy your project over time. The solution would be to apply a healthy layer of transparent coating (or several thinner healthy layers) over the kiosk at the end. Throughout the lifetime, the finishing might then be cleaned and additional finishing reapplied in order to extend the life of the kiosk indefinitely.

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