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November 03, 2013

By: Anh-Minh Le is a Portola Valley freelance writer

Alpaca fleece catching on in home furnishings

alpaca fabric used on fine furniture!

In her eight years of business, Healdsburg's Sandra Jordan has observed a pattern in the way designers purchase from her eponymous range of alpaca textiles. "Typically, they order a few cushions to see how it holds up, then maybe a throw, and then a couple of hundred yards for a bigger project," she says of the order escalation.

Indeed, increasingly, the luxurious fleece is appearing more prominently in interiors. Alpaca is being used for drapery, as a wall covering and to upholster furniture - not just for throws and other decorative touches.

Pure alpaca is lightweight and manages to be both soft and strong. The fleece is harvested from the camelid species that grazes mostly in the mountains of Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.

It is similar to fine cashmere, but with a silkier hand, and does not pill. The fleece contains no lanolin and is hypoallergenic. Designers appreciate that it works year round: It contains microscopic air pockets that allow for insulation and warmth during the colder months, as well as great breathability that keeps you cool in the heat.

The Sandra Jordan Collection launched in 2005, sourcing the finest fibers from Jordan's native Peru. Initially, there were only about half a dozen hues. Now, she offers more than 70. The product, dubbed Prima Alpaca, comes in solids and plaids as well as sheers, and is available at Shears & Window in the San Francisco Design Center ($135 to $150 per yard, to the trade). For her space in this year's San Francisco Decorator Showcase, held in April, local interior designer Martha Angus incorporated a couple of teepees made with Prima Alpaca in Red Pepper and Daybreak.

San Francisco designer Jiun Ho's recently released furniture collection, Jiun Ho IV, is entirely upholstered in Prima Alpaca. He and Jordan met years ago and hit it off; since then, says Ho, he has wanted to collaborate with her. With his new pieces inspired by trips to South America, it was an ideal opportunity.

"My furniture is well-tailored and streamlined, with simple, modern shapes and forms," says Ho. "For years, I've looked for fabrics that are luxurious, are comfortable, and stretch and drape beautifully. Alpaca is all of those things."

He continues: "I think it will become more popular as people become more educated about it."

In addition to using it in his latest line, Ho has been known to suggest alpaca to his clients for projects like a bedspread or upholstered headboard. Even with all of its benefits, it's a demonstration that the designer performs that usually seals the deal. As he tells it: "I pour water on it, and the water stays on top. If you wipe it up quickly, (the textile) is OK. The client will say, 'I can enjoy a glass of wine on it? Let's do it.' "

Anh-Minh Le is a Portola Valley freelance writer. E-mail: