Silk is one of the most desirable fibers used not only in clothing but also extremely popular in the use of high-end upholstery and window treatments.
Going beyond the looks and feel of silk, there are other characteristics one should consider. Silk is the strongest natural protein fiber and has moderate abrasion resistance and has good tensile strength allowing it to be stretched up to 15 % before breaking and it is considered to have good absorbency.
These factors can be beneficial yet also have a downside. Due to its tensile strength, upholsters tend to keep the fabric very taught. This tension will increase as the fibers absorb moisture and humidity, causing the fabric to expand and contract. If the fabric is exposed to air close to a saltwater body like the ocean, the salt will also be absorbed into the silk fibers and cause a rapid weakening and degrading of the fabric. Now add a little sunlight and you will give another reason for the failure of the silk.
I have seen upholstered silk furniture that is exposed to direct sunlight on an oceanfront home and just by lightly touching the silk, you can hear the silk crack, due to the dry rot of the fabric. At this point, it will take very little stress on the fabric to tear the fabric. A good example of this is the window treatments that were made of silk at the Newport Mansion. In time, just by hanging there, the drapes have shredded and have since been replaced.
Another observation I have seen is when using silk as a wall covering. Again, at an oceanfront residence in Boston. Shortly after the installation, the interior designer responsible for the installation contacted me regarding a problem they encountered. Opening the windows allowed moist, humid air into the unit causing the fabric to expand and cause ripples in the wall covering. Closing the windows and running the air conditioning lowered the humidity to the same degree as when the fabric was installed, pulling the fabric tighter and resolving the rippling problem temporarily.
Like all fabrics, there are pluses and minuses. One must weigh the benefits and consider any problems and issues that the use of certain fabrics will have both short-term and long-term to ensure that they are getting the outcome they desire. Just consider furniture placement in a room with direct sunlight exposure, especially if you are located in a waterfront area like Boston and will want to open windows occasionally for the fresh salt air.