If you thought having felines and nice upholstered furniture was an either-or proposition, think again. Based on their relative inability to destroy it, the best upholstery fabric for cats is a synthetic known as microfiber. It's not a "green" material, if that's important to you. You must decide between an eco-friendly or feline-friendly fiber.
Microfiber Upholstery Fabric
Microfiber consists primarily of polyester or nylon. It earned the term "microfiber" because those fibers are tightly knitted and extremely small, resulting in a velvet-like feel. Microfiber furniture is durable, easy to clean and stain resistant, although not stain proof. A quick vacuuming or once-over with a lint remover gets rid of cat hair. Microfiber's tight weave means that it's much harder for Kitty to sink his claws into it.
Microfiber upholstery comes in all sort of styles, including some that mimic the look of leather. You can find microfibers in various textures, which closely mimic natural fabrics. You might have shied away from certain fabrics in the past because you could predict that Kitty would shred them. With microfiber, you can choose similar-looking upholstery that shouldn't tempt the clawed critters. When choosing a microfiber fabric, remember that a checked or herringbone pattern can hide a multitude of feline furniture sins. Consider your cat's coat color. For example, light-colored furniture and dark-coated felines aren't a good mix, but colors close to your cat's fur won't make loose hairs so obvious.
If you don't cotton to the idea of using man-made fibers, there are some natural fibers and materials that aren't catnip to Kitty's claws. Leather might or might not work for you. Some cats love to scratch this surface, while others leave it alone. Jute is strong, natural and cheap. Although not the most attractive of natural fibers -- or the most comfortable to sit on -- it can withstand feline abuse.
Hedging Your Bets
Although cats are less likely to claw microfiber upholstery than other materials, that doesn't mean you should forgo deterring your cat from scratching your new furniture. Keep Kitty's nails trimmed and provide him with a suitable scratching post. You can try slipping nail caps on your cat, available at pet stores. If possible, keep Kitty out of the room with the new furniture unless you're there to supervise. You also can use slipcovers or throws over the furniture for protection, removing them when company comes.