Similar to the love one develops for a well-worn leather jacket, an aged leather sofa or chair develops its own patina and texture that just builds such a lovely character. And that fallacy that leather is a cold texture is so untrue as it lovingly warms to your body in seconds.
When purchasing a sofa or recliner (or renovating an entire room), determine your home’s style (for comfortability or a display piece), the type and amount of traffic, and will pets and children have unfettered access? Once you have in mind your pre-requisites, understand the terminology that will assist in the purchasing process:
Type of Grain is the hide’s surface below the hair. A more detailed description follows below.
Aniline is a particular method of leather dying process used with soluble dyes to preserve the hide’s natural surface. Since any visible pores, scores or blemishes will be visible, only high-quality leather is suitable for this dying process and is the softest and most expensive.
As leather ages, it will develop a patina from the persons’ oils and direct or indirect light which ultimately adds character and richness to the furniture
Because leather is a natural material, no hide will ever be exactly alike in color and markings. Be sure to pull and stretch your swatches for an idea of what the leather will look like when upholstered on the furniture frame.
Understanding the Leather Process for Furniture
When researching designers or manufacturers of leather furniture, the cost of a piece has a lot to do with the leather’s origin. What does that mean?
The hides quality is a result of genetics (the breed of cow) and environment (hot climates breed biting insects leaving scars on the animals’ hides; cold climates will not have this issue and breeds raised in this climate will have more protective hair and thicker skins.
The location of the hide when cut will determine the quality of the leather. A small percentage of the hide is considered the highest quality which drives up the cost. Tanneries buy hides in bulk orders that contain various levels of quality based on, again, breed and environment. Classifications of grades usually are three levels: usually first, second or third grade.
Interestingly, grades are categories even by countries’ treatment of livestock:
First Grade: Southern Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Northern Italy
Second Grade: Northern Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, United States
Third Grade: Austalia, Africa, South America, Asia including China
Obviously, the highest quality furniture is upholstered with the top grade.
Tanneries deal with 4 types of leather:
1. Full Grain – the top layer of the hide, it’s the highest quality and toughest of the layers and comes with all the imperfections. Because it absorbs body oils quicker and will develop the beautiful patina that many people love.
2. Top Grain – second-highest grade and is split from the top layer. The surface is sanded to get rid of imperfections. The leather is smoother and is used to produce suede and nubuck. High–end Handbags and jackets are normally made from this grade.
3. Corrected Grain (Bottom Cut/Split) – Better known as genuine leather and comes from the skin layers that remain after the top is split off and come from the corium layer. The surface is usually spray-painted and embossed. Mostly used with furniture back and sides, jackets, handbags footwear.
4. Bonded Leather – Lowest and cheapest of the grades; it is the leftovers of the hide including dust and shavings. The leftovers are bonded together using polyurethane or latex, rolled out into a sheet, and then spray painted to look like full or top grain leather. Used for making furniture, bookbinding, and other fashion accessories.
To avoid future heartache, manufacturing experts in the industry advise to be wary of:
Manufacturers that use “Leather” made from bonded leather or vinyl on any part of the furniture (using cost-cutting measures) will soon crack and deteriorate as well as noticeable changes in the color, textile, and appearance
American or European companies that have parts of their leather furniture made in China where cost-cutting and quality cutting methods are and if the hides consist of medium or poor quality. Do your due diligence on the company’s manufacturing location and construction methods.
This certainly doesn’t apply to our blog readers, but finally, inexpensive will always, in the long run, never be worth the money saved. Poor quality hides and shoddy construction will ultimately have you revisiting a manufacturer in due time. As a generational investment, always confirm the grade of the leather as being full or top grain.
Other elements to consider when purchasing quality furniture:
1. How the joints are constructed (glued and screws, no staples)
2. The connection of legs, backs, and arms
3. The suspension system that holds a person’s weight. The 8-way hand-tied coil spring system is considered to be the best. It’s labor-intensive but holds the longest lifespan of your sofa or chair.
4. Seat Cushions and Filling Material which determines how comfortable is the furniture. Fillings consist of foam, foam and filling, innerspring and down plush (most luxurious of the fillings)
5. When it comes to the frame materials of the furniture, most manufacturers use the Kiln-dried process which removes nearly all the moisture from the wood to prevent twisting and warping. High-end furniture manufactures will even use knot-free wood to help with the life of the frame.
Quality hardwoods such as oak, walnut, ask, maple, hickory is more expensive will stand the test of time. Plywood has been gaining more interest with furniture makers because of its durability and not as costly but professionals warn of the switch and bait in using particle board, composite board, or fiberboard which are much weaker materials.
Presenting The Best of The Best
To guarantee your satisfaction, it is advised to buy from a company that specializes in the manufacturing of leather furniture built to last and works only with quality leather. Standards in accepting only the best in Leather quality, superior construction in the framing, and craftsmanship.
The Industry’s List of High-End Design and Manufacturing Companies who strive or surpass in meeting those standards include:
· American Heritage Leather North Carolina based manufacturing company
· Classic Leather U.S based company, built by hand since 1966
· Comfort Designs by Klaussner Features over 75 Top Grain Leathers ranging from
traditional, transitional, contemporary and retro styling
· Eleanor Rigby manufactured in Mexico
· Fjords by Hjellegjerde Norway manufacturers
· Interior Mark which is now Century Furniture
· IMG Comfort = European manufacturers of leather recliners and sofas
· Leathercraft Furniture located in the highlands of Western North Carolina
· Natuzzi – Italian based company home collections
· 75- year-old Canadian company Palliser Furniture
· Roche Bobois – designer and retails high-end furniture and accessories out of Paris, France
· Stickley Fine Leather Collection – based out of Manlius, NY
· Stressless by Ekornes Norway based design and manufacturing
· W. Schillig – founded in Germany offers classic European style with a refined
Care and Maintenance
Here’s some sage advice from leather professionals on caring for your leather furniture:
1. Avoid oil soap…even saddle soap will stain and darken the leather.
2. Don’t use soap or detergent (including dishwashing liquid), no matter how mild. Leather furniture doesn’t have the ability to replace oils like our skin and will eventually become brittle, dry, and damaged.
3. Avoid placing leather furniture in direct sunlight. Extreme temperatures may cause the leather to dry and crack. Don’t place leather next to air conditioners or radiators.
4. Blot spills quickly with clean terry cloth towels or paper towels. Talcum powder or baking powder will help absorb grease or oil spills. There are a number of leather furniture cleaners that are available, but to preserve your furniture, your best bet is to hire a professional.
5. With new leather furniture use a professionally applied leather protector. Once furniture has aged, have it cleaned professionally along with an application of leather protection.
6. Keep the furniture free of dust and occasionally wipe with a barely damp cloth
Our family once owned a 40-year-old black leather couch large enough for two adults to lie on, a lot of entertaining and fellowship centered around that sofa; sadly, a few years ago, flood damage destroyed the wood frame. Lovers of leather will agree that there is no other textile that will withstand years of use and age beautifully than furniture upholstered with quality leather and materials. -AJ
Please share your thoughts on your favorite leather pieces in the comment section below or on Twitter!
Thank you for the incredible source material from the following sites:
Wellington’s Fine Leather Furniture – Definitive Guide To Buying Leather Furniture
HGTV – Caring for Leather Furniture
Octane Seating – Leather Buying Guide
Much Appreciation to these Photographers
Leemelina08 – white leather lounge and chairs
Michael Schwarzenberger – White chaise
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Joseph Mucira – Leather headboard
Steve Art – leather seating up close
Peter H – Classic Leather Furniture
Angela Yuriko Smith – Chihuahua on Leather
Vanessa Kintaudi – Suede Leather Couch
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