Everything you need to know to score the best leather furniture for your needs:
At the of Iron & Oak Showroom, we routinely have guests asking for advice or help when it comes to choosing the right leather for their custom furniture project. When it comes to the best color or best finish, that depends on your style, your room, and your inspiration. But when it comes to the best types of leather for a sofa, loveseat, sectional, or chair, we’ve got a crash course for you:
Avoid these if you really want the best leather furniture:
As far as leathers go, bonded leather, ( or blended/reconstituted leather), is the lowest notch on the totem pole. Made by gluing bits of leather scraps and shredded hide fibers to a backing of cloth or paper, bonded leather exists for the sole purpose of getting away with calling itself “genuine leather”. Unlike its counterparts further down the list, bonded leather does not possess a high degree of longevity. Have you ever seen the leather on a sofa crack and split? Good. Now you know how bonded leather always ends up. Designed to for more disposable products, bonded leather is better suited for cheap belts, wallets, leather bound books, and dorm room furniture. If any of these are labeled “genuine leather”, chances are there is a second label specifying it is bonded leather.
A step above shredded hides glued to fabric, split leather is still a few cuts short of the full hide. Split leather is an umbrella term to describe hides that have been split in half, using the thickness to the manufacturer’s advantage. Cowhide is 5-10mm thick. By splitting the width, one hide can be used to cover the surface area of two. Often times split leather is embossed with a fake finish to give it a more natural, stippled, and higher-quality appearance, despite being made with half the materials provided. Like bonded leather, split leather is not as durable as a full hide’s worth of leather. However, it is certainly an improvement in the quality of the product.
When a salesman boasts that the product you’re looking at is top grain leather, they are secretly hoping you are uninformed. The ‘top’ doesn’t refer to ‘top quality’ or ‘top shelf’. The only difference between top grain and split leather is that it is harvested from the outer layer of an animal’s hide. When leather is split, there are two pieces derived from the process. They are the flesh side closest to the animal’s body, and the grain side closest to the air. As hides leave the tannery, the flesh side is relabeled as “split leather” while the grain side is called “top grain”. Top grain fibers are substantially denser than flesh side or split leather. Regardless, top grain leather is still using only half the material available to manufacturers.
For the BEST LEATHER FURNITURE, look for these options instead:
If top grain leather uses only the top half of a hide, then you may have figured out already that full grain leather uses the full hide. Nonetheless, full grain hide is often organized into two categories: semi aniline dyed and fully aniline dyed.
Semi aniline dyed leather is full grain leather that is dyed through and through before receiving a topcoat of paint or protective finish.
Fully aniline dyed leather is full grain leather that is dyed through and through but does not receive a topcoat.
So what’s the difference?
The topcoat exclusive to semi aniline dyed leather is designed to keep leather looking brand new – until it doesn’t anymore. Semi aniline dyed leather has a visual lifespan of 5-6 years before it will start to degrade. A common example of semi aniline dyed leather can be found in the leather interiors of cars. After degradation begins to occur, there is little room to improve the process of flaking and crumbling leather due to the nature of the protective finish. This is a great choice for offices or restaurants. It is the best leather furniture to look great for as long as it can before it’s time to update years down the line.
With fully aniline dyed leather there is no guarantee of longevity without the protective finish. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Leather is famous for being strong, useful, durable. Like a dark whiskey, fully aniline dyed leather only improves itself with age. Without a protective coating the leather will scratch and get beat up, but to many therein lies the true beauty of aged leather. It’s the perfect leather for a custom chesterfield sectional. Each tuft creases, stretches, and graciously accepts abuse over the years. It refines and strengthens itself while maintaining a robust look and feel.
Our final type of leather isn’t a single type of leather, but a technique sought after for special circumstances. Manufacturers apply coatings designed to be stain proof, or offering other benefits. Technical finished leather welcomes the modern advances in science to alter the longevity, finish, or resilience of natural leather. It’s a great fit for the clean lines of a mid-century sofa. An example of a technical finish would be the likes of Crypton Leather. Crypton Leather is a spray-on application that advertises an odor, stain, and bacteria resistant coating. Technical coats are ideal for homeowners who don’t mind dogs jumping on the furniture or have messy children that would be a nightmare for any untreated or stainable furniture.
Of course there’s always more to choosing which leather is right for your custom furniture piece. These tips are a great first step, but for that reason we’re always here to help design your dream sofa, sectional, or more. Check out our Facebook page for a ton of great examples. We can’t wait to see what you dream up.