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Leather: A Buyer`s Guide to Your Best Upholstery Investment

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

You can buy a leather sofa for $600, $6,000, or anywhere in between. They'll all seat three or four of your friends and family, so what's the difference? How do you know which one to purchase? Today, I'm going to talk to you about what to look for to get the most out of your leather furniture investment.

 

 

Let's Talk Hides

First, I'll give you a little background on hides. All leather hides have natural markings. Grazing brings the animals in contact with trees, bushes, insect bites and barbed wire, which can leave scratches and scars on the hide. The more marks on the hide, the more correcting has to be done. The fewer the marks on the hide, the more valuable the leather becomes.

Top grain refers to the top layer of the hide, which displays the natural grain markings of the animal's skin. Full grain is a term used to define the very finest top grain hides. They are so clear of scars and markings that they receive no repair work, and therefore receive little or no pigmented finish.

Splits are the bottom layer of hide. It is removed to acquire the desired thickness of top grain leather. Splits are commonly used in clothing and shoes. Splits are not structurally suitable for use in fine furniture.

 

Best Hides For Your Furniture Investment

Full aniline (sometimes referred to as naturally finished or naked leather) – the very finest and the most expensive full grain leather available for upholstery use. The cattle that produce this leather are usually European or South American and have been raised free-range at high elevations, away from insects and fences. These cattle are raised primarily for the hide. The beef is a by-product.

 

  • Look and feel: Full aniline displays all the natural grain and markings of the hide. It ages beautifully and develops a soft patina over time. Most sumptuous and supple leather; it's the one that “feels like butter in your hand.”
  • Care: Requires more care than other leathers; more difficult to clean
  • Expense: Full aniline upholstered furniture is the most expensive
    Ideal for: Low traffic areas. Full aniline is not easily cleaned, so it is best for buyers without children or pets.

 

Nubuck or brushed leather is often confused with suede. Suede, like splits, is not suitable for upholstery use. Nubuck leather is full or top grain leather that has had a special tanning process. It exhibits noticeable natural marks and grain variation.

  • Look and feel: Nubuck has a brushed look and feel, with a soft, lush nap.
  • Care: More durable than a true suede, but requires the most care of any natural leather.
  • Expense: Nubuck is generally more expensive than semi-aniline leather.
  • Ideal for: Because it is difficult to clean, Nubuck is best suited for light to moderate use by careful adults.

 

Waxed or distressed leather has a top layer of wax applied creating an antique, rugged look that will age gracefully over the years.

  • Look and feel: Natural markings are very apparent, and color variations add to its rustic beauty.
  • Care: Reasonably easy to clean with mild soap and warm water.
  • Expense: Depending on the finish technique, price varies from moderate to expensive.
  • Ideal for: High traffic areas – the distressed appearance hides most normal daily use.

 

Protected or semi-aniline leathers are the most commonly available. These hides are generally a by-product of the beef industry. Barbed wire, brands and stockyard fences frequently scar the hides in the process of raising cattle. Craftsmen in the tanneries sand out the damage and emboss the grain back into the hide, however the structural qualities of the leather are not lost in this process. A pigmented finish is then applied to the surface for protection from stains, to mask the repairs and to improve the consistency of the color from hide to hide.

  • Look and feel: More uniform color and texture; natural grain is still evident.
  • Care: Protected leather is the easiest leather to clean and care for.
  • Expense: Protected leather is the least expensive of the top grain hides. The amount of finish that must be applied determines the quality and price of the leather. The less pigmentation required, the more the leather feels like full-aniline and the more it costs.
  • Ideal for: Ideal for young families with children and pets, or for high-traffic areas.

 

The above leathers are the only types ever sold by Darrons of Arlington for use on upholstered furniture for seating. You may see other types of leather, like Bycast (a washable leather impregnated with resin that was originally developed for use in the hospitality industry). Other leather types are functional for dining chairs and occasional pieces, but in my opinion, they should never be used on upholstered furniture for seating.

 

Beware of the Least Expensive Furniture

Manufacturers of lesser quality furniture use Bycast or very inexpensive top grain on the top of the seat cushion and on the inside back. They use either the ‘split' or a ‘vinyl match' to cover the rest of the furniture. When we hear people complain that leather is hot in the summer and cold in the winter, we know they're talking about these heavily pigmented leathers. Because they are so heavily coated, the leather can't breathe. You're just sitting on a plastic coating.

Like a chain, leather upholstered furniture is only as good as the weakest link. It's worth it to spend the money for high-quality leather. You'll have furniture that will last for up to seven times as long as a very good fabric. It's a great value in the long run.

When you have time, stop into Darrons showroom. Our design staff will be glad to show you examples of each of these leathers. Of course, they will be upholstered onto some of the finest contemporary furniture available, so be prepared to be tempted!