Leather Couch Conundrum: Our Guide to Leather Upholstery
It’s not a secret that Betsy is not a leather couch fan. Pillows and blankets slip and slide on their surface and are sticky in the summer. Plus, they scratch easily. But many of our clients love leather sofas, and for some, this piece of furniture is non-negotiable. With all the different kinds, it can be hard to figure out how to choose a leather sofa, especially which type of leather to buy.
To take the confusion down a level, here’s our conundrum-busting guide (thank you, Shinola!) to leather upholstery:
Full-grain leather is top-of-the-line leather crafted from the outer layer of the hide. It contains densely packed fibers with a finer grain. Usually, only the hair on the hide has been removed, leaving natural imperfections in the material.
Full-grain leather without imperfections is very rare and highly prized in the leather goods world. It’s praised for its high durability because of its natural production process and changes color slightly over time with continued use. Full-grain leather is most often found in saddles, footwear, and upholstery. Many high-end leather producers also use it in their products. This is going to be a really expensive option.
According to Shinola, top-grain leather is a cut of leather almost identical to full-grain. Still, the major difference is that top-grain leather has been sanded or buffed so that all perfect imperfections are removed. The sanding process results in leather that can be easily dyed or shaped. Top-grain leather is also taken from the top layer of the hide. Top-grain leather is still considered high-end leather, and it’s used in many consumer products: wristwatches, handbags, wallets, book casings, upholstery, and shoes.
Genuine leather is down the list in terms of quality, and genuine leather is crafted from any layer of the hide. There is no specification for it. The leather goes through a good sanding or buffing process, removing imperfections. Genuine leather is typically used for belts, clothing, footwear, and upholstery.
Split-grain leather is cut from the lower parts of the hide. It’s called “split grain” because you use the bottom material after you split the hide. It’s not as strong as full-grain or top-grain, but it can still serve a valuable function as material for shoes, purses, and sofas. This type of leather is also used to create suede.
Photo: Joss & Main
Bonded leather is a term that describes a material that is anywhere from 10-90% leather. It’s manufactured from a lot of different scraps. Bonded leather is typically used as a filler, and the scraps are bonded together with something like polyurethane or latex. Since the amount of actual leather varies greatly with this bonded material, you don’t have guaranteed quality like you do with the other grades of leather, but it is durable.
Manufacturers typically use bonded leather for couches or other furniture. It’s much more affordable, but it tends to look a bit cheap. You can wipe it off or wash it, and it’s not fussy in terms of care.
Bonded leather is not where you go for a chic, sophisticated look. Still, it may make sense if you have young children, pets who like to scratch, or a lot of spills in your home.
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