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Leather furniture 101: full-grain, top-grain – choices driving you insane?

Australians love leather. And the more of it…the better. On dining chairs, lounge chairs, sofas, ottomans and more, there’s leather galore. Unfortunately though, not all leather is created equal. In fact, not even close.

Getting your head around the different varieties, qualities, colours and costs involved can be – but that’s why we’re here – to make sense of it all so all you have to do is pick the one you love, lie on it, fall in love with it…and take it home.

The best

Full-grain and top-grain leathers are the best you can buy. It’s that simple. They’re beautiful to look at and feature the unique characteristics and markings of the original hide. Now it’s time to drill down into a little more detail…

Full-grain leather

The most natural and the priciest leather out there, full-grain leather is favoured in high-end upholstery and is usually treated with a transparent, soluble vegetable dye known as aniline. It develops a gorgeous patina over time.

Top-grain leather

Top-grain leather refers to the top surface layer of the hide, which has been lightly buffed or sanded to minimise obvious imperfections and normalise the grain to a certain extent. It is strong, soft and supple and widely used in premium furnishings.

Corrected-grain leather

Corrected-grain leather is typically top-grain leather which has been more rigorously sanded and buffed to remove flaws and then embossed with an ‘artificial’ grain to achieve a more uniform look. It’s often treated with a semi-aniline finish or pigmented dye. Some people prefer corrected grain leather for its more uniform appearance, while others prefer the rich, natural look of uncorrected leather. Corrected-grain leather tends to be less supple than its top-grain or full-grain cousins.

Split leather

Once the top grain (top layer) of the hide has been removed, what’s left is split leather. It’s less expensive than full-grain, top-grain or corrected-grain leathers, but it’s also less durable. As a result, split leather is often used on the parts of furniture which experience less heavy use, such as the sides and backs of sofas. If you want to know whether your potential purchase uses split leather, you can ask your sales consultant, or, if you fancy going all detective, you can feel the back, outside arms and kickboard of the sofa to see whether they feel the same as the leather on the seat and back cushions.

Aniline leather

Aniline leather isn’t so much a type of leather, as a treatment. It refers to leather which has been treated with transparent, soluble vegetable dye (aniline), which acts as a sealant but allows the pore structure to remain open. As its coating is minimal, aniline leather absorbs body oils, stays soft and supple and develops a rich patina over time.

Semi-aniline leather

Semi-aniline leather refers to leather which has been treated with transparent, soluble vegetable dye (aniline) and then has a clear coating or minimal colour applied on top to provide modest protection. It’s therefore a little more protected than aniline leather…and a little less natural.

Pigmented leather

Pigmented leather has had a topical coating (layers of paint and sealant) applied to the surface to even out the colour, close the pore structure and boost durability. One of the benefits of pigmented leather is its additional protection against staining and minimal maintenance, making it a popular choice for people with pets and families with small (spill-prone) children.

Whose hide?

While any tanned hide can be classified as hide, not all hides are the same. For instance, buffalo leather is a cheaper, inferior alternative to bovine (cow) leather.

Is it 100% leather?

Products crafted from a combination of leather types, such as top grain and split leather are 100% leather, but they’re obviously not of the same premium quality as those made from 100% top grain leather.

A word of warning…

Leather is an aspirational material, so it’s important to know whether you think you’re buying a premium product – or whether you actually are. Informed decisions are better decisions, so put your retail salesperson through their paces before you make your final selection…..then sink into your leather sofa and be glad you did.

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