Lovely, luxe and longlasting…..leather has been beloved in interiors everywhere for eons – and with good reason. But with such variation on offer in quality, price, feel and fashion, how do you know what you’re really buying – and whether or not you’re getting value for money?
Unfortunately, misinformation in the market is massive…..which is why we’ve put together this rundown of the good, the bad and the downright dodgy.
Not all leather is created equal (not even close!)
First things firsts, full grain and top-grain leathers are the best money can buy. They’re aesthetically beautiful and bear the unique markings that make every hide different.
Full-grain leather is the most natural – and most expensive – leather available and is usually used in high-end upholstery, accounting for a small proportion of furniture in most retail stores. Full-grain leather is often treated with a transparent, soluble vegetable dye known as aniline and develops a patina over time.
Top-grain leather refers to the top surface layer of the hide, which has usually been lightly buffed or sanded to minimise obvious imperfections and normalise the grain to some 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 produce a more uniform look. Corrected-grain lather is often treated with a semi-aniline finish or a pigmented dye.
Some consumers feel corrected grain leather, treated with pigment or dye, looks more uniform, and thus appealing, while others find it’s less natural and lacks the rich look of uncorrected leather. Corrected grain leather tends to be less supple then top-grain or full-grain leathers.
Split leather is the layer that’s left after the top grain (top layer) has been removed from a hide. It is less expensive, weaker and less durable than top-grain or full-grain leather. It is still 100% leather but is of inferior quality. You’ll often find split leather on the sides and backs of sofas where daily use is minimal.
You can often tell whether a sofa is made using split leather by checking whether the back, outside arms or front board feel the same as the leather on the cushions. If they don’t, ask your retailer whether those parts are made from split layer leather rather than top-grain.
Coating & colour
Aniline leather 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 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.
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. Pigmented leather may provide additional protection against staining, and be easier to clean than top and full-grain leathers, and is often a favourable choice for families with small children or indoor pets.
False advertising? When is leather not really leather?
Any tanned hide can be leather, whether it comes from a buffalo, a cow, a goat or a crocodile, but not all hides are the same. For instance, leather produced from buffalo is cheap and inferior to bovine (cow) leather.
Products made from a combination of top grain and split layer leather can still be advertised as 100% leather, and often are, but they are not the same quality as those made from 100% top grain leather.
The final word
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.