The Best Leather For Furniture

Full-grain: Full-grain leather is used in only the highest quality furniture.

This leather undergoes no processing or sanding to remove discoloration.

Full-grain leather makes for tough, long-lasting furniture. If you have

children and pets and anticipate using the furniture in high-traffic rooms,

the durability of full-grain leather may appeal to you.


Split-grain: If you've ever seen a piece of furniture sporting a "genuine leather" tag, it's most likely a piece of furniture covered in split-grain leather. Split-grain leather often has the same pattern discoloration as full-grain leather, but it isn't as tough. It comes from the lower half of hides, making it softer but less durable than full-grain leather.
Aniline: Aniline leather is usually full-grain leather that has been treated with dye. This dye hides any imperfections in the leather. It is a common choice for people who want to buy high-quality leather furniture but prefer a more uniform color. Aniline leather is usually softer and more supple than other types of leather due to the dye treatment, but it has the potential to fade if exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.



Aniline: Aniline leather is usually full-grain leather that has been treated with dye. This dye hides any imperfections in the leather. It is a common choice for people who want to buy high-quality leather furniture but prefer a more uniform color. Aniline leather is usually softer and more supple than other types of leather due to the dye treatment, but it has the potential to fade if exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.


Pigmented: If you have children or pets at home, pigmented leather furniture is your best bet for great looking, long-lasting furniture. It is lower-grade leather dyed to hide all color imperfections. This gives the leather a shiny outer coat. It's stiff to the touch initially, but it softens with use. Pigmented leather is also resistant to stains and liquids.



There are two ways of coloring upholstery grade leather - with dyes only or with dyes and pigments. Leather colored strictly with a dye is referred to as unfinished, whereas pigmented leather is classified as finished. So, what’s the difference?



​Unfinished leather is when leather is colored only with dye then there is no protective coating. It is sometimes referred to as “pure-aniline” leather. (Aniline is a type of dye that colors leather.) This leather is soft, supple to the touch. Its color is rich and deep as dyes are translucent and they penetrate, often completely through the leather. The leather’s natural beauty is accentuated by the dye giving the furniture a luxurious look and feel. Only the finest hides can qualify to be unfinished, so unsurprisingly, it’s the most expensive category. However, there is a dark side. This class of leather stains easily (these hides are highly porous) and the color fades, in some cases very rapidly. (UV’s the culprit.)



Finished leather is colored with the same aniline dye as unfinished leather however these hides go through a secondary coloring process. A pigmented coating (finish) is applied that is chemically engineered specifically for leather. It has to flex and allow the leather to breath so it has unique attributes that differentiate it from common wall paint. Pigmented leather finishes are opaque, creating a colored film on top of the hide. The color coating is then augmented with a clear coat forming its primary protection. This clear coat also dictates the sheen, from gloss to matte. Quality finished leather may not feel as soft and supple as unfinished, but will be able to withstand the rigors of an active household. It won’t stain nearly as readily. It’s easier to clean, and fades so slowly, you’ll never notice it.



Your first key is placement. Simply put, active, high impact environment like a family room, media center, conference room, dining room, etc. dictates finished leather. A low impact home, with UV tinted windows and little threat of staining can indulge the beauty of unfinished leather.

The next step is to consider your budget. This is where your expectations are appropriately set. There are two primary considerations, the leather and the frame.



Top-grain leather is the most durable, but will cost more. This is the epidermis of the skin which offers vast majority of the hide’s durability. Split-hide leather (leather “split” from the epidermis) won’t stand up to the test of time in an active household, but as a low grade is generally more affordable. If you want a piece that will last a long time, then you must insist on top-grain leather.

The internals or guts of the furniture should be considered. Is it constructed using hard wood appropriately joined with tight, solid fits, or is it slapped together with cheap pressed board, staples and cardboard? (No kidding, cardboard.) Clearly, solid construction will cost more, but offer many years of trouble free service.

Color selection is something else to think about. The lighter the color, the more maintenance it will require to keep the leather looking new and clean.



Finally, is it all leather or did the manufacturer sneak in some vinyl? Vinyl and all its fancy name derivatives like leatherette, leather-mate, leather–match etc. is a synthetic, not the real deal. It won’t feel or wear like leather. It’s less expensive than leather, but simply doesn’t have the durability of quality leather.

So, based on your budget, set your expectations correctly and think about how the piece will be used. Then when you shop ask the following questions.



Is the leather finished or unfinished? Remember to consider placement and usage patterns.
Is it top-grain leather? If it isn’t, it won’t have the durability you think you’re getting.
Is it all leather or is some of it vinyl? Don’t be duped.
How is the frame constructed? Remember the story of the three little pigs? If it’s going to last, it has to be well built.

With the answers to these questions at least you’ll know what you’re buying.

© 2013 by DESIGN SAVVY 

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