Leather Furniture? Read BEFORE You Buy!
Leather Sofas $300 or $30,000?
People always ask me about the disparity in leather sofa prices... Unfortunately most sales people aren't educated well enough to answer your questions. It all boils down to where the leather comes from, the quality and the process to accomplish the look.
Don't forget to look at the quality of the frame too!
More on frame construction next week.....
Knowing about the process is essential when buying leather goods. It lets you know how it will hold up and how you can clean your furniture. Questions to ask: Is the stain just on the surface or does it go all the way through the leather? Is it a specialty finish that is more delicate? Will it scratch and show all the marks? Is it so slick that you will slide right off the sofa? Lots of things to consider and the time required to create that look adds to the cost...
What is Top Grain Leather?
A hide is actually much thicker than a finished upholstery leather. Before it is finished, a hide is split into layers. The layer closest to the surface is the Top Grain and includes the actual surface of the skin with all of its natural pores, wrinkles, and scars. It is the strongest part of the hide.
The Split Hide is everything that has been cut from the inner layer of the hide. It is used to make suede and other leather products. While some furniture manufacturers will use splits on sides and backs of furniture where you are less likely to touch it as much, it is typically found in cheaper products. Splits are 100% leather, but they are weaker and more susceptible to tearing, stretching, and fading.
You want top grain when you can get it!
Here are some other things that you should know…
There are 3 main categories,
aniline, semi-aniline, and protected or pigmented leather.
Aniline leather is highly prized for the way it looks. It is the most natural looking leather and retains the unique surface characteristics. Aniline leather is dyed by immersing the hide in a dye bath, and the surface is not coated with any polymers or pigments. Only the very best hides are used as all surface marks remain visible, which is why it is also called "naked leather."
Advantages: Aniline leather is very soft and comfortable. It retains the unique markings and characteristics of the hide, making each piece different.
Disadvantages: Since it is not protected, aniline leather can be stained easily. It is not recommended for young families or very high traffic areas for that reason.
Semi-aniline leather is a little bit more hardy than aniline leather because its surface has been treated with a light coat that contains some pigment and this makes it more soil and stain resistant.
Advantages: While it retains the uniqueness of aniline leather, semi-aniline leather has more consistent color and is more resistant to stains.
Disadvantages: The markings are not as apparent, and therefore less unique than aniline leather.
Protected, or Pigmented Leather
Protected leather is the most durable type of leather, for that reason it is the most used leather in furniture and car upholstery. Protected leather has a polymer surface coating containing pigments. (Crypton is a company that we have in our studio that offers a protected leather and is new to the market.)
While the thickness of the surface coating may vary, it allows the manufacturer to have more control over the properties of the leather. It is possible to add more resistance to scuffing or fading.
Advantages: This type of leather is easy to maintain and stands up to different conditions and uses.
Disadvantages: This type of leather does not have the uniqueness of aniline leather, and looks less natural. It can be hard to tell one kind of grain apart from the other as the surface is coated and embossed
Bicast leather is not 100% leather. It is not even leather, but a leather by-product. THIS IS WHAT YOU GET WITH MOST cheap "leather" furniture.
Bicast leather is made from split leather which is then laminated with a polyethylene top layer. It has been made available thanks to modern technology, which lets leather be split into a number of layers. The layers used to make bicast leather are of very inferior quality, which, without the coating, may not be of any use at all.
After the polyethylene coating is applied, grain patterns are embossed into the surface to make it look more leather-like.
While bicast leather furniture may look like leather at first glance, you will find that it does not behave like leather. For one thing, it does not develop leather's suppleness or patina with time. You may find that it may have a strong chemical smell at first, which dissipates after a while. It may look like leather, and you may find plenty of color choices, but the grain might appear too even. Bicast leather may also be prone to splitting and cracking.
What bicast leather has going for itself is that it is more affordable than real leather, and easy to keep clean. All the same, it is misleading and dishonest to sell it as 100% leather or real leather. If you are looking for real leather, then bicast leather is not for you. If you want your furniture to last a while, again, bicast leather is not for you.
Note: Bicast leather is also known as bycast leather, bi-cast leather or PU leather.
You also need to be aware that it is an industry standard to use different materials on different parts of the furniture. For instance, the trim may be a polyethylene or plastic material. The back side of the piece may be the pleather/plastic or the entire body. It is the same color as the leather. However it does not wear the same and you will soon see the glaring difference. Manufacturers are not required to disclose this and they still sell these pieces as leather. If there is some leather... They can say it's leather. This is a very common practice on reclining chairs. They say it is for wearability and cost factors. I think it's dishonest...
Bottom Line is that when it comes to leather... You often get what you pay for. There are many price points to choose from. Leather furniture can last a lifetime if you choose well. Make it an important purchase and ENJOY!