If you are considering buying new furniture, you may want to consider purchasing pieces with leather upholstery. Leather furniture is not only aesthetically beautiful, but it also is extremely durable and typically lasts four to five times longer than other upholstery choices. Leather is economical, fashionable, and brings elegance and class to any room boasting furnishings made of this material. If you think leather is right for you, it may be difficult to decipher between all of the many types of leather for furniture out there. With this guide, we’ve made leather buying easy so you can decide which of the types of leather is right for your lifestyle.
How Leather is Made
To begin, let’s look at how leather is made. Below are the steps that true leather goes through to become a textile.
- Raw materials – Leather starts out as raw materials. Contrary to popular belief, leather is a recycled product as a byproduct of the meat industry, and animals aren’t killed for their hide alone.
- Tanning – Leather is then soaked in a liquid containing chromium salts or other chemicals. It is then softened, and then the excess liquid is wrung out.
- Sort/Grade – Leather is sorted and graded based on how many imperfections the hide has. The top 5% (least imperfections) is graded as premium, the next 25% is ranked medium, and the lowest 70% is graded poor.
- Splitting – The top-grain is removed and what remains is the split leather, which most often is only used for the sides and backs of furniture, or is made into suede.
- Dying – Using aniline dyes, leather is dyed without covering the surface with a topcoat or insoluble pigments.
- Drying – The leather is dried either on a frame, or using a vacuum.
- Correcting – Imperfections in the leather are sanded down to make the textile uniform.
- Pigmenting/Finishing – For semi-aniline leather, a protective topcoat is added to prevent wear and staining. Pull-up leather uses oils, waxes, and dyes to let the crust (backside of the leather) shine through when pulled. The final touches are put on to give the leather the desired look.
Types of Leather for Furniture
When deciding between types of leather for furniture, it’s important to consider what factors are important to you and your family and how each type will fit into your lifestyle. We’ve created a chart of the four S’s (below) that outlines how surface grain, softness, and serviceability are related and a list of special effects on leather.
Split and Embossed Grain Leather
Split leather is the leather that has had the top-grain removed. This leather is not as strong as top-grain leather, and therefore is typically used only for the sides and backs of furniture. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (bicast leather/PU leather).
*Split leather can also be brushed to create suede or nubuck.
Corrected and Embossed Grain Leather
With corrected-grain leather, imperfections are corrected and sanded off, and an artificial grain is embossed onto the surface and dressed with stains or dyes. Like split leather, this leather is usually sold at the lowest price. Sine there is more correction needed and more dyes used, these leathers are usually more stain-resistant because they have a thicker urethane coating to prevent dye transfer.
Top-grain leather is most commonly used in high-end products of the types of leather for furniture. It has the split layer separated away and is lightly sanded and corrected. A finish coat is added for standard resistance to staining. Top-grain leather has a soft hand and is a quality choice for furniture upholstery.
Full-grain leather hides have not been sanded, buffed, or corrected. This grain is the softest of the types of leather for furniture and is extremely breathable. Rather than wearing out, it develops a patina during its lifetime. Because not much urethane is used when finishing this type of leather, it is the least resistant to stains. It also is the highest quality of leather.
Types of Leather for Furniture with Special Effects
Metallic leather: This leather has been treated with a metallic paint to give it luster and shine.
Pebble grain leather: The grain of this leather is heated to shrink the grain, which pops the texture and gives it a pebbled grain.
Two-tone leather: Using two different dyes, this type of leather has a marbled effect.
Uniform color leather: This contemporary leather is dyed all one color for a uniform look.
Brushed leather: This leather is brushed to give it a velvety effect, such as suede or nubuck. The difference between suede and nubuck is that suede’s surface is the innerside of the split, while nubuck is the outside of the split.
Pull-up leather: This leather is colored with aniline dyes that have natural-based oils and/or waxes. When you stretch or pull this leather, the lighter color of the crust of the leather shines through with a starburst effect.
Other Types of Leather for Furniture
Aniline leather: This leather is dyed exclusively with soluble dyes without covering the surface with a protective topcoat. It is extremely soft, but not resistant to stains.
Semi-aniline leather: This leather is also dyed with aniline dyes, but gets a protective topcoat to make it more resistant to stains and wear.
Suede: The split side of the hide is dyed and buffed to create a velvety effect.
Bonded leather: Although bonded leather isn’t an organic leather, it does contain leather fibers. This reconstituted leather uses leftover organic leather that is shredded and bonded together with polyurethane or latex on a fiber sheet. This furniture is a great value and is often very durable.
Bicast leather (PU leather): Bicast leather is split leather with a layer of polyurethane laminated to the surface then embossed with an artificial grain. The result is a material that is slightly stiffer and cheaper than top-grain leather. It is a lot easier to clean and maintain than top-grain leathers.
Heavyweight leather: Heavyweight leather is leather that is over 1.6mm thick (or over 4 oz. per square foot) for added durability.
Antiqued leather: This leather has a dark dye over a light dye to create an aged look, patina, and texture.
Glazed leather: This leather is dyed and polished for high luster.
Types of Faux Leather for Furniture
Enduro-Hide: This faux leather is a combination of man-made materials, commonly polyester and polyurethane to give the look and feel of leather but at a reduced price.
Enduro-Suede: This man-made fabric feels like suede and is made of durable polyester.
Leathaire: This faux leather is 100% synthetic but has the same look and feel of leather. It also is very breathable.