One of things that drive me crazy in the furniture industry is leather because of the way that manufacturers try to represent it to the public. Some companies show you leather samples in their showrooms and tell you that, “This leather is a grade 10, 15, or 20”. Go into the next showroom and they tell you, “This leather is from Brazil and is a Grade A or B or C and it is the finest in the world”. There is NO international grading system in place for leather. So when you are seeking help to assist you to evaluate different types of leather, it is all made up by the company that made the sofa or chair you are looking at. No matter what they tell you about grading, it is all a myth. Their myth.
The leather I am making reference to comes from cows, not some other exotic animal that may have a hide that can be made into leather. There are many different ways to colour and finish the product to give different feels and textures but as far as grading the leather, it is done for the purpose of selling leather to consumers. It also makes it easier for when customers come into a showroom and say they want the best leather.
One of the most important things to discuss with your sales rep is the durability of the leather you have selected. There are some unprotected leathers available that will show hand prints and if you spill a drink or some pizza on it then it is ruined. There are some stains that can be cleaned off the leather, but most of the time a glass of red wine will not wipe off with a towel. Be sure to have the conversation with the sales rep so that you know what the leather you selected can take on a day-to-day basis. Even a pair of new blue jeans on a white sofa or chair can leave a lasting impression…literally.
In general, leather is sold in four forms:
- Full-grain leather refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains intact, allowing the hide to retain its strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it develops a patina during its expected useful lifetime. High quality leather furniture and footwear are often made from full-grain leather. Full-grain leathers are typically available in two finish types: aniline or semi-aniline.
- Top-grain leather (the most common type in high-end leather products) is the second-highest quality. It has had the “split” layer separated away, making it thinner and more pliable than full-grain. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added, which produces a colder, plastic feel with less breathability, and it does not develop a natural patina. It is typically less expensive and has greater stain resistance than full-grain leather, if the finish remains unbroken.
- Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off, and an artificial grain embossed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.
- Split leather is leather created from the fibrous part of the hide left behind once the top-grain of the rawhide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation, the top-grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split and a flesh split. In very thick hides, the middle split can be separated into multiple layers until the thickness prevents further splitting. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (bycast leather). Splits are also used to create suede. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct thickness. Suede is “fuzzy” on both sides. Manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede from full-grain. Reversed suede is grained leather that has been designed into the leather article with the grain facing away from the visible surface. It is not considered true suede.
Also remember that leather can stretch over time and will start to create large wrinkled areas. The softer the leather, the more it will stretch. Unfortunately there is really nothing you can do to prevent this from happening. The only way to keep the seat of your new leather couch tight and taut is to not sit on it. This is all part of the wear and tear of leather. The best part about this issue is that stretching does not affect the comfort of the unit, just the look.
The topic of leather is very expansive and we will be posting more discussions as time goes on.