Leather being obtained from cows, goats, sheep, pigs, are some obvious sources and some rare sources like ostriches and stingrays; they can have different finishes and appearances. Depending on the kind of usage and wear and tear requirements of the furniture, the type of leather is chosen. Chairs, sofa sets, recliners, stools, bean bag, car seats, and cushions are products that use leather upholstery.
Leather furniture is sophisticated and durable, making it a smart choice for office settings and living spaces. If you’ve ever tried shopping for a new leather piece, you’ve likely discovered that not all leather furniture is created equal. There is a wide variety in texture, quality, sturdiness, and sophistication between all of the leather furniture options on the market.
The most important aspect one need to consider for a sofa is Leather grain. This is the surface material of the sofa. Do not be deceived by the term top grain. Most people assume top grain leathers are the best but the term describes the top layer being sanded off and a fake grain being stamps onto the hide during the tanning process. However, the following are the types of leather commonly used in furniture, starting with the most expensive types and descending in price.
Full Grain Leather
This is the most authentic type of furniture leather one can buy. The term full grain describes leathers retaining the imprints original to the hide and the animal it was taken from.
Full grain leather, is the leather that is formed just by removing the hair present on the skin of the hide. The whole hide is used, rather than just some layers of it. Except for hair removal and soaking in some form of natural dye like analine vegetable dye, it is basically untreated leather. There is no additional treatment of the leather, and it retains the look and texture of the actual hide. No polishing and finishing is done to the grain.
Although there may be imperfections on the leather, as it retains all of the original texture and markings of the original hide, this kind of grain tends to look and feel better with time. Since this leather is so pure, it’s generally the highest price of all leather furniture choices. The texture of full grain leather is tough at first, but softens with use.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather gets a little more polishing than full grain leather, though it is very similar to full grain in its purity. Top grain leather goes through a buffing process, making it softer than full grain, but with the same durability and longevity. If you want a softer look and feel, go for top grain instead of the more rugged full grain leather.
As stated above, the top grain is the smoothest, supplest, most natural, and best kind of furniture leather. Each hide is as individual and unique as a fingerprint. Real, top-grain is comprised of about 12-14% water. For this reason, top-grain leather acclimates quickly to your body temperature. Leather is a natural product and thus breathes like one.
Top-grain comes in two different grades: aniline and semi-aniline. Aniline is the most natural and has no protective coatings or treatments that alter its natural feel. Because of this, it’s the softest but also susceptible to stains, while semi-aniline may be coated with a protective topcoat.
Split Grain Leather
After the removal of the top grain, you get split leather from the remaining part of the hide. While less expensive, split grain is harder in texture and more difficult to maintain than the higher-quality types. Split leather is comparatively more fragile and gets easily damaged if not handled properly.
As mentioned before, a split is merely the lower layers of a hide underneath the top-grain. A split is still 100% real leather but does not have all of the characteristics of top-grain due to processing differences.
When a split is made, it is initially light-coloured and fuzzy or suede-like on both the top and bottom of the hide so that it won’t look like top grain. On leather furniture, the traditional top-grain leather look is shiny, has natural variations in colour (as a hide is a natural product with variations in thickness and quality and, therefore, withstands dyes differently), has a smooth and soft hand (or feel), and natural “pebbling” (the unique bumps that vary depending on from which part of the cow the hide was taken).
Because a split has none of these qualities, the split must be processed through various means to simulate the appearance and feel of top-grain leather. Although the result is still 100% leather, some softness is always lost through the processing procedures and natural variations in colour and pebbling are no long evident as these hides are run through a uniform screen.
If you want to have that high-quality leather look at a lower cost, consider furniture made from bonded leather. This leather is created from the scraps of other leather projects, and then rolled up using adhesive material. In most cases, the end product contains just 17% leather but still gives a leather look and smell.
To create bonded leather, leather scraps and fibres are mixed together, and then formed into a roll using adhesives or other bonding materials. In fact, the manufacturing process is very similar to making paper. After the roll is formed, it goes under drying equipment to reduce the moisture content. Since it usually contains only 10 to 17 percent leather fibres, some industry experts do not consider it real leather and express concerns with it being marketed as such.
Bonded leather does have its advantage as a furniture material. Firstly, it is highly durable. Secondly, it contains low levels of environmentally unsafe formaldehyde as it doesn’t undergo chemical tanning and is therefore suitable for people with leather allergies. Lastly, bonded leather furniture is significantly cheaper than real leather.
In reality, a person sitting on bonded leather is not sitting on leather at all, only plastic. And unlike real top-grain leather, the ground-up hide and plastic will never acclimate to your body temperature or get better with age.
This type of furniture leather is made using only the rawhide from cattle, which is then sanded to give it a velvet and suede-like, soft appearance. . It has a more uniform appearance because the exterior is sprayed with a finishing agent. It is cheaper as compared to full grain leather. However, nubuck furniture is fragile in nature and requires careful maintenance. A waterproofing treatment is mandatory to keep the material looking good.
Bicast leather (also known as bi-cast, bycast, or PU leather) is what most people consider the next step up in quality. It’s much less expensive than top grain, but without the right treatment, it peels and cracks.
Before a hide is put into production, it is cut horizontally into layers. These layers consist of the top grain (the top layer that maintains the actual surface of the cow’s hide where the pores and hair follicles used to be) and then every split below that.
Bicast leather is a layer of split which was too thin or flawed for normal use and that, like bonded leather, is completely sealed on top with a layer of polyurethane. Like bonded leather, no actual point of contact is possible between the natural leather and your skin and, therefore, bicast doesn’t demonstrate any of the same wear or comfort attributes of top-grain.
That being said, bicast can still serve as an economical alternative for people wanting the look of leather without the price. Another benefit might be that bicast and bonded leather wipe up easily (since they have plastic surfaces) and you won’t run into many of the food/drink stain issues you may experience with upholstered furniture.
It is made by gluing a sheet of polyurethane colour to a split grain. It has the appearance of top grain leather, at a fraction of the cost. Bi-cast does not age well. In fact, it cracks and peels when exposed to too much friction. So, make sure that you purchase bi-cast furniture knowingly and not because you were led to believe it is real leather.
As the name suggests, this is not real leather. It is man-made leather made from synthetic materials such as plastic and rubber-coated fabric. Technology has not yet made it possible for man-made leather to quite reach the quality of its real counterpart, but it has improved enough that faux leather furniture is durable and looks great. For some animal lovers, faux leather can be a smart, attractive alternative.
Bonus Type: Royalin
One of the many types of leather exclusive to European furniture-maker Ekornes, Royalin leather is composed of natural pebbled grain and contains variety in original markings. Due to its high quality, Royalin needs protection treatment to safeguard it from moisture and contact with human skin. Royalin leather is a good choice for buyers who want top-notch leather that is also comfortable.
When it comes to furniture, quality is a strong consideration. Remember that bargain furniture can sometimes be costly to maintain or may need to be replaced in the short-term; opting for home or office furniture that is long-lasting – even if that means a higher price point – is often a worthwhile decision in the long run. Use this guide to become an informed buyer, and choose your leather furniture with price, quality, and design in mind.
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