Leather Buying Guide – What You Need to Know
Many of us have leather in our homes, and one of the most common pieces of furniture is the leather sofa. However, many people don’t realise that there are many types of leather and they all feel different, and need slightly different treatment. Here’s all the information that you need to know in the Vale Furnisher leather buying guide.
Look and Feel
Choosing your desired look and feel will help you decide on the best type of leather for your sofa or chair.
Pure aniline leathers are luxurious but require specialist maintenance. You might prefer a lower-maintenance leather with a protective coating.
Seeing for Yourself
Our leather types range from sumptuous full-grain real leathers to hard-wearing, low-maintenance faux or bonded leathers. Come and explore our range and grill our experts.
This leather buying guide will help you choose the most suitable leather for your upholstery, providing insight into the pros and cons of different leather types. Please call us on 01252 325525 if you have any questions, and browse our sofas, chairs and recliners for leather options for particular models.
Full-grain is the highest grade of leather you can buy. It’s the most natural and comes from thick hides that have not been sanded or buffed, thereby retaining all the original marks and imperfections of the animal it came from. Full-grain leather has optimum fibre strength and durability and, rather than wearing out, it develops a lovely, natural patina that only adds to its character. Full-grain leather is typically available in two finishes: full or pure aniline and semi-aniline.
The Difference – Full-Grain Leather vs. Top-Grain Leather
Full-grain leather is a type of top-grain leather. Top-grain leather is any leather made using the top of the hide (as opposed to the lower layers, which is used to make split leather – see below). However, if a leather is described as “top-grain” but not “full-grain”, it generally means the outermost layer with all the animal’s natural markings has been removed.
Full-Grain Pure Aniline Leather
Pure aniline is where the leather is treated with transparent, soluble dyes, retaining the hide’s natural surface so that all the animal’s pores, scars and marks remain visible. Full-grain pure aniline leather is the most authentic and luxurious leather you can buy, which also means it’s the most expensive. Soft and supple to the touch, it has a rustic, textured look that grows richer over time.
Full-grain pure aniline leather is the most authentic and luxurious leather you can buy, which also means it’s the most expensive.
However, pure aniline leather is susceptible to stains, scratches and marks and requires specialist maintenance. If you want a sofa that’s easy to clean, you’d be best off choosing one of the leathers described below.
Full-Grain Semi-Aniline Leather
Full-grain semi-aniline leather is produced the same way as pure aniline leather, but has a thin top coat added to it. This protects the leather and offers colour uniformity, while still allowing its natural characteristics to show through.
Full-grain semi-aniline leather is produced the same way as pure aniline leather, but has a thin top coat added to it.
Semi-aniline leather is less cold in winter, less sticky in summer and more resistant to stains and scratches. This makes it more user-friendly than pure aniline and perfect for households with pets and children. It’s lower maintenance than pure aniline, but it does still require maintenance.
When leather is described as “top-grain” leather instead of “full-grain”, it normally means it’s corrected-grain leather. Corrected-grain leather is another type of top-grain leather and the second-highest-quality leather you can buy. It’s still made from the top of the hide, but the outermost “full-grain” layer has been removed. This is done to get rid of marks, insect bites, barbed wire scratches and other blemishes on more unsightly hides.
Corrected-grain leather is another type of top-grain leather and the second-highest-quality leather you can buy.
The hide is then sanded and an artificial grain is embossed onto the surface, resulting in an even pattern and uniform colour throughout. Protective coatings are then applied. As a top-grain leather, corrected leather is still very high-quality, but it lacks the natural look and authenticity of full-grain and will not develop a patina. At the same time, it is less expensive than full-grain and boasts great resistance to spills and scratches. It’s also very low-maintenance compared to full-grain leather.
Split leather comes from the lower layers of the hide after the top-grain layer has been removed. Split leathers can be embossed and finished to look like top-grain leathers, but they are brittle, don’t absorb well and have a much lower life-expectancy than top-grain leathers. This, of course, makes them much less expensive. Split leather is used to make suede (split leather with a soft, napped finish) and bi-cast or PU leather (a material with a split leather backing and polyurethane top layer).
Split leathers can be embossed and finished to look like top-grain leathers, but they are brittle, don’t absorb well and have a much lower life-expectancy than top-grain leathers.
Because it is much less durable than top-grain leather, we wouldn’t recommend split leather for sofa seats and back cushions. However, split leathers are good for low traffic areas of your sofa, such as the side and back panels, which makes them an excellent cost-saving measure.
Other Types of Leather
Pull-up aniline leather is full-grain pure aniline leather with an extra top treatment of oil and/or wax effects, designed to become distressed-looking over time. This is great if you want your sofa or chair to have a more rustic appearance.
Bonded leather is an eco-friendly material made using leftover pieces of organic leather, which are shredded and bonded together using polyurethane or latex and embossed with a leather-like top layer. It’s much cheaper than full-grain leather, corrected-grain leather and split leather, but it’s not as durable or high-quality. However, it’s a good choice for those who are looking for an affordable sofa with a leather look. And because it does contain real leather, that characteristic leather odour is sometimes present.
Faux leather is an artificial or synthetic leather usually consisting of a fabric base with a PVC or polyurethane leather-like surface. Faux leather is designed to be hard-wearing, low maintenance and affordable, but still bring an opulent look to your home. Venjakob offers particularly high-quality, hard-wearing faux leather coverings with its upholstered dining chairs.
How to Care For Your Leather Sofa
All natural leathers require maintenance. Semi-aniline leathers and corrected-grain leathers require less maintenance than full-grain pure aniline leathers, which requires specialist care. This includes using good-quality leather protection creams and waxes.
You should try to keep your leather sofa out of direct sunlight, as this will only accelerate natural discolouring. With full-grain pure aniline upholstery, absorbent paper towels should be used to lift liquid spills, followed by dabbing the area lightly with clean towels. (Do not rub in as this will cause staining.) Leathers with protective coatings can be wiped with damp cloths and mild soapy solutions. All leathers should be vacuumed regularly to remove dust.
You should try to keep your leather sofa out of direct sunlight, as this will only accelerate natural discolouring.
To help you get started, Vale Furnishers offers complimentary leather care kits with most sofa purchases. Our leather experts can also answer any questions you may have about caring for your new sofa or chair. If you have any questions not covered in this leather buying guide, please do not hesitate to ask for advice.
Choosing the right leather can be complicated. That’s because leather itself is complicated. There are numerous different types, finishes and production processes – the ones described above are just the main ones. Hopefully this guide has given you an insight into the pros and cons of the various types, but here are the important points covered in this leather buying guide to help you process all the information above.
- Full-grain pure aniline leather is the finest, most luxurious and most expensive leather you can buy. It also requires the most maintenance and is more susceptible to damage because it doesn’t have any protective coating. If you have children and pets, you might want to consider a leather with a protective coating instead.
- Semi-aniline leather has a protective coating and doesn’t require the same level of maintenance, but still possesses the look and feel of pure aniline. It has more consistent colours, but this does make it slightly less natural and authentic than pure aniline.
- Corrected-grain leather is cheaper than aniline leather and doesn’t have a natural grain, but its protective coatings make it family-friendly and resistant to damage.
- Split leather is cheaper and still 100% leather, but it’s weaker and shouldn’t be used on high-traffic areas of your sofa. It’s better placed on the back and sides.
- Bonded leathers and faux leathers are hard-wearing and budget-friendly materials that still have that sumptuous leather look, even though it’s not as rich or textured. If your budget is tight and your family includes children and pets, a faux or bonded leather material is a great choice.
Getting Further Help and Advice
Based near Guildford, Vale Furnishers are one of Surrey and Hampshire’s leading furniture shop specialists. Our experienced sales advisers will be able to tell you more about the different leathers that come with our sofas. We have comprehensive swatch books for all of our brands and ranges so you can see and feel the different leathers for yourself. We can also arrange for samples to be sent out to you at your home.
An at-home consultation with a member of our interior design team could also help you determine the best leather for your sofa. Our designers will take into account the style and colour of your room and the positioning of the sofa in relation to heat and light sources. For details not covered in this leather buying guide, please call 01252 325525.
The Leather Buying Guide Checklist
- Are you looking for the finest, most natural leather you can buy?
- What style/look are you going for?
- Do you want a leather that develops a lovely patina over time?
- Do you have children and/or pets?
- Are you looking for a leather that resists stains?
- Are you looking for a leather that doesn’t scratch or mark easily?
- How durable and long-lasting do you need the leather to be?
- How much maintenance are you willing to do?
- What is your budget?
- Would a faux or bonded leather covering be better suited to your needs?
Please contact our experts in Surrey and Hampshire on 01252 325525 for more information.