So you’re shopping for Leather Furniture – Part 2

 

Leather: The Real Thing

Just because we’ve moved on to the real thing, doesn’t mean it’s not still a bit complicated.  Once again it really pays to know a bit before you go out and shop because even real leather isn’t all the same thing. Real leather is typically divided into 4 categories.  

 

Split Grain Leather –  This is created from by separating the fibrous part of the hide from the top of the hide.   Depending on the thickness of the hide it sometimes possible to get as many as 4 splits from a single hide.  Split grain leather is typically pressed and coated with a finish to give it a finished leather look. Due to its fibrous nature and the finish layer being applied to the top surface this product generally has poor durability and is subject to the finish peeling or cracking.  It should never be used on surfaces that will experience any real amount use. It is sometimes used on the sides and backs of leather furniture so that the manufacturer call it an all leather piece.

 

Full-Grain Leather – This is hide that has not been sanded or buffed to remove imperfections (the natural markings on the hide).  The full grain allows the leather to maintain its strength and without sanding, buffing and with no artificial embossing it also maintains much better breathability. The beauty of full grain leather is that each hide has its own character and if properly cared for can actually become more beautiful with age.  This is typically your priciest leather and is usually finished in an aniline or semi-aniline dye.

 

Top-Grain Leather – Top grain is the most common leather found on home furnishings and is a step down in quality from Full Grain Leather.  This leather has had the split grain removed making it thinner than full grain leather and also making it more flexible or supple.  Its surface is sanded and finish coat is added to hide imperfections and protect the leather. The result is typically a leather is much less breathable than full grain leathers and may even have a plasticy feel.  While this leather will not develop a natural patina because of the finishing process it is much more stain resistant than full grain leather.. Top-grain leathers are typically less expensive than full-grain leathers but tend to be more supple and much easier to care for.

 

Corrected-grain leather – This refers to a non-split leather that has an artificial grain embossed on its surface.  Many hides have scarring and other natural features which make them unacceptable in appearance to be used as top-grain or full-grain leathers.  These hides are sanded and a press is used to emboss an artificial but visually pleasing grain into the surface of the leather. The leather is then coated with a stain or dye.  Corrected grains are the least expensive of the non-split leathers and the least breathable.

 

What’s right for me?  The answer depends on your particular lifestyle, usage and budget. Got lots of kids or family room area that is frequented by spilled beverages and drop food stuffs?  Full grain leather would probably be a bad choice as it readily absorbs it environment. Such a location would be better served by a top grain or faux leather. Need a dramatic accent piece that is there almost entirely as eye-candy and you don’t want to spend much, a corrected grain or split might be just the ticket.  What I’m saying is ask yourself what it’s for, how it’s used and what you are willing to spend and then go ask your salesperson all the questions that those questions generate. In the end with a little thoughtfulness and armed with a bit of knowledge you’ll be able to pick out the piece or pieces that not only look great but work great.

As always, work hard, play fair and enjoy your loved ones.

 

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So you’re looking at leather furniture… Part 1

Shopping for leather furniture can leave you more confused than a Montana boy navigating NYC subways for the first time.  With so many different leather products out there it’s difficult to know what you’re actually buying.  There are even some fabrics out there that you could easily mistake for leather.  It can be difficult to stay on top of things, even when you’re in the business so if you’ve got a moment let me cover some basics to give you a better picture of this whole leather thing.

When Leather isn’t Leather:

There are some products out there that sound like they are really leather.  Aire Hide, Bonded leather, Bi-Cast Leather.

  • Aire Hide – While this sounds like leather is actually just a polyester and polyurethane blend which is very cleanable and quite durable but it is not leather and will not age like leather.

 

  • Bonded Leather – This is actually ground up leather mixed with a bonding agent which is then covered with a mesh (usually cotton) and covered over with a polyurethane and polyester mixture which is actually the surface that you see and touch.  It is has very poor durability and the polyurethane finish will typically begin to crack and flake off after 3 to 5 years, sometimes sooner.
  • Bi-Cast Leather –  Bi-Cast is similar to bonded leather in that the actual leather goes on the bottom.  When leather is prepared for use the hide is sliced so that you have an even thickness to deal with when doing your leather or upholstery work.  The top cut uses the portion that the hair grows on and is where you get your Top Grain leather from.  The bottom cut is the underside of the leather which is a fibrous layer called Split Grain.  To make Bi-Cast Leather you take the split grain and cover it by gluing a sheet of polyurethane to it.  The polyurethane is, once again, the surface layer that will be touched and used while the split grain is on the underside.  This product has poor durability like Bonded Leather and often cracks and peels in much the same manner.

 

Why would people buy these products?  Price and marketing.  The Aire Hide is actually a very good fabric and is great for situations where spills and accidental scratches are likely.  It is very stain resistant, fairly scratch resistant and can be cleaned with just a damp cloth.  It is much less expensive than leather and it’s only real trade off is that it will break down over time like any other fabric, whereas top grain leathers, if properly cared for, will last a very, very long time.  

Bonded and Bi-Cast Leathers should generally be avoided.  In our experience the promises of a durable, scratch resistant leather product were never realized.  When these products first came out they were touted as being a new wonder material and all the mills that sold them had lab data to back up their claims.  Real life, however, proved to be a different story and Homecrafters eliminated bonded and bi-cast leathers from our inventory as soon as we began to see problems.

 

The moral of the story:

When shopping for leather furniture remember to ask questions and don’t just take a random person’s word for it when they say this leather product is something amazing.  Do your research before you shop so you know the questions to ask and have an idea of what you really want.  

 

Next time we will discuss Leather, The Real Thing.  Until then, work hard, play fair and enjoy your loved ones.

 

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