When Leather isn’t Leather

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.