The Real Thing – Leather

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.