Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What You Wish You Knew About Leather

In recent years leather furniture has become more affordable with many options now offered by manufacturers. Many labels and terms are thrown at consumers by salespersons in an effort to sell product.

An understanding of the following terms may help you in making an informed buying decision:

Top-Grain vs. Split-Grain -
The thickness of hides can vary quite a bit. Hides are passed through a machine splitting the outer surface top-grain from the fleshy split-grain to achieve uniform thickness. The top-grain is the strongest part of the hide and is generally recommended for upholstery. The split-grain is considerably weaker and cheaper and should not be used for upholstery.

Full-Grain vs. Corrected - Both terms generally refer to top-grain leather (although you may want to question the salesperson when it comes to Corrected). With Full-Grain leather there is little attempt to hide or conceal the natural markings inflicted during the life of the animal. Corrected leather has been buffed or sanded, leveling the "high spots" of healed scratches and removing some of the grain. A grain pattern is then embossed onto the surface.

Aniline - This is a process where the highest quality hides are soaked in dye with no additional surface protection applied. Only about 5% of the world's supply of leather is of a quality to be used in this process. These highly porous leathers breathe more easily thus cooler to sit on but are more susceptible to liquids and care must be taken.

Semi-Aniline or Aniline Plus - These are fully aniline dyed leathers that have a thin surface layer of pigment providing even coloration and supple hand while imparting some surface protection from spills, stains and fading.

Pigmented - Corrected leather colored with an opaque pigmented coating that protects against staining, sun and marring. It is less expensive and may be more practical for heavy family use but tends to be stiffer due to the heavier coating.

Nubuck - Aniline leather where the grain surface has been brushed creating a velvety texture, not to be confused with suede, the fleshy side of the leather. Brushibg breaks up the surface grain giving it a soft feel but increases stain susceptibility.

ByCast or Coated Leathers - Glue is melted on split leather and a layer of colored polyurethane is rolled onto the surface. This product varies in quality and great care should be taken when determining whether to purchase upholstery it is used on.

Bonded Leather - consists of a surface layer of vinyl or polyurethane, a center layer of fabric and a backing containing some leather fibers mixed with latex. The product is about 17% leather and there is some controversy in the industry as to whether it should have the word "leather" associated with its product name.

Of course all this knowledge is meaningless if you do not pay attention to the frame on which the leather is placed. What good is long-lasting, quality leather is the frame and/or cushion cores are inferior? Question sales consultants thoroughly. Be sure ALL the outside covering on the furniture you are interested in is in fact leather and all areas are the SAME quality leather.

Monday, September 14, 2009


MICROFIBER is NOT a single fiber type like polyester, rayon, nylon or acetate (all of which can be manufactured as microfibers), and not all microfibers are good candidates for upholstery. The term "microfiber" refers to how fibers are made and are recognized as those of less than 1.0 denier.

A denier rating is defined by mass or weight, not diameter, and is the numerical equivalent, in grams, of 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) of a continuous filament of a given fiber. Most microfibers range between 0.5 and 0.8 denier. Silk is approximately 1.25 denier and a human hair may be as much as 100 times thicker than a microfiber filament. Any synthetic fiber can be made into a microfiber though polyester and nylon are the most common and many modern microfibers may be a blend of different fibers.

Microfibers exhibit the characteristics inherent to the fiber (eg. polyester, nylon, rayon, olefin) with the unique additional characteristics that make microfiber so popular. The thinness of microfibers allows more fibers to be twisted together to create threads which in turn can be woven very closely together. This capability is what allows microfiber to exhibit water and/or stain resistance because the moisture cannot penetrate the fabric's density. The increase in density adds to the abrasion resistance while the fiber thinness accounts for the pleasant hand (feel) of the fabric.

Suede fabrics account for most of the upholstery microfiber fabric and are generally what consumers think of when they think of microfiber. Most of these are finished to resemble suede leather by a process known as sanding where the fabric passes over a series of rollers covered with an abrasive material developing a low pile on the surface. Ultrasuede, a more expensive suede microfiber, is developed through a complex process of ironing, curling, cutting and needle-punching into a soft felt-like fabric which is then impregnated with a special adhesive binder.

When shopping for upholstery microfiber, look for fabrics that are nylon or polyester or a combination thereof. Rayon microfibers may have a tendency to stretch and acrylic may pill.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

4 Considerations When Choosing Upholstery Fabric

Who, What, Where and Why of Upholstery Selection

When purchasing upholstered furniture, you will make two major decision that directly affect the longevity of the piece. The first is where to purchase determining the quality of the inner workings of your piece. The second is the upholstery fabric you choose to use.When selecting fabrics for use in your home it is important to understand realistically how different fabrics will perform.

This is a process I call the "Who, What, Where and Why" of upholstery selections.
WHO will use your space? Will this piece be used by a family with growing children? Are there pets in the space?
WHAT will you use it for? Will this fabric be used on dining chair seats? Will it placed on a sectional in a family room? Perhaps an ottoman?
WHERE will you use your piece? Will it be exposed to a great deal of sunlight?
WHY all these considerations?

All of these factors are directly related to the fiber content and weave of the upholstery fabric you choose. A wrong decision at this time may greatly diminish the life span you hope to get from your piece.

  • For durability choose fabrics some synthetic content. Synthetics tend to have excellent abrasion resistance and can increase the abrasion of natural fibers when used together.
  • Polyester and nylon have great dimensional stability and will not stretch. Used alone or in conjunction with natural fibers will help your seat and back cushions maintain their shape and resiliency.
  • Fabrics with some cotton or rayon will grab moisture from the air counteracting the static effects such as hair clinging sometimes experienced by synthetic fabrics.
  • Cotton and rayon fibers easily absorb dyes and are offered in a beautiful array of colors but are also very susceptible to sun fading. Polyester is more difficult to dye limiting the color choices but is relatively sun resistant.
  • Tight weave fabrics work best with animals since their claws usually cannot penetrate the fabric. Micro denier (microfiber) suede cloth is the most cat resistant.

A reputable furniture consultant should be able to guide you through this process ensuring you that your fabric selection is best for your application.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What to Look for When Choosing Upholstery Fabric

One of the most important decisions you can make when deciding to buy custom upholstery is what fabric to choose. When you walk into a custom upholstery store you may be greeted with a wall full of different fabrics to choose from. What choice do you as a consumer have but to defer to the expertise of the "design consultant". But is this really the best way to make an informed decision? In many cases, yes, the design consultant ideally should have the knowledge and experience to steer you in the correct direction for making an informed decision. A reputable consultant will also research unknown answers to your questions rather than make up something on the spot "to make the sale." Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Beware of the following responses to your questions:

  • "They are all upholstery grade fabric." This is a statement that literally means nothing to you as a consumer. Certainly all the fabrics showcased have been approved for use on all the frames available but this by no means assures you that all the fabrics are appropriate for your particular needs.
  • "The higher the grade the better the fabric." Higher grade only means higher price. Upholstery fabric pricing reflects only the cost to create the fabric and has nothing to do with durability. Generally speaking natural fibers are more costly to produce than synthetics. The dyeing and looming process of a fabric also figure greatly in the price of a fabric.
  • "It's rated heavy use." This is a statement that may or may not reflect your needs as regards durability and is at best only one part of the story. A heavy use rating only means that the fabric has undergone an abrasion testing and has endured a certain amount of "double rubs" to warrant its rating. If you are looking for fabric on dining chairs you should be more concerned with the fabric content as some "heavy use" fabrics are still very susceptible to staining.
  • "It's microfiber." Probably one of my favorite misleading statements. Microfiber refers ONLY to how a fiber is made and is NOT synonymous with durable. Microfibers as a whole are generally stain resistant because of the nature of their production. However, not all microfibers are created equal and any synthetic fiber can be manufactured as a microfiber. Look for polyester and nylon combinations and stay away from acrylic and rayon. Look for my future blogs where I will go into detail as to what to know about microfiber.

When choosing an Upholstery Fabric it is always important to look for the following:

  1. Some synthetic content. Synthetics tend to be more difficult to dye and therefore are less likely to hold stains.
  2. Polyester for durability. Polyester has the attractive fiber properties of great tensile strength and abrasion resistance and are often used with natural fibers such as cotton to provide stability and stain resistance.
  3. Use Rating. While only part of the story, the abrasion rating can be important when choosing a fabric for furniture that will endure a great deal of movement such as a highly used Family room.
  4. Fabric Weave. Generally speaking, the tighter the weave the more durable the fabric but remember this is also one piece of the puzzle. If you have dogs or cats, a loose weave or "floaters" would not be a practical choice regardless of fabric content or use-rating.

As an Interior Designer with Ethan Allen I have the advantage of having worked for a commercial fabric company in Seattle and in the Interior Design Department of the University of Washington. In both cases, a strong knowledge of fabrics and their composition was required. Ask for me when you visit Ethan Allen in Lake Oswego and I can guide you through the process of fabric selection one step at a time.

Terri Eichen, (503) 639-9676, teichen@oregonea.com

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Use an Interior Designer

It is the job of the Interior Designer to design a beautiful and stylish environment for you keeping in mind the strong need for comfort, function and quality. The relationship between designer and client is one of trust, respect and friendship as I learn and interpret your needs, tastes and uses for the space we are working on.

Benefits of Using An Interior Designer -

  • Provide Solutions - every home presents its own set of challenges such as the size and shape of your space, architecture and light management, and color coordination. My expertise lies in my ability to identify these challenges and provide solutions in the form of an organized plan.
  • Draw up floor plans simplifying traffic flow while choosing furniture maximizing the use of your space.
  • Provide color schemes based on scientific color theory knowing which colors and designs work together, which do not and the why of both.
  • Design Window Treatments that are unique, beautiful and practical suited to your specific needs. Great opportunity exists for long term savings when taking into account heat loss and retention in these designs.
  • Guidance - knowledge of spatial relations, textile science, furniture construction and social relationships allows me to guide you through this process of selection knowing the reason for each piece and placement.
  • Save You Money in the long run by providing a "Strategic Purchasing Plan" giving you sound advice regarding your project preventing you from making expensive mistakes in your selections.

Best of all I can provide these services for you Free of Charge through Ethan Allen Design Center here in Lake Oswego. Contact me for more information or the make an In-Home Consultation (also free of charge).

Terri Eichen - 503-639-9676 or teichen@oregonea.com

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hunter-Douglas Summer Savings

One way to cut down on energy costs is through window treatments. Our custom window treatment program enables us to create designs as unique as needed. As an authorized Hunter-Douglas dealer, I will guide you through the many and varied products available that will increase your window's winter R value (measurement of its ability to resist heat flow). Products such as Duette Architella can reduce heat loss by as much as 50% resulting in lower costs. From elaborate fully functional draperies to the more streamlined Hunter-Douglas products, I can help you design a window space that is both attractive and energy efficient.

Come in now for extra rebate savings with no purchase minimums or maximums. Offer ends mid-August.

Ask for me when you visit Ethan Allen.

Terri Eichen