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.