Leather is one of the most popular materials used to upholster sofas, couches, armchairs, and footstools. This durable material is incredibly comfortable to sit on because it acclimates to our body temperature.
There are many different types of leather sofas made from various grades of leather: full-grain, top-grain, split-grain, suede, nubuck, bonded, or faux leather. The quality, durability, texture, and price of the different types of leather sofas vary. Leather also comes in different colors and textures
Understanding the qualities and differences between the different types of leather sofas is useful when choosing a new one. A quality piece of leather furniture is a real investment. You want to be certain of what you are buying and how you should care for it to keep it in good condition.
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Full-Grain and Top-Grain Leather Sofas
The highest quality and the most expensive leather sofas and couches are made from full-grain leather. It is the thickest and thus the strongest and most durable type of leather because it comes from the uppermost portion of the animal hide. Full-grain leather is the least processed type of leather.
It is not sanded or buffed to remove any natural scratches or markings from the hide. It showcases a hide’s natural texture, or “pebbling” and imprints. The hide is processed to remove the hair, and it is then soaked in a natural dye.
After soaking and tanning, the leather is not polished or finished in any way. Over time and with wear, full-grain leather couches get more comfortable and look even more beautiful. Due to the moisture content in leather, it acclimates to your body temperature when you sit on it.
Top-grain or corrected-grain leather is slightly more refined in appearance. After a hide is tanned, it is buffed to smooth the surface and remove any imperfections. Top-grain leather is very soft and still retains the natural texture of the leather
Split Leather Sofas
Split leather is made from the remaining layers of leather after the top-grain has been removed. It is harder but more brittle compared to full-grain leather, and therefore a cheaper option. Split leather is still 100% leather and, if properly cared for and maintained, can be very durable.
Initially, split leather looks very different from full-grain – it is lighter in color and fuzzy on both sides, like suede. To imitate the smooth, shiny texture of natural full-grain leather, split leather is further processed. The result is an even-textured leather without any natural variations.
Suede and Nubuck Sofas
Suede and Nubuck leathers have been sanded a lot more than other leathers. Suede is extremely soft to the touch, but it is also the least stain-resistant of the options available. Nubuck is a type of top-grain cattle rawhide leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side to give it velvet or suede-like look.
Because the exterior has been sprayed with a finishing compound, it has a more uniform appearance. It is less expensive than full-grain leather. However, nubuck furniture is more delicate and requires special care and maintenance to keep it in good condition.
It needs to be treated with a sealant to be waterproof.
Faux Leather or Bonded Leather Sofas
Faux leather is a type of synthetic leather created from materials like plastic and rubber-coated fabric. Faux leather furniture has come a long way, thanks to advances in technology that have improved the material composition and consequently increased the comfort level of sofas. It is the most affordable form of leather for furniture, resembles real leather, and is also durable.
A cheaper furniture manufacturer’s first line of attack in giving you the look and feel of leather for a fraction of the price is bonded leather. Unfortunately, bonded leather isn’t really leather at all—it has to be only 17% leather by law. Leather straps and fibers are blended together to make bonded leather, which is then molded into a roll using adhesives or other bonding materials.
The procedure is remarkably similar to that of making paper. After the roll has been created, it is dried to reduce the moisture content. The downside of synthetic leather is that it will never match the comfort or durability of original full-grain leather.
Aniline, Semi-Aniline, and Pigmented Leather Sofas
Leather furniture comes in many different colors because leather is dyed. There are three different types of colored leather: aniline, semi-aniline, and pigmented.
Aniline leather is colored in a drum. Because the dye’s translucent quality allows the hides’ natural grain to shine through, it can also reveal flaws, so only the best quality hides are used in this method. The aniline technique changes the texture of leather by soaking it in dye and making it softer to the touch.
Due to the lack of a protective finish, this type of colorful leather may not be the greatest choice for families with children. Protective finishes are rarely applied to soft leather since they detract from the beautiful texture.
Semi-aniline, or protected aniline, leather is dyed in a vat, and it then has a thin protective coating applied, giving it a slight advantage over aniline leather in terms of stain and fade resistance.
When color is added solely to the surface of the leather and not dyed-through, it is referred to as pigmented leather. While the color isn’t as vibrant, this method covers flaws and provides longevity.
The Texture of Leather Sofas
Consider your preferred texture when selecting your leather sofa. Leather that is excessively smooth or shiny is not a good choice. It’s best to choose the leather that isn’t polished and looks worn because it’s more likely to be genuine leather.
Leather’s patina develops over time, giving it a weathered and refined appearance that can only be achieved with properly tanned animal hides. With a few years of patina, overstuffed styles have a lovely, well-preserved vintage appearance. If you want a leather sofa with the worn, comfy look of patina, you might want to consider purchasing a used piece.
Look for second-hand leather sofas in good condition. Often this is cheaper than buying a new leather sofa.
Leather sofas can be crafted from a number of different grades or types of leather. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.
- Full-grain leather is the thickest, most durable, but also the most expensive type of leather.
- Top-grain or corrected-grain is the next best type. It is slightly smoother than full-grain, with a more even appearance.
- Split leather is still leather, but it is of lower quality and has been highly processed. It is a cheaper alternative to full or top-grain leather.
- Suede or nubuck has a velvety texture, which feels great on a sofa. Unfortunately, it is susceptible to stains.
- Bonded or faux leather is a cheap synthetic leather alternative. It is lower in quality, and very cheap products can look shiny and fake.
Other terms you will come across when shopping for leather couches are aniline, semi-aniline, and pigmented. These terms refer to how the leather has been dyed and whether it is treated with a protective topcoat. This affects the texture of the leather, therefore, how the sofa feels to sit on.