Types of Leather Furniture: What You Need to Know
Have you ever sunk into the deep comfort of a well-worn leather chair and wondered what tales it could tell? A good piece of leather furniture becomes a part of the family, a keeper of history and a place of comfort after a busy day. Because it’s an investment, we at Pottery Barn are proud to offer handcrafted, genuine leather furniture that’s designed to last. As you consider adding leather furniture to your home, we’re here to help you navigate the various nuances of leather.
Types of Leather
Some of the most beautiful characteristics of leather are its versatility and durability. There are virtually endless ways to use this material. Much of that versatility is due to the different forms leather comes in and the treatments it undergoes. As you shop for leather furniture and home decor, you’ll see terms like “top grain leather” and “full grain leather.” Understanding the types of leather, and how they differ, can help you find the look and style you love - and the durability that’ll let you enjoy the piece for years to come.
Full Grain Leather
Full grain leather is the smooth outermost layer of a cowhide. It also comprises what’s called the split, which is a fibrous, softer second layer below the first. Because of this, full grain leather is extremely durable and stiff, but it’s also quite breathable. This adds to its longevity and limits moisture absorption. Over time, it does absorb some moisture, which lends it a handsome patina as the material ages and softens.
Full grain leather is an excellent choice for furniture, especially items like sofas, office chairs and ottomans that see daily use. It stands up exceptionally well to wear and tear, which can smooth and soften the leather even more. If you prefer natural textures in your decor, this is a great option. While other types of leather may undergo various sanding and buffing treatments to remove natural markings or blemishes, full grain leather remains in a relatively unchanged state with visible grain markings and variations in coloring.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather comes from the smooth, outermost layer of a cowhide and is durable, supple and excellent for upholstery like full grain leather. Unlike full grain, this type doesn’t leave the second layer of split leather attached on the underside.
Because it isn’t as thick, top grain is more pliable, and it continues to soften over years of use. It’s often sanded for extra pliability and then coated with a protective finish. Top grain leather makes a great choice for furniture in game rooms and playrooms because it’s easy to wipe clean and resists staining. Sanding top grain leather on its smooth outer side creates a velvety nubuck.
Split leather is the lower layer that’s left after top grain cowhide layer is separated from the two full grain layers. It has a naturally soft, downy nap, which is what suede is made from. Although it’s occasionally used on furniture, you’re not likely to see many large pieces like sofas upholstered in it. Split leather is much more delicate than the full and top grain types. While split leather typically doesn’t have natural blemishes, it also doesn’t have the same longevity due to how thin and fine it is.
Bonded leather is another popular option for furniture upholstery, but it isn’t crafted from full hides like the other types. Instead, it’s made from leather scraps that are blended together with an adhesive and pressed into large sheet. Because the leather is heated during the production process, it’s easy for manufacturers to add embossed patterns or unique textures. Bonded leather is thinner than the other types because of its construction, and it isn’t as durable as top grain or full grain leathers.
In addition to the types of leather you’ll come across when shopping for furniture, you’ll also see terms that refer to various treatments applied to the material to give it color and help it maintain its strength.
· Aniline refers to a type of dye applied primarily to full grain leather. Think of it like a leather stain. Like wood stains, aniline dye is transparent so that when it’s applied to the material, the grain and natural textures of the hide still show through. Although aniline-dyed leather is incredibly beautiful, the treatment only adds color, which softens the material without protecting it - limiting its durability.
· Semi-aniline treatment involves applying semitransparent dye to the leather to conceal more blemishes than aniline dye does. It also has an added finishing layer coating the surface, which helps the material resist scratches and scrapes. Semi-aniline leather is a great choice for furniture that you plan to frequently lounge on because it doesn’t scratch easily.
· Protected/pigmented leather has a polymer coating with pigmentation added to give the material color and the most durability of the three finishing types. Unlike leather soaked in aniline dye, the color is only applied to the surface and it’s opaque so no natural texture shows through.
Genuine leather is a beautiful, durable natural material that adds ageless comfort and luxe touches to your home. It shines just as wonderfully on its own as it does when paired with layers of color and texture from your decorative accents. Keep this information in mind as you’re shopping for leather furniture, and it’ll be a breeze to discover the pieces that are just right for you.