The history of
leather is traced back to the beginnings of human culture. Today we tend to
think of leather as a fixed and uniform item - something that is pretty much
the same everywhere. NOT TRUE. Leather for furniture comes mostly from
cattle, and no two hides are alike. Age, heredity and environment all
influence the character (and price) of leather. It has proven over the
years to be the strongest, most versatile and natural upholstery material
(not to mention most comfortable). On top of it all, buying
leather product is environmentally sound. No animal is killed for its
hide. The leather used for furniture is a by-product of our meat eating
for furniture are sliced lengthwise (longitudinally). Only the outer surface
("top grain") should be used. The lower portion or "splits" are weaker
(this is due to a few factors: an elongated cell structure, and a one-way
fiber pattern - both are properties of weak materials). These "splits" are
subject to stretching and therefore provide an unstable base on which to
work (this can result in the cracking of top coat finishes and poor coloring
are there different grades and prices?
Leather is a natural material graded much like a diamond. The fewer
imperfections on the hide, the rarer it is for manufacturers of furniture to
acquire. When there is less supply, the item is costlier. Hides are
sourced all over the world. The cooler climates (like in Northern Europe),
combined with the animals being raised in controlled pastures or pens,
produces hides with few imperfections. Regardless of the manufacturer or
their grading system, these cooler climate hides are the top of the line.
Conversely, the hotter the climate, and the climates with the greatest
extremes, combined with the animals being raised on an open range, will
produce hides that are more weathered, aged, scarred, bug bitten, etc.
These imperfections must then be processed (buffed or sanded or filled)
before dyed. By far, there is a greater quantity of this type of hide
available in the world - this means the supply is great and the price low.
The cost of raw leather is determined by the origin of the animal and by
supply and demand, not by where the hides are tanned!
There are three
main categories of upholstery leather:
(each mfg'er offers their own grades of leather - these are general
properties common to all upholstery leather)
- Aniline Dyed*
Leathers: Lovers of truly natural products are particularly fond of
these leathers: their unequaled, glove-soft texture adds an extra
dimension of comfort to your sofa or chair. To create this luxurious
softness and the rich gem-like color, aniline dyed leathers are tumbled
for up to 12 hours in drums containing clear, transparent dyes. These dyes
enhance the subtle variations of each hide. All leathers get better over
time, but aniline dyed leathers develop a truly beautiful, distinctive
patina which adds to its value as a focal point in your home. Only premium
hides with the most pleasing color and texture are selected for this
category, less than 5% of all upholstery hides in the world. Many grades
of leather, from all tanneries, are aniline dyed and natural.
cut from Glossary below: Aniline Dyed: Leather that has been dyed
with aniline, a clear dye which permeates the entire hide. There is no
pigment (paint) or finish put on pure aniline dyed leather to correct
imperfections. That is why only the finest leathers can be used since they
have to be in excellent shape. Pure aniline dyed leathers are known for
their soft, natural feel as well as their beauty since they have no
corrective finish. They are sometimes referred to as "naked" leather. This
represents about five percent of all leather in the U.S. Aniline dyes
offer little resistance to soil, stains, or sunlight.
Leathers: Also referred to as "Aniline Plus", these leathers are first
dyed in the penetrating aniline dyes. Then a topcoat is applied to even
out the color of the hide surface. The topcoat also serves to create
fading- and soil-resistant pieces. Semi-aniline leathers are available in
hundreds of colors. They retain a great amount of the softness of aniline
dyed hides because the natural top grain is left intact. A much larger
proportion of the worldwide hide supply is suitable for this class of
leather and as a result they are more moderately priced than pure aniline
cut from Glossary below: Semi-Aniline: A process to aniline that
provides stain protection, color consistency, and lower maintenance.
Leather that has been dyed with aniline, a clear color dye that permeates
the entire hide. There is either a transparent or slightly pigmented
finish applied to improve resistance to wear and light.
Whether you need tough leather that withstands the daily wear and tear of
children and pets, or a delicate and supple
leather that adds class and still holds up to a demanding environment
Top-grain leather in its natural state (not corrected or buffed), including
the "beauty marks" or "thumbprints of nature" which makes each hide unique.
top, outermost, strongest, most durable part of the hide. Very durable
because there are no consistent fiber patterns along which the hide can
tear. The natural fibers run in all directions, a property of very
Split-Grain: The lower layer of the hide, cut away when getting to the
top-grain. Much less strength and overall durability because the fibers in
split-grain leather run in one direction allowing a crack or tear to
possibly form. Ages differently and can be very noticeable when pieced with
top-grain leather on the same piece of furniture. Be careful when shopping
for leather furniture because split-grain is technically still "all-leather"
or "genuine", but definitely not the quality of top-grain.
Aniline Dyed: Leather that has been dyed with
aniline, a clear dye which permeates the entire hide. There is no pigment
(paint) or finish put on pure aniline dyed leather to correct imperfections.
That is why only the finest leathers can be used since they have to be in
excellent shape. Pure aniline dyed leathers are known for their soft,
natural feel as well as their beauty since they have no corrective finish.
They are sometimes referred to as "naked" leather. This represents about
five percent of all leather in the U.S. Aniline dyes offer little resistance
to soil, stains, or sunlight.
Semi-Aniline (aka: Aniline Plus): A secondary process to aniline that
provides stain protection, color consistency, and overall lower maintenance.
Semi-aniline hides are leathers that have been dyed with aniline, the clear
color dye described above. Then either a transparent or slightly pigmented
finish is applied to improve resistance to wear and light. There
are semi-aniline hides that are very soft.
buff or sand to remove imperfections in the grain. Corrected leathers, by
their very nature, can not be full grain because the outer surface
has been altered. But if it was the outer layer of the hide that was
sanded, these can still be top-grain leathers (and
obviously, a sanded lower layer would be a corrected
split grain leather).
process used to preserve hides. These are pigmented with chromium salts,
which change the hide's chemical structure, preserving it for a lifetime.
synthetic material, occasionally used in furniture. Does not breathe, making
a very uncomfortable seating surface. Reflects heat onto whatever is near it
(in this case, a person trying to relax and get comfortable). If you think
leather is "hot in the summer,and cold in the winter"... you are thinking
of vinyl. Leather will be at whatever temperature your room is,
and not 1 degree different. It breathes and adjusts.
Suede: Process of raising fibers on the hide to give velvet nap effect by
buffing. Suede's are almost always full aniline.
Embossed: To form a natural-looking leather pattern by using a pressure
plate. Most very protected leathers are corrected grain leathers: they are
sanded and/or buffed, then may be embossed to replace the lost pattern seen
in natural leather.
process creating a beautiful, marbled appearance to the leather.
leather that has been injected with oils and/or coated in waxes. Scratch
them and the mark is there, until rubbed away. Made for luxurious softness
or waxy appearance.
or Antiqued hides: The "bomber-jacket" or aged look is achieved by applying
a wax to the surface of the leather and them tumbling the hides. The
tumbling causes the wax to "break" at the creases, resulting in the worn and