It’s no secret that at Brumbaugh’s, we love leather furniture for its durability, timeless style, and beauty. But, we’re the first to tell you that not all leather is created equal; if you’ve tried shopping for a piece of rustic leather furniture you’re probably well aware of how different “leather” furniture quality can be. The texture, appearance, feel, and price of leather sofas, chairs, or ottomans can vastly change from brand to brand or even from style to style. In order to find what you’re looking for, it’s important to understand the types of leather used in the furniture market.
Types of Leather
Below, we’ve outlined the seven most common types of leather. By learning the leather basics, you can shop confidently knowing you’re getting the type of quality you want, as well as the one that best suits your home and lifestyle.
Full-grain is what you may call the cream of the crop in the leather market. It’s the most authentic leather available. That’s because the only treatment applied to the original hide is hair removal, followed by a natural dye soaking. This minimal treatment lets the leather retain the look and feel of the natural hide. Because it’s so authentic, full-grain is usually priced the highest of all leather choices. You can usually recognize full-grain leather by its rigid texture which naturally softens over time.
Think of top-grain leather as full-grain leather that’s a little more polished. Often just as pure as full-grain, top-grain leather is buffed to make it softer (and often more comfortable). If you love the authenticity of full-grain but want to prioritize immediate comfort, top-grain leather furniture can be a great choice. This high-quality leather variety is just as durable and long-lasting as full-grain.
This type of leather gets its name from the process of removing the outer layer of leather. The remaining section underneath (then called “split-grain”) is used for various types of furniture. Split-grain leather furniture is more affordable than top-grain, yet because of the lost outer layer, it’s stiffer and not as long-lasting as top-grain.
Have you ever seen a used piece of leather furniture that looks like it’s “peeling”? If so, you’ve likely been introduced to bi-cast leather. This variety is a split-grain leather that is treated with polyurethane to give it the appearance of top-grain leather. While it’s much less expensive than top grain, it does not hold up to as much wear and tear (and does not age as gracefully) as top-grain.
Bonded leather (also known as blended or reconstituted leather) is a leather variety that utilizes scraps of leftover leather for more affordable furniture covering. It is formed in layers; first, a backing of fiber or paper is covered with a pulp of shredded leather. The fabric is finished with a coating of polyurethane that is imprinted with a leather-mimicking texture. In most cases, bonded leather contains less than 20 percent leather, but can offer the look (and even smell) of leather at a significantly lower price. Bonded leather will not age like natural leather, and is also prone to cracking and peeling like bi-cast leather.
This type of leather is made from cattle hide that has been sanded or buffed on the outer layer (or the grain side) to give an almost velvet-like texture from the short protein fibers. It is fairly resistant to wear when properly treated, yet can scratch easily. While it can sometimes be confused with suede, nubuck darkens when wet from water, yet typically dries to its original color.
Some “leather” furniture isn’t composed of leather or leather byproducts at all. Faux leather is an artificial covering made to look like leather. It is constructed of a fabric base (like polyester) which is then given an imitation leather finish and texture with wax, dye, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or polyurethane. Faux leather usually has a very consistent appearance, unlike natural leather which can feature subtle variations in natural color. Faux leather is fairly durable and does not have to be treated or cared for like a real leather furniture piece.
Hopefully, this guide to the different types of leather helps you as you shop for your next piece of furniture. As an informed shopper, it’s important to consider not just price, but quality. While high-quality leather furniture (for instance, a piece that uses full-grain or top-grain leather), may be more expensive upfront, these high-quality leathers last for much longer than their cheaper counterparts.