26 Oct

Any foray into furniture shopping can be confusing, with so many stores claiming to offer the best product at the best price. So how can you be sure you spend your money wisely? When it comes to leather, consumers are faced with a wide range of options, many of which may not be genuine leather, but rather composite or even imitation. This is reflected in price and quality, with a vast variance across the board.

As a natural product, real leather breathes, it is warm to the touch and displays individual characteristics that make each hide unique. These hallmarks in no way detract from the leather but, rather, are part of what makes it so special. Like all good craftsmanship, genuine leather will endure, developing a beautiful patina as it becomes part of your home’s history.

There’s a price attached to top quality hides and, as such, they tend to be used only by the most discerning of craftsmen, who demand the best materials for their designs. This is part of what makes leather so appealing – an appreciation of quality combined with the ultimate comfort.

“Choosing leather over fabric is ultimately an investment,” says Lynton Lloyd of Leisure Lounge. “Sure, you will be paying more for your sofa up-front, but the leather should outlast fabric by many years.

“The days of your traditional 3/2/1 leather lounge suites are over. Instead, a combination of natural fabrics, antique leathers and raw wood is the way to go. Leather needs to have character, hence the swing to more natural antique and pull-up leathers. If it doesn’t have natural characteristics, such as tick bites, brand marks and stretch marks, then it is most likely a corrected grain leather, which takes on an artificial feel. A leather sofa is a timeless piece and there will always be a place in your home for it.”

So, what should you look out for?

The easiest way to identify genuine leather is by texture and smell. It should be soft and warm to the touch, with a distinctive aroma that is rich and appealing. Faux leather, on the other hand, will be colder and have a chemical scent.

Ensure that you read the fine print on the label. Does it say leather upper or leather look? This would indicate that only certain parts of the item are genuine leather or that it is not genuine leather at all.

Check the back of the piece. If the entire back of a three-seater sofa is one piece, without any stitch lines, then you might want to ask where they found such a large cow. The average hide is around 1,5m by 3m.

Look for subtle markings that distinguish the piece. Genuine leather will show its origin, while synthetic materials will be uniform.

If you are able to, open a zip to view the reverse of the material. Leather will be unfinished, with no colour, and rougher than synthetic materials.

Finally, if the sofa you are planning to buy seems cheap, it probably is.

Know your leather

Bonded: Sometimes called “reconstituted” or “faux” leather, or just plain vinyl. It is not the whole skin of an animal, but left-over pieces of hide blended together to form a seamless piece of leather-look material.

Full-aniline: The leather is treated with a transparent dye, which permeates the leather but doesn’t coat completely. It leaves the hide softer, more pliable and warmer to the touch, but retains natural variations. As such, only the best quality hides can be used.

Full grain: This is the most genuine type of leather as it has not been altered beyond hair removal. It retains all of the original texture and markings of the hide.

Pigment: A protective opaque colour, which coats the grain consistently. In most cases, it appears to be painted on to the hide. It is slightly cooler to the touch and will fade the most in sunlight.

Semi-aniline: A pigment is applied to the hide to even out the colour and add protection, while retaining its softness. The pigment also adds a slight shine.

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