Earlier this month I attended a class to learn more about leather. As I walked into the classroom I was greeted by the scent of luxurious leather hides that were simply gorgeous, exquisite, supple and soft to the hand.
Thirty years ago 3 percent of upholstered furniture was covered in leather. That percentage has increased to 24% today, with a future forecast of 40%. Today’s largest users of leathers are the automotive industry, followed by apparel (shoes, belts and accessories) and then furniture.
Three items are considered when determining the price and quality of a leather hide.
1. The Hide’s Origin
Leather is a by-product of the meat industry made from the skins. European leathers tend to be best. The hides have fewer blemishes from tick bite because they originate from a cooler climate. Also, because the cattle have more freedom to roam without barb wire fencing, there are fewer imperfections from scarring. Hides that originate from warmer climates have a higher probability for more hide imperfections.
2. The Hide’s Grain Type
- Top Full Grain hides are 100% natural grain. The hides require no additional treatment.
- Top Grain hides are altered by sanding or filling.
3. The Hide’s Finish
The origin of the hide will determine its finish. The more the hide is treated the less expensive it becomes.
- Aniline finishes are best because they use translucent dyes.
- Aniline Plus includes the aniline dye and a light opaque protective coating.
- Pigmented finishes include the aniline dye and a heavy opaque protective coating.
The Aniline and Aniline Plus hides are more susceptible to ultraviolet fading. Remember, all hides are Aniline dyed but pigmented hides are the easiest to clean.
Special Leather Hide Effects
Pull-up hides are infused with oils and wax which cause the color in hides to fade and leave impressions when the leather is stretched.
Nubuck are hides that have the surface grain polished to remove the hair layer of the skin leaving a subtle nap that appears smoother than suede.
Hand Antiqued hides are rubbed and padded by hand.
Sauvage hides have a two-tone effect, which add depth and character to the leather.
Embossed hides are treated with heat and pressure to create a uniform pattern.
Hair-on-Hide are natural hides that have exotic animal skin patterns applied on the surface.
Suede is leather that contains no top grain. They are created from the inner side of a hide, the second or third layer below the top grain.
Boutique leathers include various finished and embossing techniques.
Don’t be afraid of leather. Over time, they take on a character of their own. Remember they are easy to maintain and should be kept out of direct sunlight to avoid fading. Also, upholstered pieces made from large hides with less seams are more expensive than furniture covered with numerous leather strips. More seams mean more opportunity for seam rips.
You are the consumer. Ask questions to make sure you are getting what you pay for. Don’t be afraid and most importantly, enjoy your leather furniture.