Real leather sofas are an excellent investment for almost any type of home. Not only do they look amazing in all the different styles and sizes available, but leather upholstered furniture can last for many decades.
But getting the right look, feel, and durability combination depends on a few factors that are important to understand before you start shopping around.
In this guide, you’ll find all the details about the different types of leather, from full to top grain leather, and all the poor quality ones to avoid.
And we’ll also cover the different styles and sizes so that you can make sure you end up with the best leather sofa for your personal needs.
Types Of Leather Sofa Upholstery
The first thing you need to understand is that there are only a few types of real leather options that you should consider for furniture upholstery.
Full Grain Leather
A full grain leather sofa is arguably the highest possible quality you’ll find. And it all comes down to the preparation before the tanning process begins.
Manufacturers make sure that the top layer (called the grain) remains in place and the preparation barely does more than hair removal.
This grain layer is the one that contains the toughest fibers, and that’s what makes these leather sofas durable for even the busiest homes.
A full grain leather sofa will also maintain a completely natural appearance, including imperfections like scratches and insect bites.
And ultimately, that all gives you a hide that is very unique and extremely durable.
It’s also the best option if you like the full or semi-aniline leather effect. This involves applying soluble dyes that penetrate deep into the hide to bring out all the natural shades.
If you want to make sure that your new furniture investment lasts for as long as possible, then a full grain leather sofa is the absolute best option.
But top grain leather is a close second.
Let me explain.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather furniture is a favored option for anyone that might be worried about the risk of staining.
It’s all too common for homes with kids and pets. But let’s face it, even adults can end up spilling the odd drink or food.
With top grain leather, manufacturers slightly sand down the top layer to make it softer and to remove a lot of the imperfections. That’s why it’s sometimes also called corrected grain leather.
This also allows them to apply a stain-resistant and waterproofing treatment. As a result, most spills will require little more than a damp cloth to make sure you keep top grain leather clean and stain-free.
Split Grain Leather
Split leather takes another step further in the manufacturing process of the hide. While top grain leather processing just sands down the outer grain layer, split leather completely removes that top layer.
What this does is make the hide easier to work with during tanning and also later in the furniture-making process. And that ultimately makes it a cheaper upholstery.
But there is a disadvantage to that cheaper price tag of split-grain leather.
You’ll lose a significant part of the durability that full and top grain leather provide, and that means that your sofa will show signs of wear and tear a lot sooner.
For a busy family home or even an office environment, that’s not going to be the ideal solution.
Bonded leather is technically still real leather, but there’s a bit more to this clever marketing term. Technically, it’s recycled leather where manufacturers make sofa upholstery out of leftover pieces of hide.
These are cut up and then mixed with a binding agent before rolling it out into something that looks and feels like leather, and it’s given the fancy term bonded leather rather than recycled.
But there’s no getting around the fact that bonded leather is a much lower quality leather.
It won’t have any of the durability of full grain leathers or the stain and water resistance of top grain leathers. So make sure you factor that into your expectations when it comes to bonded leather.
Unless your sofa is going to experience very little use, it’s better to invest more in high-quality leather.
Nubuck leather is a type of leather that is very similar to suede in the fashion industry. What manufacturers do is use a rough sanding process on the outer grain layer.
This reduces imperfections and produces a slight nap that has a very soft feel to it.
Technically, this will be durable leather as most of the hide layers remain intact. But just like with soft leather and suede clothing, this type of upholstery leather doesn’t do well with stains and water.
While some water-resistant protection can be sprayed on, it’s not an ideal solution, and most drinks that you spill will quickly soak in and leave difficult to manage stains.
It’s nice looking and feels very comfortable, but I wouldn’t advise using it for anything more than furniture accessories like cushions.
Bi-cast leather is often advertised as a step up from split-grain, where the outer layer is completely removed.
Manufacturers then apply a synthetic vinyl layer that aims to resemble the look and feel of top grain leather. But there is a significant downside to those synthetic materials.
First of all, you’ll need very different regular treatment materials than for other types of leather. And if you don’t regularly treat it, then it will quickly crack and peel. And that’s a problem that cannot be fixed.
Secondly, while it may be stain and water-resistant, that synthetic layer tends to show scratches more easily.
So, make sure you don’t get fooled into believing this is a good quality leather for durability.
Genuine leather is another clever marketing trick that people tend to misunderstand.
One way to be clear about the quality is to remember the phrase, “It’s just about still genuine leather.”
Before you consider buying a sofa with this material, pick up a cheap leather belt at the mall, which is most likely made with genuine leather.
You’ll probably see signs of wear within just a few weeks, and that will also happen to your sofa. It’s a cheap way to get that leather look, feel, and smell.
But don’t expect it to be even fairly durable as it’s little more than several layers of leftover cow’s hide glued together and pigmentation sprayed on.
Faux leather is completely man-made leather using synthetic materials.
You’ll often see it advertised as vegan leather because it doesn’t use raw hide or any other animal products.
But if you have concerns about sitting on cattle hide, then I would advise you not to buy faux leather furniture.
It’s not going to be anywhere near as durable as real leather, meaning that it will wear down and peel very quickly. That might be fine for a cheap phone cover, but unless you want to replace your new sofa in just a couple of years, it’s not going to be a good choice to make.
Here at Leather Furniture USA, we only offer our customers top and full grain leather sofa products, and we always avoid the lower quality leather types.
Leather Sofa Style Types
If you’ve been doing some research into leather furniture styles, then you might have noticed sites that list out 15 or more different styles. What they are typically referring to is design details, and in your initial research, that can be quite distracting.
You can end up blinded by choices, which is why I recommend that you look at leather furniture in three style categories.
The Traditional Classic Leather Sofa
Classic furniture design is heavily based on 19th century French and British styles, where it became a lot more fashionable to create sofas that stood out as a centerpiece.
Think of it as a style where the sofa is large with lots of detail in the stitching, tufted leather, and nailhead trim.
Oh, and look out for detailed carvings on exposed wood.
It’s also less common to have uniformly pigmented leather but rather a full or semi-aniline appearance.
This is where a soluble dye is applied after the leather tanning process to penetrate deep into the hide. And the result is a natural leather quality with unique shades and imperfections.
If you want a sofa to stand out in a room, then a traditional semi aniline leather style is where you want to start.
The Modern Minimalist Leather Sofa
Modern furniture designs started to appear in the 50s and 60s, and they are still a great choice for spaces where you don’t want a sofa to stand out.
Modern furniture design focuses more on sleek lines and subtle geometric shapes to create an understatement.
These sofas will usually be a lot smaller in dimensions, and the idea is to invite you into a comfortable seating arrangement where you can take in the rest of the room.
It’s ideal if you have pieces of art or even an amazing view from a large window where furniture shouldn’t become a distraction.
The Contemporary Leather Sofa
Contemporary leather furniture is kind of a blend of modern and classic styles. It delivers some subtle details in the leather and exposed frame, and it usually delivers furniture that has a larger size than the minimalist modern style.
At the same time, it won’t overstate those design features, and as a result, this might be the perfect leather sofa to naturally blend into a room.
We’ve often found that people who aren’t certain about a specific style of sofa are best off starting their research with a contemporary style.
The great thing is that here at Leather Furniture USA, we’ve got a very broad collection of leather sofas that covers all styles.
Leather Sofa Sizes
The next thing to carefully consider when buying leather furniture is the overall size.
Single-seat leather chairs and recliners are an ideal addition to add variety to a living space. They are also ideal for areas where space is limited, but you still want to make a visual impact with leather furniture.
These are the perfect choice to provide comfortable seating for two people. But unlike a typical two-seater sofa, they tend to be smaller in size.
Basically, you’ll want to be comfortable sitting close to the second person, which is where the name originated.
These are also popular choices for apartments where you might not have space for large and bulky leather furniture.
Large leather sofas can make a significant visual impact, and you’ll commonly find them for up to 4 and even 5 people.
What you have to be careful about, though, is not to be blinded by the appeal of maximum comfort.
Leather furniture has to blend in with the room you’re decorating, and if it’s out of proportion, then even the best leather types and furniture design won’t make it look right.
Sectionals are a great way to take advantage of the shape of your room and not end up with multiple pieces of leather furniture.
If you want to add maximum seating capacity, then an angled sectional sofa can be an ideal leather piece of furniture. Depending on your chosen dimensions, these can easily accommodate five or more people.
Browse Our American Made Leather Sofas Today
Buying leather furniture doesn’t have to be a difficult task when you have the confidence that the manufacturers use the highest quality materials and handcrafted processes.
Here at Leather Furniture USA, we have partnered with American-owned and run full and top grain leather furniture makers.
We have a large selection of styles, designs, and pigmented leathers for you to customize a real leather couch to your personal needs.
If you have any questions about our product range, then use the contact number on the product pages. We look forward to hearing from you.
2 thoughts on “Understanding The Types Of Leather Sofas Before Choosing New Furniture”
Thank you for this article! One topic you almost never see is the fact that most manufacturers use vinyl on the side panels and back of the pieces but market the piece as if it is completely upholstered in leather. In my experience with leather furniture retailers and manufacturers, you have to know to ask this question because the majority of the time they will not disclose this fact on their own. Do your customers a favor and let them know to ask this question. Some folks won’t care that there is a mix of materials used on their furniture but some will and they should know to ask this question to avoid feeling swindled and lied to when they find out through other means.
Thanks so much!
Seeing how leather can be made to be extremely durable nowadays in this article was extremely interesting. I can see how using this material with composition like that could be a great way to invest in luxurious pieces that won’t require a lot of repair and refinishing, thus making it a valuable investment for places like your living room. If I can find a furniture store in the area that sells grain leather pieces, I’ll pick some up for sure.