Let’s Talk Leather

Few things in home furnishings are as confusing as leather.  So many unfamiliar terms. Why is the same sofa one price in one leather and another price in a different leather? After all isn’t leather just the hide of a cow?  Am I to believe one cow’s hide is better than another cow’s hide and will last me longer?  Well… yes.  Just like your own skin, there are distinct differences in hides. The appearance of a hide can be influenced by many things including scratches and cuts leaving scars, insect bites, brands, burns and even stretch marks.

Before a hide can be used as leather, it will go through a tanning process.  During the tanning process the hide is cut into sections.  The top section, the strongest and most durable, is referred to as top grain. This is the most desirable section, making it more valuable. Other layers are known as splits.

{via Bradington Young}
{via Bradington Young}

After the tanning process, the hides are separated into different categories based on the number of imperfections in each hide.  Just like diamonds, the more perfect the hide, the higher the price.

From this point, many different processes are used to produce a desired look and feel.  No matter what the process, it will fall in one of three categories: a full aniline leather, a semi-aniline leather, or a corrected grain leather.

A full aniline leather gets its name from the aniline dyes used for color.  No color pigments or protective top coats are ever used, making this a natural leather.  Because nothing is used to cover up flaws, only about 3% of all hides are suitable to be full aniline leathers.  Due to the fact that no finish coats are applied, these leathers will readily absorb moisture, oils or other spills.  Over time they will develop a well-worn patina.  They will readily fade when exposed to sunlight.  Aniline leathers are full grain leathers.

Semi-Aniline leathers start the same way as aniline dyed.  Once they are past the aniline process, they have color pigments applied to the surface.  This ensures an even and consistent color on all hides, as well as providing a greater protection from fading.  Next a transparent top coat is applied.  This application serves as a protective coating.  Semi-Aniline leathers are also full grain leathers.

Bradington Young Garrett Stationary Chair
Photo courtesy of Bradington-Young

Last we have corrected grain leathers.  Aniline and semi-aniline leathers are full grain leathers, meaning the grain of the leather has not been altered.  With corrected grain leathers, before any dying begins, the leather is slightly altered (corrected).  This is done by buffing and lightly embossing the leather.  This process hides most imperfections and gives the leather a much more even grain.  Once this is complete, the leather is aniline dyed, and color pigments and a protective top coat are applied.  This is the most prominent type of leather used in the furniture industry.

Now, “Let’s Talk Leather.”  Let me know the look and feel you prefer and I will assist in finding the perfect leather for you!

Becky Whitlow
Design Consultant

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