Why do people purchase leather furniture? Most will say it is because it is durable, it looks expensive, and is easy to take care of. Sounds good, right? But, is it really true? Let’s take a closer look at modern leather furniture.
Leather is usually sold as being the most durable upholstery you can buy. I have seen furniture that is over 20 years old that looked great, and I have seen leather pieces that were just a couple of years old that looked like they were at least 20. If it comes from the same animal, why then such a difference in wear? It has to do with money. Companies have found faster and cheaper ways to tan a cow’s hide and color it- this keeps the production prices low. If they followed the same process as was used 2 decades ago, leather furniture prices would be outrageous. Factories can now produce a finished hide very quickly using a variety of chemicals. They can split a hide very easily up to 4 times and emboss grain into it while adding the color at the same time. It’s very scientific and very efficient. Unfortunately, it’s not always very durable.
People love the expensive look of leather, but they don’t always like an expensive price. The truth is that nowadays you can find leather that is cheaper than many textile upholstered pieces. This can be accomplished by matching leather with vinyl, or by using scraps sewn together. Some companies even grind leather scraps to make a bonded hide that is sold as genuine leather even though that 80% of it could be the binder and the other 20% leather fibers. It is best to make sure you are purchasing a piece with a true leather hide that has been processed correctly with color that will not rub off with normal usage. That’s the real secret to making a purchase that you will be happy with for years, but the color loss issue is becoming more common; even with reputable furniture stores.
My wife has a Wilson’s yellow pigmented leather purse that has been tossed around, mistreated, and thoroughly used for years. It looks great believe it or not. This goes to show that it is still possible to get leather that is durable. I see dozens of pieces of furniture each week that has considerable color loss on the seating area, headrest area, and arm pads. These are usually marketed as “aniline dyed” leather, but they are not even though they look like it. Some of these items I see are just a few months old! A true aniline dyed hide will get more supple with age, develop an aged patina, and the color is a saturated dye that should penetrate the full depth of the hide. If your “aniline hide” furniture starts becoming lighter on the welting, seating edge, or in areas where there is much contact then beware. It will continue to worsen and cannot be permanently repaired. If your leather has color that has begun to peel off like a bad sunburn, it had a pigmented topcoat that did not adhere correctly.
For new furniture there are a couple of things to look for. If it has detachable seat casings, unzip one and look at the back side of the hide. If it is a different color than the top side, then the hide is pigmented. That means it has a flexible urethane color on the surface… which is not necessarily a bad thing. If it is the same color, then it has been dyed. Now it is time to test the color. Take a soft white cloth and ask the salesperson to allow you to rub some leather conditioner on the piece in an inconspicuous area. Rub firmly for at least 15 seconds and look at the cloth. If you have color on it- then don’t buy it.
If the furniture in your home has color loss and it is less than 1 year old, call the customer service department to report it before it is out of warranty. If the color is peeling off, take a piece of blue painter’s tape and press it firmly on the area of concern. If it pulls up color when you remove it, look at what is stuck on the tape. If the color has fibers sticking to it, then the hide was not tanned properly and there is nothing you can do except let it fall apart in time- no repair here. If the colored surface stuck to the tape is smooth, then the color did not bond well to the hide- this is purely cosmetic and can sometimes be repaired by a pro.
It is wise to beware of cheap priced leather. I like leather, but prefer cloth. It can be just as durable, look just as expensive, and be easy to care for. Textiles breathe, they are not cold to sit on in winter, nor are they hot and sweaty to sit on in summer. You can find leather with those same characteristics, but they are the real high end hides- and are not cheap. Unless you do your research, your best bet is to look online at the reviews of whatever it is that you like. Customer feedback is a great way to determine how your potential purchase will perform. Remember that color loss on leather is only normal for a low end hide- which should not be on high end priced furniture.