Quality Counts - How to Choose the Right Type of Leather

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You’ve got a lot of choices when selecting leather for your furniture coverings. Would you know the difference between pigmented leather and vintage leather? You may have heard Italian leather is the best, but did you know that there are degrees of quality even in Italian leather? Here is a brief overview of leather quality and options for the consumer, especially if you are interested in mid-century moderns’ barcelona chair.

The Spectrum 

As with all manufactured goods, there is a range of options and quality to choose from. On the low end is patent leather and pigmented leather. Patent leather has a hard shiny surface, mars easily and won’t wear well. Pigmented leather is surface dyed with a pigmented dye that is mixed with a protectant. This dries into a hard or rough finish that, while durable enough, doesn’t give you the soft feel of higher quality leather.

Vintage leather falls somewhere in the middle. The distressed look is very popular with some furniture manufacturers whose customers prefer the aged appearance of vintage leather. Some Aniline leather is artificially distressed to resemble vintage leather, so be sure you know what you are looking at when you shop. There’s a great deal of price variance in these products as well, so it’s good to know what you are shopping for.

On the high end is Italian leather and Aniline leather. These are the top quality leathers that are used in the manufacture of highly -priced furniture. Samples of these different types of leather are usually available from high-end stores, so you have the ability to feel (and smell) the different swatches to make an informed buying decision.

Italian Leather

Italian leather comes in various forms and degrees of quality with a variety of processes applied to give the hides their finished look.
Vegetable tanned leather uses tree bark, tannins and other plant matter to process the hides. This gives them a natural finish which shows well, and is quite water resistant. Vegetable tanned Italian leather is a great choice for those customers who have chrome allergies.

Top-grain leather is relatively thin and supple that is beautiful and stain-resistant. It can be vegetable or chrome tanned. Top-grain leather is comfortable for seating and looks great in the home. This is a moderately priced choice for a quality leather furniture covering.

Full-Grain Italian leather can be either vegetable or chrome tanned. This is the thickest and most durable hide, and can withstand a great deal of wear. Full-grain leather is often used in industrial and commercial settings such as offices, restaurants and lounge seating. This option provides a great investment in a quality leather covering that is made to last.

Vintage Leather

Anything manufactured pre-1980s is considered “vintage”. The aged and distressed look of vintage leather has a lot of appeal in certain markets. Features such as wrinkles, scratches, and other imperfections are considered positive features that add to its aged appearance. Vintage leather may also be dyed with a variety of colors. The various dyes used create highlights and add a rough texture. “Distressed” leather, which is Aniline leather that has been dyed and processed to create a worn appearance, is often used synonymously with this term. Vintage leather has had a great deal of popularity through the years, but buyer beware when shopping for vintage leather. Be sure that the piece you are considering was a high quality original when it was built, or invest in a new reproduction piece using vintage covering.

Aniline Leather

Aniline is the highest quality furniture leather available today. The dyeing process uses only soluble dyes without stiff topcoats or protectants added. This leaves the leather with a natural look showing all the pores and scars from the hides and that buttery soft feel that tells you it’s a high-quality covering. Untreated Aniline leather has that luxurious elegance that only high-end furniture can achieve. Purchasing this furniture covering is an investment in a quality piece of furniture that will retain its value over time.

Some Aniline leather is treated with a protectant that gives it longer wear ability and creates a stiffer feeling to the leather. The untreated Aniline is far more desirable for the softness and suppleness that the natural hide maintains.

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