How To: Shop For Leather Furniture

Monday, May 05, 2008

I'll be honest. Shopping for leather can be a daunting task. A leather sofa isn't just another sofa. It's an investment. However, if you shop smart, you can enjoy a piece that will last a lifetime. A prime example: my parents have had their leather sofa for over 20 years! While other sofas have come and gone, been recovered, and given to Goodwill, that leather set has stood the test of time.

The Vivian Sofa by American Leather
First of all, you should be prepared to pay more for a great leather sofa. Don't be lured in by promises of an $800 sofa. That is not a good deal! Why? Because it probably isn't constructed well and the leather itself is probably poor quality. Sometimes things are too good to be true. A good leather sofa that will last needs to be built well and covered with a good quality leather. Here are the things you should look for:
1. Full Top Grain Leather: This type of leather is the strongest, best quality you can get. That's why it's more expensive. It has natural markings on it's surface even if it's been aniline dyed. A sofa made of full top grain leather will last. What you don't want is a sofa made of split leather. The split is the underlayer of a cow's hide. It has no natural grain, so any markings will have been embossed. It is weaker and less durable than full top grain leather.

The Dexter Sofa by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
2. Aniline Dyed Leather: Aniline dyed means that the dye is dispersed throughout the entire hide. Translation: if you scratch a black sofa, the layer underneath will not be white- it will be black. Why is this important? Anyone with pets or kids (well, anyone) knows that leather will not remain untouched unless you cover it in plastic. Scratches happen. The best thing you can do is disguise them. What to avoid? Painted leather. Not only will it make you sweat (pores closed by paint won't let air circulate around your bum) but it will also show wear more quickly. That would be less bang for your buck.

3. Kiln Dried Hardwood Frames: Having the best leather in the world on your sofa won't mean a thing if the frame falls apart. Make sure your frames are kiln dried (meaning they suck out most of the moisture to stop your frame from rotting or warping) Hardwoods will last longer than softwoods (do I need to explain why).

4. Slipcovered Upholstery: I'm not saying your leather sofa should be slipcovered. Because that might be kinda weird. Great upholstery is put on using a slipcover technique. That means the manufacturer sews the upholstery like a slipcover and then slides it onto the sofa. It is then fixed to the bottom and voila! Your sofa. The pro to this method is that the seams will not break open like they do using the other method. That other method is closing the upholstery at the back seam using a tacking strip. Imagine spikes poking through your seams. Not awesome.
The Jonathan Lounge by Oly Studio
5. Padded Frames: There's nothing quite like using your knee to help you push a chair foward and having said knee poke right through the back of the chair. Awesome. Luckily, there is a simple cure for that. Make sure the entire from of the piece is padded. That means the frame is closed all over the piece and padding is attached to the frame. No gaping holes!

6. Quality Suspension: When you buy a piece of furniture as expensive as leather, you want it to last, right? Right. So make sure the suspension system will withstand all of the sitting, and getting back up, and flopping down, and kids jumping, and so on. There are a few options: Eight way hand tied has the popular vote. Many people are familiar with this kind of suspension and it certainly is high quality. Unidirectional webbing is another good option. High strength webbing is lined up front to back so when your pervy Uncle Lou sits next to you, you won't fall into his lap. You could also try sinuous spring suspension. Thick gauge S-shaped wires curve over seats and can definitely take a beating.

7. High Density, High Resiliency Foam Cushions: Sure, cushions can usually be replaced pretty easily, but why would you want to? Make sure the cushions used in your leather sofa are high density (meaning: more molecules packed into a smaller space) and high resiliency (meaning: the cushion will bounce back for a long time). Be careful when dealing with soy cushions. Some companies haven't gotten their mixture right and what was springy on day 1 will be flat by day 30. You'll want you cushions to last- especially if your sofa has a tight seat.
The Laguna Swoop Chair by Maria Yee

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