I’ve been selling furniture for over a decade now and a good portion of that has been in leather. One thing I’ve noticed is EVERYONE has an opinion about leather furniture and they usually think they’re making an informed decision. You sit on it. You can wipe it. Its cow hide, right? What else is there to know? In reality most people I’ve spoken with have misinformed or outdated information. Want to test your knowledge? I’m going to list some of the most common statements that praise and condemn leather furniture. Play along. How many of these questions can you get right?
I don’t like leather because it’s hot and sticks to your skin.
FALSE- I hear this one more than ANY other complaint about leather. Let me clarify this one. Leather is a natural material and as such is fully breathable. “But I’ve stuck to leather before, I have a leather set I stick to”, you say. Let me be frank, there’s 2 reasons why your legs are sticking to your sofa like a plastic chair in your community theatre on a +40 day. Number 1: Leather needs to stay clean in order to breathe. If dirt and oil accumulate on your leather’s finish and isn’t cleaned off it won’t be long before you’re cursing why you ever bought it in the first place. Number 2: It’s NOT really leather. Don’t assume that if it looks like a duck it is a duck. If you fall in love with a sofa set in faux leather and you don’t ask about what it’s made of it can be easy to assume that it’s actual leather. I’ve even had some customers’ mistake leather-patterned fabrics for the genuine article. The problem with asking sales staff is that you truly need a knowledgeable sales specialist who isn’t motivated by their commission cheque at the end of the month. With that in mind here’s a cheat. Check under the sofa. Do you see the cut edge where the leather has been stapled to the frame? Real leather looks like a hide on the back, much like a suede boot. If the backing on the leather is a fabric you can bet it’s not real and you WILL be sticking to it. Be aware though if the set is a leather match you’ll only find leather on the areas you’re touching while sitting in it. In this case your sides and backs would not be leather. Therefore a good place to look would be the front rail or footrest.
Leather cracks and splits. Especially in the cold
FALSE- The thinking behind this stems from the cheap vinyl furniture of yesteryear. Years ago when my manager and the other dinosaurs of the furniture industry sold imitation leathers there were a lot of problems with the covers cracking and splitting. This is because faux leathers are essentially a fabric backing with a plastic-like coating on top. The problem can be explained with a demonstration. Scrunch up a leather swatch in your hands. Twist it, fold it. Perhaps you’ll notice some stretching and wrinkles. If you have leather finished in an oil or wax pull up you might notice some color loss and mottling happening (don’t worry its temporary). If you tried doing this with an older style of vinyl you’d likely get some cracking and splitting. But, why? The leather is a solid piece of hide. Because it is a solid surface it flexes uniformly. Remember how a vinyl is made? The fabric backing is quite flexible but the plastic cover not so much. When the backing flexes past the point than the plastic coating can tolerate the surface has no other choice but to crack. Most new PVC’s and bonded leathers are created with coatings that are ultra-flexible. Virtually eliminating cracking even in most modern day faux leathers.
Real leather lasts longer than fabrics.
TRUE- It’s been told that leather furniture will outlast any fabric furniture in a ratio of 3 to 1. That is as long as the construction of the frame is the same. Most leather is very durable. One of my fellow sales persons would often grab a hanging leather swatch and a pair of scissors. He’d stretch out the swatch and tell the customer to try to puncture through the leather. While if enough force is applied you may scratch or mark up the surface it’s near impossible for most people to have enough strength to actually puncture it. Think about how hard it is to make that extra hole in your leather belt. Another obvious point to prove this is warranty periods. I have yet to find any furniture manufacturer offer warranty on fabric for more than 1 year, where we have leather furniture manufacturers that offer 5 years of warranty. If the manufacturer is thinking that highly of their own covers that has to tell you something.
Leather means NO maintenance
FALSE-While leather is easy to care for it is far from maintenance free. In the past ten years I’ve spoken to a fair number of people complaining about their leather finish wearing away, peeling or discoloring. I’ll ask them how often they wipe down their sofa with soap and water. Usually the answer I receive is just a baffled look on their face followed by a huh?? What does wiping down your sofa have to do with the finish peeling? Body oil is the enemy of leather. When it accumulates on your set it starts to attack your finish. Over time this can get real ugly. But isn’t there a chance that I got a bad batch of leather? Yes it is possible that there was a problem at the tannery. However 9 times out of 10 the peeling is only found in the headrest and arm rest area, where everyone comes into direct contact with their leather furniture. Perhaps that other 1 out of 10 is also a body oil problem but some things are better not thought about too deeply.
You NEED to condition leather
FALSE- Leather conditioners are kind of a grey area. While using the right professional leather cleaners and conditioners can add some moisture back into thirsty leather you also have to consider that cleaners and conditioners are hard on your leather’s delicate finish. Conditioners work by opening up the pores in your leather allowing moisture to make its way back into the hide. This process can be very had on your finish if you apply it too often, use too much product or even sit on it too soon. Remember when using a conditioner your sofa is vulnerable and can stain quite easily from dyes in your clothing and textiles. Care should be taken to keep off your sofa for 24 hours after using a conditioner to allow your finish to harden up again. Honestly though most leather furniture doesn’t really require any type of conditioner. It’s exposed to a constant temperature, and humidity level in your home. It’s minimally exposed to UV light through your windows, unlike the leather seats in your car that get all kinds of abuse from temperature extremes and sun damage.
More expensive / higher grade leather is better quality leather
MAYBE-“Better quality” is a relative term. On one hand higher grade leathers are usually softer and suppler. There isn’t a more comfortable place to sit than snuggled into a super soft high end leather seat. It almost envelops you in luxury. However this is where the idea of “better quality” ends. Higher grade leathers are also is VERY vulnerable to damage. Courser leathers hold up to abuse much better than their softer, pricier counterparts. If you’re worried about your kids, dog or even just the metal buttons on your jean pockets a cheaper stiffer leather from a company with good quality control divisions will hold up better with less marking and look more like the day you brought it home.
I don’t want leather because it’s cold to sit on
TRUE—kinda. Leather furniture will feel like whatever temperature your room is set to initially. After a few moments your body warmth will fix this problem. So if your set feels cold you’re probably a fan of turning the thermostat down rather than up. Those who are bothered by the initial cool feeling of leather are usually suggested to have a throw on your couch handy to snuggle up with until your body warmth corrects the problem – which usually resolves itself within the first minute of sitting on it.
So how did you do? I hope I’ve been able to pull back the curtain on some misinformation surrounding leather. Buying leather shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach. Picking out your next set should be as personal as picking out your next iPhone, new car or hairstyle. What works for some doesn’t work for all. So don’t be scared to ask questions and explain your concerns. A good sales person will be honest about what to look out for and explain what the pros and cons are upfront. We really want you to be happy and confident about your new purchase leather or not.
Did any of the information surprise you? While many people still prefer fabric to leather I hope I’ve been able to pull back the curtain back on some common misconceptions about leather. At least that way you’re making an informed decision.