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Leather Guide

It has become increasingly common over the past few years for manufacturers to use different types of leather in their sofas, and retailers are not always very up front with the customer about what they are getting. So we have written the following guide to explain what the differences are, and what the logos you see on each of our products all mean.

When leather is made, it is often split into two by peeling the top layer off. This top layer is the surface of the skin and contains the original colouring and texture. If this layer is of very high quality it is left intact and becomes ANILINE LEATHER. This is a soft, relatively thin leather and is used for handbags or clothes or for more expensive furniture. It is very nice to touch and the manufacturers often leave it untreated so it may contain interesting variations of colour and imperfections in the finish. It is, however, expensive to buy and susceptible to staining and difficult to keep clean.

If the finish is not perfect, the leather may be stamped to give it an artificial texture, and this is generally known as TOP GRAIN LEATHER. While aniline leather is sometimes left unfinished, top grain leather is usually dyed to give it a uniform colour. Top grain leather varies a great deal in quality and feel, and there is a definite crossover between lower quality top grain leather and high quality split leather. We will never sell poor top grain leather that is actually no better than split leather.

SPLIT LEATHER is the part that is left behind when the top layer is peeled off. It still has all the virtues of the original leather, but does not have any texture or colouring of its own, so it is always stamped with an artificial texture and dyed to give it colour. A good split leather can feel similar to top grain leather; a poor one can feel papery and unsupple. In view of this if you are not sure about a supplier we recommend requesting a swatch before buying. We are always happy to supply swatches - be wary of suppliers who aren't.

Finally, a recent development is the increasing use of BONDED LEATHER. This is made up of real leather fibres which are then combined with latex to form a sheet of material which looks and feels almost identical to a good, supple split leather. So it contains all the original leather fibres, but has the great advantage of minimising waste for the manufacturer, which means that it can often be very much cheaper.

Sometimes leather is given a coating to help protect it, usually made from some kind of PU or plastic. The oldest example of this is PATENT LEATHER, which is commonly used in shoes or fashion accessories.

Very common nowadays in the furniture industry is BICAST LEATHER, which is similar: a leather sheet with a PU coating. Bicast leather can be made from split leather, bonded leather or sometimes even whole leather which was never split, and the PU layer gives it a smooth finish which can be cleaned with soap and water and is very practical and easy to look after.

Faux leather means 'fake leather', and is actually made from PU (or sometimes PVC). The quality has improved a great deal in recent years, and these days it can be difficult to tell the difference between the surface of PU and real leather unless you really know what you are looking for. It is generally obvious if you can see the underside of the material, but with furniture this is often not possible. It has the advantages of being cheaper and very easy to clean and look after, and PU furniture is often nicer to touch than the lower quality leathers, but obviously you are not getting leather.

Another innovation in recent years is the increasing use of different materials for different parts of a sofa. The manufacturers reason that the only parts of a sofa where the feel of the material is really important are the surfaces you sit on and touch, so it has become quite common to find sofas where the arms and seating areas are made from top grain leather and the sides and back are made from a less expensive split leather or faux leather (and it is often very hard to tell the difference). This can bring down the price considerably and makes very little difference to the experience of owning/sitting on the sofa.

But you should be careful. Sometimes retailers will advertise a sofa as leather and only mention in the small print that it is actually only half leather (if they mention it at all!). As a result, we will always state clearly in the main product description what the sofa material is, and which parts of the sofa are covered.

If you have any doubts about what you are buying, we can send you a swatch of any of our leathers in any colour. If you order it before midday your swatch will be despatched no later than the following day using Royal Mail first class post.