The leather types used for furniture are as diverse as the different breeds of cattle breeds, their habitats and growth conditions. The leather skins do not only come from Europe, but from numerous regions of the world. However, it is not just the rawhide of the individual animal, but also the method of producing leather which results in considerable material and quality differences. The German leather-producing industry plays a pioneering role in terms of product quality, environmentally friendly and resource-saving tanning processes and compliance with occupational health and safety.
The range of leather furniture stretches from the finest quality leather right through to absolutely inferior materials, which have practically nothing to do with real leather anymore. Therefore, many a complete leather suite in the furniture store costs less than what premium manufacturers will pay for a single hide when purchasing. In order to be selected as a high-quality leather for upholstered furniture, the rawhide must meet many requirements. For example, a minimum of damage-free surface, so that even a large seat cushion can be covered.
Strong Simmental Valley livestock from the Alpine region, for example, have good chances for this, because the animal welfare methods of the local farmers and a conducive climate give the raw material a fine quality. On the other hand, raw hides of outdoor cattle from, for example, South America, which are still subject to manure fork scars, horn scars and thorn scratches, never manage to be processed into a high-quality leather sofa.
In other words, good furniture leather is the result of a long, careful selection process. Only the best raw hides with minimal scarring can be processed into the finest, natural pure aniline leather and then used in the highest quality leather furniture. And that comes at a (justified) price.
To the chagrin of consumers, however, some sofa suites carry the label "real leather", even though they are made of cheap, split leather coated with many layers of paint, and that have nothing to do with the natural source material. The often inadequate advice in furniture stores often contributes to the buyers knowing little about the material properties of their chosen leather.
The most important facts about furniture leather at a glance:
What to look out for when buying leather furniture: What type of leather is right for me?
Anybody looking for new leather furniture for their home are faced with the question of which type of leather they should choose. For non-experts, it is not easy finding your way through the maze of different leather types: the choice is enormous, and advice in furniture stores is often lacking. It is therefore enormously important to research the merits and disadvantages of different types of leather BEFORE buying a leather sofa.
Your highly individual everyday habits are decisive in the selection of the leather. For example, a large family with young children should tend towards a robust, easy-care pigmented smooth leather. For shared student accommodation with a tighter budget, it would probably best to go for imitation leather. And true leather lovers who like soft, natural leather with a light patina appreciate the soft, open-pore pure aniline, but also know its price and long-term care demands.
Leather is not just leather. Even though the starting material for upholstered furniture is (almost) always cowhide, there are still plenty of different types. Depending on the method used to produce it, different types of leather have different material properties. We will provide you with a brief overview of the leather types most often used for upholstered furniture here:
PIGMENTED SMOOTH LEATHER (the easy-care leather):
90% of all leather furniture is made of pigmented/covered smooth leathers. These are cowhides which have a protective surface thanks to a surface layer of colour (pigmentation) and are therefore easy to care for and very "suitable for everyday use". The colour top coating is applied to conceal the natural character of the animal, such as bites, scratches, branding marks, etc. If the color layer is so thick that the natural appearance of the skin is no longer visible, the typical leather grain is later embossed into the colour layer. However, this (varyingly thick) colour layer also means that the leather feels a little stiffer and only moderately warm. The leather is robust, stains and soiling can be removed very easily. In commercial trade, pigmented leather is also known as "long-life" leather.
SEMI-ANILINE (the "happy medium"):
If the colour layer applied to the smooth leather is just gossamer-thin and the pores (fur follicles) are somewhat visible, then the leather is semi-aniline or slightly pigmented smooth leather. It has a pleasant and soft feel. We call it "the happy medium of furniture leather", because it still has the naturalness and softness of natural leather, but is still protected by a breath of colour and therefore soiling can be removed easily.
PURE ANILINE (the exclusive):
Pure aniline leathers are fully dyed leathers which do not have any surface colour top layer, and are therefore fully open-pored. You can therefore still see the tiny fur follicles, the pores of the skin. Therefore, pure aniline feels wonderfully soft and warm, and is breathable. Only the very best cowhides, which have no open damage or natural features such as injury scars or branding marks, are used for pure aniline. This exclusivity means that pure aniline leathers are also expensive. Unfortunately, due to its naturalness, it is also very sensitive and prone to stains, signs of wear and "grease shine". This leather type is not particularly recommendable for families with children and pets, because signs of everyday use will quickly develop. Colour-intensive pure aniline leather tends to fade, so direct sunlight should be avoided and UV protection is recommended. Regular cleaning and care is particularly important for ensuring that this sensitive leather retains its beauty long-term.
SUMMARY: The finest leather quality is (unfortunately) the most sensitive. Exclusive pure aniline needs to be treated more carefully and more often than pigmented leather. Semi-aniline is the "happy medium" of furniture leather.
What should be taken into consideration when buying leather furniture:
Unfortunately, we experience again and again that the advice given when purchasing leather furniture in the furniture store is not satisfactory. Many salespeople only have a limited knowledge of leather and so therefore cannot offer ideal customer-specific recommendations. Therefore, before deciding, ask yourself the following questions:
· Will the sofa be used regularly or only as a showpiece?
· Will food and drink be consumed on the sofa?
· Will it be placed in direct sunlight or protected from light?
· Will children, and even pets, be using it?
· Are you ready to provide regular, preventive treatment, or will you only react in the event of an acute stain?
· Ask about the manufacturer of the furniture: Renowned German manufacturers (e.g. ROLF BENZ, COR Koinor, W.Schillig, etc.) also normally use high-quality leather. Upholstered furniture that has been manufactured in the Far East often feature "visually beautified" but inferior leather qualities.
· As a buyer, you have the right to information on the exact leather designation, the type of leather (in accordance with DIN 68871) and other properties. Find all of this legally prescribed information BEFORE you buy, to ensure that the leather you buy is the type that you actually want. Information such as "Leather of price class 1" is definitely of no help whatsoever.
· Check before buying that truly ALL of the surfaces on the sofa are of real leather - in the lower price range there are also models where only the seat covers, for example are of real leather; other parts are covered with imitation leather.
· Not least, the choice of the type of leather is a matter of personal taste and budget.