What is Leather and What Isn't?
If you’ve recently gone furniture shopping, you may have had some curiosity about the material used to craft a product. This is particularly true for those in the market for leather furniture or for those who are interested in purchasing a product that features leather.
The list of leathers and counterparts has certainly grown, so much so that it’s become difficult to tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Whether you wish to purchase only genuine leather products or prefer the affordability of faux materials, we’re here to explain to you what goes in to the production of each, as well as the value behind what you buy.
Genuine leather is created by splitting the cowhide into two layers: Split leather (the bottom layer) and top-grain leather (the top layer). From here, top-grain leather can become either full-grain or corrected-grain. Each leather is made from the outermost layer or “top” of the cowhide, but is treated in different ways that affect quality.
Split leather is typically used on the backs and sides of furniture to create a more affordable product. Sofas, loveseats and chairs that advertise all-leather seating tend to follow this rhythm, with top-grain leather on the back and seat cushions and split or faux leather on the posterior.
The leather is sanded down and an artificial grain is applied to the surface to mimic the look and feel of top-grain leather. Untreated split leather is what you might find in cowhide hardware gloves.
Top-grain leather is found most commonly in high-end products that have a consistent, smooth design. The grain is thinner and therefore more flexible than full-grain leather, and the surface is sanded and finished.
The resulting material tends to have a stiffer feel and doesn’t contain the same breathability as full-grain leather. Top-grain leather also lacks a patina or tarnish, which is caused by oxidation, sunlight or oil. Although many enjoy the look of a patina, its nonexistence in top-grain furniture can be appealing to those who prefer leather that looks “perfect.” The leather is typically less expensive than full-grain and harbors greater wear and stain resistance due to its treatment.