If you’ve ever tried shopping for a new leather piece, you’ve likely discovered that not all leather furniture is created equal. There is a wide variety in texture, quality, sturdiness, and sophistication between all of the leather furniture options on the market.
When you start shopping for leather furniture, it helps to have a base knowledge of what you might want, and how that type compares to other choices.
Check out our guide on the types of leather used in furniture, starting with the most expensive types and descending in price.
Full Grain Leather
This is the most authentic type of furniture leather you can buy. The only process applied to the original animal hide is hair removal, followed by soaking it in a natural (usually vegetable) dye. There is no additional treatment of the leather, and it retains the look and texture of the actual hide. Since this leather is so pure, it’s generally the highest price of all leather furniture choices. The texture of full grain leather is tough at first, but softens with use.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather gets a little more polishing than full grain leather, though it is very similar to full grain in its purity. Top grain leather goes through a buffing process, making it softer than full grain, but with the same durability and longevity. If you want a softer look and feel, go for top grain instead of the more rugged full grain leather.
Split Grain Leather
When the “top” outer layer of leather is removed, the remaining hide section is used for split grain varieties of furniture. While less expensive, split grain is harder in texture and more difficult to maintain than the higher-quality types.
If you want to have that high-quality leather look at a lower cost, consider furniture made from bonded leather. This leather is created from the scraps of other leather projects, and then rolled up using adhesive material. In most cases, the end product contains just 17% leather but still gives a leather look and smell.
This type of furniture leather is made using only the rawhide from cattle, which is then sanded to give it a suede-like, soft appearance. Nubuck leather is known for its fragility, and requires waterproofing treatment if consumers intend to keep it for a long time.
Bi-cast leather is split grain with a coating of color polyurethane that makes it look like top grain leather. It’s much less expensive than top grain, but without the right treatment, it peels and cracks. Make sure you know the difference between bi-cast leather and top grain before you make your purchase, and understand proper maintenance.
For a leather look that doesn’t actually use any animal hides, try faux leather furniture. Technology has not yet made it possible for man-made leather to quite reach the quality of its real counterpart, but it has improved enough that faux leather furniture is durable and looks great. For some animal lovers, faux leather can be a smart, attractive alternative.