In general, leather is an extremely durable option for upholstery. It gives a clean contemporary feel to furniture and is usually very easy to maintain. There are many different types of leather, described below. As a general rule, leather is more hard-wearing than fabric. However, there are some exceptions - read on for more details.. For busy homes, with young children, a hard-wearing leather is hard to beat.
When selecting the right leather for your sofa or chair, we advise people to take into consideration their own specific needs and wishes for the furniture. Ask yourself these questions.
This leather type has been corrected and/ or pigmented, so that an artificial grain is applied to its surface. Though some natural characteristics may still be visible, most imperfections have been sanded off and the leather has an even appearance and the colour will be more uniform. The pigment finish protects the leather and makes it more durable. However, the correction process can take away slightly from the natural beauty of the leather, and it can feel colder to the touch than uncorrected leather types. The degree of correction varies, and some high-end corrected leathers have a subtle artificial grain, which offers a good compromise. For example Velluto Pelle leather by Spinneybeck which goes through a light enhancement process, giving only a lightly enhanced grain. This leather should not change in appearance over time and thus it will not gain a "patina", unlike full grain, uncorrected leather.
This type of leather is suitable for all domestic situations, including families with young children and/or pets.
This leather has not been processed to remove imperfections. As a result, only the best hides can be used for this leather, as any imperfections will show. The grain remains, which allows breathability. Full grain leather does not "wear out", but develops a lovely patina over time. However, as the leather has no protection, it can be harder to maintain. E.g a drink spill will show more on full grain leather. Full grain leather is usually available in aniline and semi-aniline. Aniline leather is coloured only with dye, whereas semi-aniline also has a thin protective top coat to help protect it from wear and staining. Vitra’s Grand and Premium leathers are both semi-aniline. They both have a natural grain surface; the main difference is that grand leather is slightly thicker with a more pronounced, larger grain structure, so is slightly more hard-wearing. Premium leather has a tighter, smoother grain, which many people prefer in terms of appearance and feel.
Semi-aniline leather is more durable due to its light surface coating. Full grain leather should be fine in homes with older (and well-behaved!) children.
You may also hear the term "naked" leather. This refers to a naked full-grain aniline leather in its purest form. Only the very best hides can be used - all marks will show - and the leather will develop a fantastic patina over time which is absolutely stunning. An example of naked leather is Sorensen Elegance used by Fritz Hansen for classics such as the Egg chair and Swan sofa. However, it is not for everyone - it has no protection against spills or stains. Families with young children or pets may wish to avoid this leather.
Like fabric, leather goes through a rigourous testing process. Once you understand the basics of this, it will help you decide which type of leather is best for you. There are European Standards for upholstery leather. The key tests include: colour fastness to light, colour fastness to rubbing, finish adhesion, tearing load and flexing endurance.
Colour fastness to light is measured on the international blue scale; results ranging from 1-8, higher numbers indicating better resistance to light. Aniline should stand up to 3, semi-aniline is between 4-5 and pigmented should be between 5 and 6 to be approved.
Colour fastness to rubbing tests the resistance to wear of colours. This test is performed with a square piece of felt. The felt square is rubbed against the leather in both wet, dry and perspiration conditions. The colour rubbed off is compared to the international grey scale. The test is measured on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the best result.
Finish adhesion is a test carried out to find out how well the surface colour sticks to the leather. Finish adhesion is only tested on semi-aniline and pigmented leather, as aniline has no finish on the surface. The higher the value, the better finish adhesion.
Tearing load is an expression of tearing strength. The tearing power is measured at least 5 times during the test and is measured in relation to the thickness of the leather.
Flexing endurance measure the ability of the leather to bend through a considerable angle more or less easily without damage (up to 50,000 cracks).
Leather is a living material that matures beautifully if treated properly. The best advice to care of all types of leather is regular vacuum cleaning using a soft brush. Avoid the use of detergents and sharp objects. Never apply chemicals, cleaning detergents or fats such as leather polish or oil.
If cleaning is required, use boiled water with good-quality natural soap flakes. Mix 2-3 tablespoons of soap flakes in 1 litre of water and use only the foam. Spread the foam with a soft cloth over the entire piece of furniture. Let it dry and wipe carefully with a soft cotton cloth. You should never place leather furniture in direct sunlight or close to a radiator as this can cause the colour to fade and the leather to dry out.
Natural or naked leather is a particularly delicate as it has no protection and will easily absorb liquids such as drinks/oils and fats. Only try to remove stains if absolutely necessary as the leather is easily damaged by excessive cleaning attempts.