Leather is not just leather. Different grades and cuts give it a different feel and texture and also impact how it ages. Some buzzwords you may hear when shopping for leather furniture are “bonded leather“, “full grain” and lately “top grain leather”. These terms basically describe the type and condition of the hide.
Top and Full Grain Leather
Top grain simply means it is the outer most part of the hide, and that it is not a split or under part which has less strength and durability. When the processing is started the top of the leather is sheared from the hide leaving a split. A split is good for a back or side, not a place where you will sit as the hide will stretch and lose its shape.
A full grain hide is left with all its natural characteristics and markings in the processing stages. You will see a variety of grains from small to very heavy and this is ok. This shows that you are getting a genuine, minimally processed hide with natural markings. You will see many types of grain patterns and can determine which fits your preference.
The majority of the leather sold on the market has been buffed to eliminate heavy grain or imperfections and give a smooth uniform appearance and feel. Some hides are embossed with a simulated grain to give a very uniform look. Nevertheless, these are all good, long lasting alternatives to fabric and micro fibers. For those who suffer from allergies, the dust that collects in conventional fabrics can easily be kept in check with leather.
Lately there has been a lot of talk about bonded leather. This is a new introduction to the market and really is not leather at all. It is more synthetics and less than 20 % leather off cuts that are ground down and processed into the synthetic before it hardens to give it a leather grain look.
Bonded leather is already in it’s second generation, the first being released at the beginning of 2007 and the latter coming to the market about 18 months later. There are vast improvements in the quality and look of the 2nd generation bonded materials but at the end of the day, they are synthetic and will never have the same characteristics of real leather. Real leather’s allure comes from the fact that it gets better with age. It requires ‘wear-and-tear’ to look even more rich and feel even softer.
Remember that leather is a natural product so it is never perfect. Scars and various grains are all normal characteristics of genuine leather. The more expensive and natural, the more this rings true. Finally, beware of ultraviolet rays that can dry, crack and fade just about anything and leather is no exception. Look for a conditioner with UV protection. The good news is, leather can get better with use and age as it loosens up and develops a softer feel if taken care of properly.
Links and Resources
- What is Leather? – A short discussion on leather and leather types.
- What is Full grain Leather? – A brief article that describes full grain leather and it’s benefits.
- How to Care for Top Grain Leather – A step by step guide to keeping your leather furniture looking great.
- Full and Top Grain Leather – Full and top grain leather as defined by the LIA (Leather Industries of America).
- Wikipedia on Bonded Leather – Wikipedia defines bonded leather and it’s uses.Wikipedia defines bonded leather and it’s uses.
- Bonded Leather Making Headway in Furniture – Article in Furniture Today that examines bonded leather’s increasing popularity with furniture manufacturers and consumers.
- Comprehensive Guide to Different Leather Types – A report that defines bonded leather and offers ways to promote this material to customers.
- Bonded Leather vs. Genuine Leather (PDF) – This Quora post examines the pros and cons of buying bonded leather products along with excellent commentary.
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