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Designer FAQs: Leather Upholstery
I like the look of a leather bench seat. Where do designers usually place it?
With the right TLC, leather furniture can last for a very long time. Many people love the timeless character of leather, which only grows more beautiful as it ages. We even offer protected leathers that have a uniform appearance and keep a consistent look over time. We also provide a ton of colors and characters for you to choose from.
How can you tell good leather furniture from not so good?
The best leather furniture is made from entire hides; it’s what’s often referred to as “genuine leather.” It can take as many as seven hides to make a leather sectional, and we cut and color-blend every hide by hand.
When you see terms like this, you’re not getting the highest quality available:
- Bonded pieces (made from reused scraps of leather mixed with a bonding material)
- Castoffs (also called bicast; made from the lower, lesser-quality layers of the hide and often given a polyurethane coating)
- Vinyl matching (a blend of leather pieces and synthetic material)
Is top-grain leather the best kind of leather for furniture?
“Top grain” sounds like it means “the best,” but in terms of leather, that’s not necessarily true.
- A leather chair made from full-grain leather maintains the character and natural markings of the original hide.
- A leather bench or ottoman made from top-grain leather has the top of the hide sanded or buffed away, creating a more uniform look.
Which is better? It depends on what you prefer. Some people love that natural, one-of-a-kind look, but other people prefer something with a more consistent appearance.
- If you’re not sure what you like, visit our leather library and order up to 10 free swatches.
- Swatch availability can vary; if you can’t get the swatch you want, visit a Design Center to see our leathers for yourself.
Some of the leather upholstery I see in the Design Center or in the online picture has marks and the color doesn’t look even. Is that normal?
Yes! A hide is as unique as the animal it came from, and just like the rings and markings on a tree show what happened during its lifetime, an animal’s hide tells a story. Marks like scars, wrinkles, bug bites, and other natural markings can be enhanced by dyes.
You may also notice multiple textures on the same hide: your leather sofa can be smooth like a baseball in one place and look pebbly like a basketball in another.
Full-grain, aniline-dyed leathers will show more of those markings and color variations, and some people absolutely love the way they look. If you don’t, then look for top-grain pigmented leather.
I’ve seen these words: aniline, semi-aniline, and pigmented. What do they mean?
These terms refer to the way the leather is dyed:
- When leather is aniline-dyed, the dye highlights the leather’s natural characteristics, just like stain brings out a wood’s natural grain and markings
- Semi-aniline-dyed leather is aniline-dyed and then dyed a second time for a more even color, then given a protective finishing layer.
- Pigmented leathers are top-grain leathers, with the top layer of the hide removed, that are then semi-aniline dyed and given a protective top coat.
How does that help you choose the right material for your leather recliner? Think of it this way:
- Aniline-dyed leathers have the look of your favorite bomber jacket. They’re not going to have perfectly even coloration, and they're going to show natural marking. Wrinkles, subtle shading, even areas of scuffs and scratches are part of their charm.
- Pigmented leathers have more even edge-to-edge color; picture your car’s interior. If you want consistency from year to year, this is for you.
- Semi-aniline leathers are somewhere in between: The color is more even, but it also shows some of the hide’s markings.
To learn more about how to find the right leather for your lifestyle, check out our leather digital magazine and take the leather quiz.
I’ve noticed denim panels on the bottom of Ethan Allen’s leather cushions. Why are they there?
Air from inside a cushion can escape through a fabric's fibers when you sit; not so with leather. Sewing a denim panel to the underside of leather cushions allows air to escape and gives your cushions that sink-in feeling.
Why does Ethan Allen add hook-and-loop tape to loose leather back cushions?
Loose leather back cushions can sometimes fall over if they’re not held up. Hook-and-loop tape secures them to the back of the sofa, so you’re not constantly having to stand them up.
Does leather furniture last?
Leather is really durable and lasts for a long time with the right kind of care. Here are a few tips:
- Keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heating and cooling vents.
- Avoid using cleaners; try to blot spills just as soon as they happen.
- Watch out for keys in your pockets and rivets on your jeans; they can accidentally puncture leather upholstery if you’re not careful.
For even more leather care tips, watch our Leather Dos and Don’ts video.
Need one-on-one help choosing leather furniture? Visit a Design Center or click Designer Chat—we’re happy to help!