Leather Furniture

Friday, 17 November 2006 | Tags: , , ,

Leather is a popular material for use in furniture upholstery. Itís durable, attractive, and comfortable. We uncover the facts when it comes to choosing leather furniture.

The Basics

  • Leather will outlast fabric by up to five times.

  • Leather comes in different grades which greatly impacts the look and feel. It also affects the durability and the cost.

    • Full-grain is the best quality, and the most expensive. It’s made from the top layer of the hide so it shows the natural grain. It’s very strong while still soft to the touch. Full-aniline is the elite level of full-grain: it’s the least processed and the most supple. When dyed, the colour permeates the leather helping to hide scratches.

    • Protected or semi-aniline leather combines aniline with a pigment finish for better stain protection and colour consistency. The natural grain and texture is still visible and colour is uniform. This is the best option for families with children and pets.

    • Top grain or corrected leather has had the surface sanded away so no genuine grain remains. An imitation grain is stamped on to give it a uniform look. Don’t be fooled by the word “top”. It’s not top quality by any means.

    • Bi-cast leather is a base of low-grade reconstituted leather with a thick polyurethane coating. The least expensive, it’s not as durable as the others because it’s essentially man-made. The natural qualities of real leather are lost.

  • Use your sense of touch and smell to single out the best leather. Make sure you sit down and like how it feels – both the furniture and the leather.

Other Considerations

  • There’s a misconception that leather is hot and sticky in the summer and cold and uninviting in the winter. This is only true for bi-cast or pigmented leather. A good aniline leather breathes and is comfortable all year round.

  • Even the finest leather isn’t much good if it covers a badly constructed piece of furniture. Good quality furniture uses hardwood, which is heavier and the most durable. Look for a solid and heavy piece (as much as 100 or 200 pounds). It shouldn’t move very easily when you give it a shove.


We took three identical chairs and upholstered them in these three different grades of leather:

  • Bi-cast: $260
  • Corrected: $500-800
  • Full-grain: $1000-1300

Our tests and results include:

Grade Test

We placed the chairs in a busy mall and asked passersby to see if they could pick out the top grade.

  • One-third of our testers picked the bi-cast as the most expensive, probably because it had a shinier finish.

  • About half chose the corrected leather.

  • A few savvy shoppers were able to pick out the top grain just by touching it’s smooth and supple texture.

Wear & Tear Test

We also did our best to puncture and scratch swatches of the three different grades of leather with a knitting needle.

  • The full-grain leather held up the best.

  • Our attempts to scar the corrected leather didn’t make much impact.

  • The bi-cast failed in the scratch test, wounding easily and looking terrible.


Full grain leather may be the most durable choice, but to save a bit of money we recommend corrected leather, which has a similar appearance, but a mid-range cost.


top of page | | back to posts |
  • Subscribe to the A&K Newsletter