How to Shop for a Leather Sofa

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Before signing on the dotted line to buy that plush leather sofa that beckons from a corner of the furniture store with its heady, earthy scents, brush up on the leather used to cover it, as some just aren't worth the money. A good quality leather sofa is an investment that you can hand down to your children, unless its life is cut short because of inferior quality or craftsmanship.

The Part of the Hide

  • The quality of the leather is defined by the part of the hide from which it comes. The highest quality and most expensive leather is full-grain with its natural scars, scratches or appearance. Top-grain leather has had its topmost layer shaved or sanded for a high-quality hide that is also long lasting. Genuine or corrected leather comes from the bottom of the hide and has no graining -- the type of leather that covers the lower-priced sofas. The leather markings are stamped into the hide, creating a semblance of full grain without actually being the more expensive variety. The finish is smooth or rough, depending on the fabrication.

Leather Finishes

  • Unfinished leather actually does have a finish applied as a dye used for its color that produces a glorious sheen. Aniline dye is the only addition to the hide, applied without a protective coating. The fabric is supple and the dye penetrates down to the base of the hide, yielding a richly colored piece of leather cut from a high-quality hide. But unfinished leather scratches, stains and fades with ultraviolet exposure. Finished leather entails treatment with a aniline dye and a breathable glossy or matte coating. Hides of lesser quality use this secondary layer of pigmentation for a heartier, resistant-to-staining couch that doesn't fade as easily. Finished leather couches cost less, and offer a more kid- and pet-friendly option than unfinished leather.

Bonded Leather

  • Bonded leather isn't leather at all, as it's closer to a composite wood material. Leather scraps are reconstituted into a sheet, coated with a bonding agent and applied to a cloth base before being stamped and made to look like hides of leather. Many manufacturers cover the front of a sofa with real leather and use a matching bonded leather for the sections you don’t see. Price determines the quality you can expect.

Other Considerations

  • For a longer-lasting sofa, choose one built on a hardwood frame, not softwood. Lift the sofa and examine the underside to evaluate its construction strength. If the sofa is a recliner, check that metal braces are used on the mechanism. Touch the arm rest thoroughly to check the depth of padding. Do the same with the seat back. Lift the cushions and examine the fabrication between the seat and the frame. Check the welting if the cushions are separate to verify they are sewn well. Examine the floor model carefully for wear and tear, as it is reflective of your sofa after it’s been broken in. To extend the life of your leather sofa, regularly apply a conditioning agent meant for the type of leather and finish.

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