All leather is not the same. People often wonder why some sofas that are labeled as leather come in such a wide range of prices. This is why:
Also known as reconstituted leather or blended leather, bonded leather is a manufactured upholstery material that includes some percentage of animal hide. It is made in layers, with a a fiber or paper backing, then a pulp made from the shredded leather, and finally a polyurethane coating. This coating is embossed with a leather-like texture to make it appear more like a full piece of leather (or something a little more interesting). Think of it as the fiberboard of the leather world.
Split Hide Leather
When a cow is slaughtered, the skin is removed in a single layer. When it arrives at the tannery, the outer layer of skin is separated from the inner layers. The outer layer is removed to be used as top grain, and the remaining layers are referred to as “split hides.”
Split hides are coarser, stiffer, and are more susceptible to cracking. In addition, the average life span of a split hide is only 5 years, and so they are usually better suited for making mid-range garments such as belts, handbags, shoes, etc., that are not expected to last more than a couple of years of regular wear.
Cheaper leather upholstery is often made of split hides as well, and is advantageous to the manufacturer since these hides are cheaper to buy per square foot and have a greater yield since there are fewer flaws in split hides, and therefore less waste. Obviously, the advantage of using split hides is the substantial savings in the cost of the leather, but that savings is also directly responsible for the poor quality and wear ability of the leather.
Top Grain Leather
The outer layer of skin that is removed at the tannery is usually only around 3/64″ thick, and is referred to as “top grain.” Top grain leather is best suited for upholstery pieces because of its strength and durability, as well as its soft and supple hand which will actually become even nicer as the years go on.
Since it is the outer layer of skin, it does tend to have scars and surface blemishes, but in my opinion this just adds to the beauty and uniqueness of each hide. If properly cared for, top grain leather upholstery should last indefinitely.
A lot of what you see on the retail market is bonded or split hide leather. The bonded leather with tend to last longer than the split hide but will have a fake look to it since it really kind of is fake. There is some leather in there but it is still manufactured. Most of the custom upholstered goods we sell are made of top or full grain leather. I tend to like full-grain leather the most since it has the most natural beauty. The flaws in this type of leather are considered an asset and not a deficit.
Designing spaces you love to live in,