In past editions of the News & Neighbor “How To” Edition, I have focused more on a broad level of how to select furniture. As one can imagine, there are many different aspects to consider when choosing furnishings for your home and it would be a very lengthy synopsis if I were to cover each aspect at once. Therefore, I would like to use what limited space I have to focus in more detail on one of the most confusing aspects of buying living room furniture, i.e. leather sofas vs. bonded leather sofas. One of the most commonly asked questions of our sales associates by our customers shopping for a sofa is “is this leather?” Sometimes, it is hard for me to differentiate between real leather and bonded leather.
So what exactly is “bonded leather?” In some ways explaining what bonded leather is can be the same as describing the difference between ground beef and steak. Bonded leather used on sofas and other furniture is typically blended with polyurethane and then given a fabric backing and mixed with leather pieces. Bonded leather sofas are not often considered to be a leather product at all because they contain only between 10 and 17 percent genuine leather, and very little or none of this is in the surface material.
So what exactly is “top grain leather.” Sofas made of top grain leather are made with material taken from the top layer of hides that are sanded and then tanned before being cut to cover the sofa. Sanding the leather removes scars, branding marks and scrapes that are often present in this layer of hide.
So what are the major differences between these two types of materials, especially when used on a sofa? The most obvious answer to this question is cost for many of the same reasons ground beef is less expensive than steak. When you compare the cost of manufacturing a sofa with real top grain leather versus a mixture of leather scraps and a bonding agent, it is pretty easy to see why bonded leather is less expensive. The other major difference is durability. Top grain leather is exponentially more durable than bonded leather and is relatively easy to repair. Bonded leather will lose its “feel” over time and you will eventually start seeing cracking or peeling. Leather is simply leather. Yes, it will scratch, but it actually gets softer over time and will never peel or crack.
So how do you tell the difference between the two when they both look very similar?
• The price – the most obvious determiner of a leather or bonded leather sofa is the price. An entry price point for a top grain leather sofa is approximately $1,299. If you see what looks like a leather sofa priced at $699, you can rest assured this is not a top grain leather sofa.
• Appearance – Look closely to identify markings found in authentic leather. Natural hide markings, grain characteristics and “fat wrinkles” are inherent in the animal it came from. The upholstery seams and edges can also determine if the leather is real or manmade. Smooth, perfect edges tend to indicate faux leather, while rough, uneven edges are more
prevalent in genuine leather. If the furniture is covered in a large, continuous piece of upholstery material, it’s likely fake, as that is much larger than a normal-sized animal.
• Touch – You should feel “fat wrinkles” in real leather, as well as a soft suppleness and slightly uneven feel. Bonded leather typically feels cold and smooth to the touch because it doesn’t “breathe” like real leather, which has pores with irregular shapes. Fake leather may be manufactured with what looks like pores, but their pattern is unusually even and repetitive.
• Aroma – Genuine leather has a distinctive aroma that cannot be duplicated in a fake leather piece. Smell a piece of leather-look furniture to determine its authenticity.
So which one if right for you? This is a harder question to answer because it is largely based on a shopper’s personal preference. In my opinion, if you like the leather look and have a tight budget, don’t need a sofa to last more than a few years and don’t particularly have to have the leather smell or feel, then a bonded leather sofa could be a great choice. If you are one who thinks there is nothing quite like the aroma and the warmth of genuine leather, you don’t want to have to replace your sofa for a while and your budget allows you to afford it, then a top grain leather sofa is probably your best choice. I have owned both types and have enjoyed both types. I will also state that if you are interested in purchasing a reclining sofa, then you are most likely going to have at least some bonded leather on that sofa in that the sides and back are usually covered in some type of bonded leather on reclining sofas.
I hope you have found this information useful and would like to add that information such as this will soon become readily available on the “Zaks Facts” blog on our website at www.zaksfurniture.com. This blog will cover various aspects of furniture shopping and is not intended to be an advertising medium but an educational resource to assist you with making the right choices for you when shopping for furniture or bedding.