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Leather Guide It has become increasingly common over the past few years for manufacturers to use different types of leather in their sofas, and retailers are not always very up front with the customer about what they are getting. So we have written the following guide to explain what the differences are, and what the logos you see on each of our products all mean.

When leather is made, it is often split into two by peeling the top layer off. This top layer is the surface of the skin and contains the original colouring and texture. If this layer is of very high quality it is left intact and becomes ANILINE LEATHER. This is a soft, relatively thin leather and is used for handbags or clothes or for more expensive furniture. It is very nice to touch and the manufacturers often leave it untreated so it may contain interesting variations of colour and imperfections in the finish. It is, however, susceptible to staining and difficult to keep clean.

If the finish is not perfect, the leather may be stamped to give it an artificial texture, and this is generally known as TOP GRAIN LEATHER. While aniline leather is sometimes left unfinished, top grain leather is usually dyed to give it a uniform colour. Top grain leather varies a great deal in quality and feel, and there is a definite crossover between lower quality top grain leather and high quality split leather. We will only use top grain leather that is of high quality and will never sell poor top grain leather that is actually no better than split leather.

SPLIT LEATHER is the part that is left behind when the top layer is peeled off. It still has all the virtues of the original leather, but does not have any texture or colouring of its own, so it is always stamped with an artificial texture and dyed to give it colour. A good split leather can feel similar to top grain leather; a poor one can feel papery and unsupple. In view of this if you are not sure about a supplier we recommend requesting a swatch before buying. We are always happy to supply swatches - be wary of suppliers who aren't.

Finally, a recent development is the increasing use of BONDED LEATHER. This is a reconstituted leather made of real leather fibres which are artificially stuck together. As a result it can be treated and end up with a very similar finish to split leather, but it may not be as strong or durable because its strength comes from the glue used to hold it together rather than from the original structure of the leather itself. Its relationship to real leather is very similar to the relationship between MDF and real wood.

Sometimes leather is given a coating to help protect it, usually made from some kind of PU or plastic. The oldest example of this is PATENT LEATHER, which is commonly used in shoes or fashion accessories.

Very common nowadays in the furniture industry is BICAST LEATHER, which is similar: a leather sheet with a PU coating. Bicast leather varies a great deal. Cheap ones are often a bonded leather (see above) with a thick layer of PU added to hold it together and give it strength. These can in fact be up to half plastic and don't have the strength and durability that the real leather provides. More expensive bicast leathers are split leather (or even whole leather which was never split) with a thinner PU coat to give it protection and an attractive finish. These retain the benefits of the original leather but add the advantages of the external coating. WE ONLY SELL SOFAS WITH THE BETTER QUALITY BICAST LEATHER.

Faux leather means 'fake leather', and is actually made from PU (or sometimes PVC). The quality has improved a great deal in recent years, and these days it can be difficult to tell the difference between the surface of PU and real leather unless you really know what you are looking for. It is generally obvious if you can see the underside of the material, but with furniture this is often not possible. It has the advantages of being cheaper and very easy to clean and look after, and PU furniture is often nicer to touch than the lower quality leathers, but obviously you are not getting leather.

Another innovation in recent years is the increasing use of different materials for different parts of a sofa. The manufacturers reason that the only parts of a sofa where the feel of the material is really important are the surfaces you sit on and touch, so it has become quite common to find sofas where the arms and seating areas are made from top grain leather and the sides and back are made from a less expensive split leather or faux leather (and it is often very hard to tell the difference). This can bring down the price considerably and makes very little difference to the experience of owning/sitting on the sofa.

But you should be careful. Sometimes retailers will advertise a sofa as leather and only mention in the small print that it is actually only half leather (if they mention it at all!). As a result, we have adopted a 'badge' system where we put a badge on each product page showing what the product is made of. If you are only interested that the 'contact' areas of the sofa are top grain or bicast leather, then look for the badges that say 'top grain leather' or 'bicast leather'. If it is important to you that the whole of your sofa, including sides and back, is the same material, look for the badges that say '100% top grain leather' or '100% bicast leather'.

  The covering of the whole sofa including the sides and back is top grain leather.
  The contact areas of the sofa are covered in top grain leather, and the sides and back may be split leather or PU.

If you have any doubts about what you are buying, we can send you a swatch of any of our leathers in any colour. If you order it before midday your swatch will be despatched no later than the following day by first class post.
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