Leather Upholstery Basics

Big Sandy Superstore / December 11, 2014

Leather upholstery has been used in the fabrication of furniture for thousands of years, and remains an extremely popular option today as an easy to maintain, durable, and long lasting material. In response to this growing popularity, the leather industry has taken a variety of steps to broaden the number of leather options for furniture with wide ranges in terms of pricing, appearance, and overall quality.

Here are some of the terms you may come across when shopping for leather upholstered furniture:

  • Top grain leather – In its raw state a leather hide is comprised of two layers; the top grain and the split hide. The top grain is the layer on the exterior of the hide, is approximately one-sixteenth of an inch thick, and is ideally suited as upholstery for its strength, durability, softness and natural look. Top grain leather softens over time and with proper maintenance can last for decades.
  • Split hide leather – This is the layer that has been cut away, or split, from the top grain layer. Split hides are stiffer than top grain leather, tend to tear and crack more easily, and may be used on non-visible areas on leather furniture pieces for the purpose of lowering the overall cost in certain circumstances.
  • Aniline leather – Aniline is considered to be the highest quality form of leather and is used as upholstery without the addition of protective coatings, dyes, or other treatments. This type of leather is highly sought after for its natural grain and softness, but its porous structure can make it vulnerable to stains.
  • Semi-aniline – This leather is treated and may be dyed, but will usually display the natural grain and markings seen in aniline leather. The treatment process for semi-aniline leather reduces the porosity of the hide, which makes this upholstery suitable for high use furniture pieces as well as in households with children and pets.
  • Pigmented – Pigmented leather goes through more processing than aniline and semi-aniline hides. This leather is usually sanded to a uniform finish, fully dyed, and treated with a protective coating. In some cases, a grain-like pattern may be applied in the processing phase, but the finish doesn’t have the depth of aniline and semi-aniline hides. While this type of leather doesn’t have the natural appeal of other leathers, it is highly durable and stain resistant.

One of the most important aspects of shopping for leather furniture is to define how each piece will be used on a regular basis. For example, while aniline leather is desirable for both its appearance and feel,  the presence of children and pets may call for treated hides to reduce the chances of permanent stains resulting from everyday use.


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