| Leather is one of the most durable upholstery materials
If you go shopping for leather furniture, itís not hard to become confused. Two leather sofas may look the same, yet their prices can differ by thousands of rupees. Here are some tips to help you become an educated shopper.
One of the most durable upholstery materials, leatherís popularity is probably more because it comes in a rainbow of colours and a range of styles ó from timeless traditional to avant garde contemporary. Furthermore, new methods of tanning and manufacturing have brought leather within an affordable range for pockets of different sizes.
Leather fits all looks, from traditional to modern
Good-quality leather does not (contrary to popular belief) become hot and sticky in summer, or cold and stiff in winter
It resists tears and cracks, does not readily burn or melt, and naturally repels liquids and oils
Leather is fire-resistant and does not give off toxic fumes even under extreme heat ó unlike many synthetic materials.
Leather naturally resists odours. It is difficult to stain leather and is much easier to clean than fabrics
A good worker can restore leather in such a way that you will not even be able to see the repair. Fabric sofas, on the other hand, cannot be repaired so easily.
Leather improves with age and use. It becomes more supple and develops a rich patina or lustre.
Leather is a collective term for all hides and skins that have been tanned, but there are many categories of leather, depending on what type of processing it goes through. Each hide has individual characteristics that may include scratches, scars or shade variations. These are merely natural markings and do not affect quality.
Before tanning begins, hides are separated in a process much like veneering a piece of wood. The uppermost layer is about as thick as the edge of a coin and is referred to as top grain. This is the highest-quality part of the hide and the most preferred for furniture.
The dyeing process
Once sorted into grades of top grain and split, leather is dyed with colour. Aniline is a permanent transparent dye that absorbs into the leather, colouring it all the way through, without concealing any of the natural character.
Pure aniline is aniline-dyed top grain leather with no additional colouring. By far the softest and most supple of leathers, pure aniline also has the least natural resistance to stains.
Semi-aniline is top grain leather that has been aniline-dyed and then coated with matching pigment and/or other topical finishes to even out colour and add protection.
After leather is dyed, it often undergoes additional processing or finishing to remove imperfections and/or embossed to simulate an attractive grain.
Nubuck is a term for top grain, aniline-dyed leather that has been buffed to create a soft nap, similar to velvet. Like velvet, the textured surface will show a difference in shading when you run your hand over it. And because this type of leather is vulnerable to stains, it is often lightly finished for protection.
Suede results from a heavier buffing process applied to split leather.
Pull-up is a look associated with quality leather in which full grain, aniline-dyed leather is waxed or oiled and then pulled, producing variations of lighter and darker areas.
Sauvage blends similar colours to create leather with a mottled, tone-on-tone effect that adds depth and character.
Caring for leather
Although leather is durable, it is not accident- or injury-proof. So itís important to keep in mind some basics.
Do not place furniture too close to heat sources or in direct sunlight. For regular cleaning, vacuum frequently, using the soft brush attachment.
Blot spills immediately with a clean cloth or sponge and let air dry. Never use a hair dryer.
Cleaning techniques and materials vary with each type of leather, so follow the manufacturerís recommendations.
So, go ahead and express your taste through the colours, patterns and textures provided by leather ó the choice is virtually unlimited.
(The author is an interior design consultant, specialising in the design of corporate and residential interiors. As a senior faculty member at a Calcutta institute, she has delivered lectures, guided research and conducted projects in the field of Housing & Interior Design for over two decades. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )