Leather furniture is luxurious, supple and one of the strongest natural materials. While leather is a popular choice in furniture, many people aren’t aware of its various types and grades which indicate its quality and durability. Knowing the quality of these grades is crucial when purchasing leather furniture.

Full Grain

Wrinkles are often found in full grain leather furniture. When the hide is stripped from an animal, there are two layers found: the top layer which produces the higher grade of leather and the bottom layer, which produces the poorer quality. Full grain is one of the top two leather grades which are taken from the top layers of the hide. This leather has been described as elegant and sumptuous. It’s not conditioned—as is the top grain grade—to remove the markings. Such markings in high-quality leather are believed to enhance the material’s texture and beauty. Full grain is the most expensive leather. It is not appropriate for a household with children and/or pets, where hard or-impossible to-remove drink and food spills, as well as scratches, are more likely to occur.

Top Grain

Top grain leather also comes from the top layer of the hide. But unlike full grain leather, it is sanded or otherwise processed to remove the natural markings and imperfections of leather. It’s very strong and durable. In terms of quality, it’s the second highest after full grain. Top grain leather is expensive, and
it has a soft, luxuriant feel. Like full grain leather, it’s wise to avoid purchasing it when children and pets are around and spills and scratches are likely.

Split Grain

Split grain, made from the bottom layer of the hide, is not as strong or durable as top grain. It also lacks the textural look of the better grades. But it’s more affordable than the higher quality leathers and is the best leather to use with small children and pets. Sometimes it’s embossed with markings to duplicate the
look of the higher quality leathers. It can also be used on the less visible parts of leather furniture, like the sides and back.
Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is the lowest quality grade of leather. It’s made from scraps of leather bonded together to make it look like a single piece of leather. It doesn’t have the strength or durability of the single piece leathers. And some furniture experts recommend that it not be bought at all.

PIGMENTED LEATHER is any top grain leather to which a clear topcoat and pigments have been applied. The pigments are what usually give the shiny even top color to the leather. The leather may or may
not be aniline dyed. Sometimes the pigments (color) are applied to a base crust of a different color and in this case the leather in not dyed all the way through. If the pigments are applied to a hide that has been aniline dyed and matched for color then this leather is called a Protected Aniline Leather. Leather is usually pigmented to give it durability and hide its natural blemishes. Pigmented leathers are easy to maintain and have maximum resistance to wear, soiling, and fading from light.

NON-PIGMENTED LEATHER is leather to which no pigments have been applied. These are usually hides of the very best quality and have been aniline dyed for color.

PURE ANILINE is top grain leather that is dyed for color without any pigments applied. These hides will exhibit some natural characteristics such as healed scars, scratches, neck and belly wrinkles. Expect color variation from the swatch to the actual leather, due to the fact leather is a natural product and will absorb dye differently within the hide and from hide to hide. This leather will develop a rich patina over time and will fade with prolonged exposure to sunlight.

PROTECTED ANILINE LEATHER is top grain leather that is dyed for color and then receives pigment to ensure color consistency. Without pigment a protected leather is not color consistent. The pigment also
ensures fade resistance and helps the leather wear over time. A clear water based topcoat is applied for additional protection. The natural imperfections of the hide are also less noticeable. Hides average 50-55 square feet. Protected Aniline Leathers are easy to maintain and have maximum resistance to
wear, soiling, and fading from light.

SEMI-ANILINE LEATHER is pure aniline leather that has a small amount of pigment or clear finish thus allowing the natural characteristics of the hide to still show through while offering some of the enefits of color consistency and increased wearability.

NUBUK is top grain leather that has been aniline dyed for color and then polished to create a nap. Since Nubuk leathers have no pigment applied these hides will exhibit color variation from hide to hide and
dye lot to dye lot. Some natural markings are visible throughout these hides. Prolonged exposure to sunlight will cause these leathers to fade.
DISTRESSED LEATHER is aniline dyed leather with an artificially worn and aged appearance in which the natural characteristics of the hide such as healed scars, scratches, and wrinkles are considered a positive characteristic.

ANTIQUED LEATHER is dyed with one color over another to create highlights and an aged appearance.

EMBOSSED LEATHER is leather that has been stamped using heat and high pressure to create a pattern or design in the hide. The variety is tremendous ranging from alligator, crocodile, ostrich, flowers, geometric and Indian designs, to name just a few.


  • Ask the manufacture for details about where the leather originated. Inquire if the skin is natural. You can test this by pressing down into the leather to determine flexibility and stretch. It should return to its riginal shape if the skin is natural.
  • Sit on the furniture. Quality leather breathes. Unlike synthetic leather, it is cool in the summer and retains heat in the winter. Sticky or clammy leather is sign of poor quality.
  • Compare cleaning instructions. Good leather furniture is durable and can be cleaned with minimal effort. Quality leather furniture is also fire resistant and emits no toxins even when exposed to high heat.
  • Determine if the furniture is made out of corrected leather. Corrected leather has been sanded and embossed to remove blemishes. It has also been treated with a protective coating to improve resistance to water.
  • Determine if the leather is untreated leather. Untreated leather is usually selected from the best hides (skins). These are chosen according to suppleness and touch. It will develop a natural patina over time. Some people prefer the natural scarring or wrinkles uncorrected leather provides for furniture.
  • Some products are described as all “genuine leather.” However, that may not be true. Close examination might reveal that the sides and backs, the less visible sections, are vinyl or leather that doesn’t quite match. Over time, the leather can mellow and the vinyl may become brittle. Be careful to keep leather furniture out of direct sunlight. The rays can cause discoloration and/or fading.

Check out one of my new leather lines - Palatial Furniture. http://www.palatialfurniture.com/index.asp

Palatial Furniture offers good quality construction, both traditional and transitional frame styles. If you are looking for a sofa, sectional,recliner, accent chair, ottoman, or just an accent piece, stop by the Creative Home Consulting showroom to see for yourself the styles and quality of our Palatial samples.


I’M Scott Dean, and this has been another

“Feeling Home” blog.

Providing Interior Design products and services to

the Des Moines, Iowa area

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