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What to Look for in Quality Leather Furniture

Updated on May 16, 2014

Big Purchases are not to be taken lightly

So you are looking for some new leather furniture in your home, but how do you go about it? Do you just go to the store and choose the first furniture that is appealing to you? what about comfort, appearance, style, and the most important component: Cost?

Careful considerations should always be made when you are contemplating adding a costly invenstment into your home d├ęcor. Perhaps you have a budget to work around and as you begin shopping for leather furniture you notice that there is quite a cost variance across the board, store to store and sometimes even within the same store, the leather furniture can vary from a few hundred up to several thousand dollars! Let me be the first to tell you, all leather furniture is NOT created equally.

When you start shopping for leather, you definitely need to consider the amount of time you want this furniture to last, is it mainly for show or is it going to be used every day, by the whole family? The type of store you are shopping in may also play a role in the quality of furniture you end up with. Whatever the case, economic times are tough and you don't want your hard earned dollars to be squandered away on a large purchase that may not even last you a year of use!

Not to worry, we will talk about the types of leather out there and things to look for while you are shopping, to be sure that you end up with a high quality leather furniture selection.

The Types of Leather and "Leather Like" Furniture - Looks can be deceiving!

Authentic leather Chair
Authentic leather Chair | Source
Aniline Leather Sofa
Aniline Leather Sofa
Real Suede with Real Leather accents Sectional and Ottoman
Real Suede with Real Leather accents Sectional and Ottoman
Microsuede or Microfiber, faux nubuck leather
Microsuede or Microfiber, faux nubuck leather
Microfiber faux suede chair
Microfiber faux suede chair
Bonded Leather Sofa
Bonded Leather Sofa
Common Damage to Bonded Leather after use in high traffic areas
Common Damage to Bonded Leather after use in high traffic areas
Real NuBuck Leather Sectional
Real NuBuck Leather Sectional
Oil and Grime can easily absorb into nubuck and suede
Oil and Grime can easily absorb into nubuck and suede
Stains on nubuck leather
Stains on nubuck leather

Get Familiar with The Terms: The Types of "Leather" you May Encounter

Authentic Leather

Real leather, or full grain leather, is a top quality hide that has been tanned (the term for dying leather) and made into furniture. This is the most durable type of leather, it is the thickest, holds its color the best, repels dirt and grime as well as stains the most because it is authentic full grain leather. Many furniture makers use real leather, but to be certain of what you are getting, look to see if it is "100% Leather" or "Leather Upper" etc. Only 100% Leather means that the entire piece of furniture is truly leather throughout.

Partial Leather

Real full grain leather hide is used but mainly for the facings of the furniture, like the cushions and seat backings, and usually the tops of the armrests. Many furniture makers are now cutting costs by making furiture out of leather partially and using vinyl on less trafficked areas such as the sides, backs, foot rests, etc. This does not usually impact the quality of your furniture, but realize that the areas that are not leather may weaken faster than the leather areas over time, or heavy exposure to sunlight and the elements, or a lot of sweat, vinyl sections can become brittle and may crack whereas leather may fade but will hold its shape and condition for much longer.


Aniline Leather, which is sometimes misused to describe a suede finish, is a type of leather that has very soluable dye applied to it for the color. This leaves a finish that shows very visibly the natural elements of the leather, like the texture, or grain, the pores, any scarring, etc of the animal's original skin structure. Aniline leather is real leather and is of a good quality durability, but the color fastness and ability to repel staining and dirt is poor. Because of the nature of its original dye, it is very ready to absorb sweat, spills and more which leads to quick staining with out careful care and maintenance.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is often a less expensive or discounted leather. It has the look and even the feel of real leather. But don't be fooled! The lower price tag certainly comes with a cost. Bonded leather is the leather equivalent of particle board wood. It is leather shavings mixed together with a type of plastic adhesive and this mix is then bonded to material to form the "leather," which is then dyed whatever color, hence the term, bonded leather. This material often has the softness of leather and appearance of leather, but with use and time, the "bonding" begins to weaken. The sweat and dirt and grime of day to day use will start to comprimise the bonding elements, and the first signs of problems will be "bubbles" in the leather, which is the bonded leather separating from it's fabric backing, and this never ever happens in real leather furniture. Next, the bonded leather itself starts to break down and can be easily ripped or torn, the colored leather flakes may begin to "chip" away, and this leaves the (usually white) material backingvery visible. Bonded leather is not durable, will not last very long and the color may stay but that is only as long as the bonded leather maintains being bonded together.


Nubuck leather is a high quality, real leather that has been sandblasted or buffed heavily to give the appearance of a suede or velvety feel. It is made with the right side or outside of the hide, which is more durable than the inside of the hide (suede). Sometimes the term Nubuck is misused to label suede, or even microfiber (not real!) leather furniture. Nubuck gets confused with suede because the protein fibers of the top layer of the leather become broken by the abrasion and then give the appearance of a suede-look. Nubuck is a fairly durable leather but it is more susceptable to staining from spills, skin and sweat from day to day use since it is a broken and not solid surface. The velvetly fiber feel does not hold a protective sealant very well.


Suede is real leather, but the leather furniture is made from the inside of the hide. It is the very soft and supple, velvet like side of the leather. It has a fabulous feel but is very costly and is not durable. It stains very easily, absorbs moisture and spills as well as dirt and oil very very easily, and is not easily cleaned. Suede can last for many years but high traffic areas will show wear very soon, the velvety feel may wear away leaving smoother spots or faded spots, sometimes even a "pilled up" feel (like an over washed sweater might have).

Vinyl or Synthetic

Vinyl or synthetic leather is a type of plastic that comes in varying degrees of softness and suppleness, and can be dyed any color on the spectrum. It has a very high degree of durability because it is a plastic and thus usually does well repelling liquids, dirt and stains. The only issue with synthetic materials is that over time they can harden or become brittle, and can discolor.


Microfiber is a woven material that has a soft and velvety feel that is resembling to suede. It is important to remember when purchasing microfiber that it is a fabric, so heavy use can lead to thinning, it can rip and tear and also stains very easily, as that is the nature of fabric. Certain types of "protectants" for microfiber can be used to repel liquids but use with caution, as they can sometimes alter the feel of the microfiber, and make it feel stiff.

Use Caution & Know What YOU Want

Overall, just be sure that you are familiar with the terms and know what you are looking for while shopping for leather furniture. The looks can be very deceiving! It is easy to be fooled, which is why it is always best to be prudent when readind between the lines and reading the fine print. Ask a lot of questions and know your terms, know your budget, and realize that if it sounds too good to be true and the price seems awfully low for real leather, then it probabley isn't.

In the end, the decision is yours, as is the satisfaction. As long as you are happy with your purchase, then so am I! But always, buyer beware. I just want to help my readers be well informed and to know what they are looking for!

After you have made your final purchase and get it home, be sure to use proper Leather Maintenance to keep it looking great for years to come! Leather can last literally for a lifetime as long as it is properly cared for, and of course, is REAL leather, so always make sure you treat your leather right! Thank you for reading!


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