Nothing adds richness and beauty to a room like a gorgeous leather. It has been used all over the world for
thousands of years in any number of applications. Leather is
durable, cleanable, and long-lasting, and brings a raw natural beauty that manufactured products simply cannot match.
However, because it is such a prized commodity, the leather industry has been very creative in recent decades.
A global market, enhancements in available technology,
and the constant battle for lower prices have created a huge range in leather types and qualities. There are bonded leathers,
split leathers, polyurethane "leathers," and vinyl look-alikes. Today, simply because something looks or even feels
like leather, does not mean it is.
So how do you know what you are getting? At Smith Brothers, we only use top grain leather. We do not use
split leather (the weaker, underside of the hide), and we never use
leather-vinyl matches on our furniture. We also pay close attention to industry-standard tests to ensure each type of leather will
meet the level of quality our customers have come to expect. Each hide is hand-inspected by our skilled specialists, and it is
all cut, sewn, and upholstered at our own facility in Berne, Indiana.
A hide is actually much thicker than a finished upholstery leather. Before it is finished, a hide is split into layers.
The layer closest to the surface is the Top Grain and includes the actual surface of the skin with all of its natural pores,
wrinkles, and scars. It is the strongest part of the hide.
The Split Hide is everything that has been cut from the inner layer of the hide. It is used to make suede and other leather
products. While some furniture manufacturers will use splits on sides and backs of furniture where you are less likely to touch
it as much, it is typically found in cheaper products. Splits are 100% leather, but they are weaker and more susceptible
to tearing, stretching, and fading.
The first thing to keep in mind is that leather is a natural product. Each hide is just as unique
as your fingerprints. The color, texture, and markings vary from hide to hide and even within a single hide. It is not unusual to
see color differences, grain changes, and even scars or brand marks on a piece of furniture. Different types of leather display
these characteristics in varying amounts, and it's up to you to determine what exactly you want from your leather furniture.
Also called Pure Aniline or Full Aniline, this is the most natural type of leather. It
does not have a protective coating nor any treatments that alter the natural feel of the hide. This gives it the most luxuriously soft
feel of all the leather types, but leaves it susceptible to staining or soiling.
Choose this leather if: you love the soft feel of leather and truly appreciate the beauty of each hide's
unique natural markings, but expect only light to moderate use of the furniture.
This type is fairly natural. The hides are first aniline-dyed and then
coated with a slightly protective topcoat that may or may not contain some additional color. You will see some natural
markings through the topcoat and it can still stain or fade somewhat, but it is more protected than a pure aniline
leather and the color is more uniform. This is the most common type of leather Smith Brothers sells.
Choose this leather if: you appreciate the softness and texture of leather
but also expect to use your furniture regularly.
This type is the least natural. Smith Brothers' protected leather is still
Top Grain leather, and dyed all the way through the hide, but the surface is coated with a heavy protective topcoat that
has color added. Pigmented leather is usually buffed (sanded) to remove imperfections in the hide and then embossed with
an artificial grain. The color and texture tend to be flatter, without the deep rich color or luxurious feel of an Aniline...
but it is also the most durable and cleanable leather type.
Choose this leather if: you anticipate heavy use of your furniture, so
you don't mind sacrificing softness and texture for higher durability.
This is a top grain leather that has been buffed (sanded) to soften the surface and give it
a "suede-like" appearance. It is extremely soft and very luxurious, and also stronger than suede which is made from split hide.
Like other anilines, nubuck leather is very susceptiable to fading and soiling, and will develop an aged patina over time.
Choose this leather if: you want to make a bold fashion statement
with a luxurious and truly unique piece, and don't mind some maintenance and care.
Full grain leather is a top grain leather with all its natural texture (grain) intact. This grain is created by hair follicles,
wrinkles, stretch marks, scars, brands, tick bites, and so on. Full grain leathers can show all of these characteristics.
Corrected grian leathers are still top grain, but have been lightly buffed (sanded) to remove the original texture and any
imperfections. A faux grain is then embossed on the surface of the hide. This allows tanneries to take rough-looking top grain hides
and turn them into beautiful pigmented leathers. Corrected grain leathers will be much more consistent in texture.
One is not better than the other—they are just different!
All leathers display a variety of unique natural markings and variations in color. It is virtually impossible to find two
uncorrected hides, even within the same dye lot, that share identical surface characteristics and uniform coloration. Aniline
and semi-aniline leathers will exhibit grain and color variation from hide to hide and even within the same hide!
Because leather is a natural product, it absorbs dyes and reacts differently to treatments from hide to hide. Even within a
single hide, some areas of the skin may absorb more dye than another creating light and dark areas in the leather. This is most
noticeable in pure aniline leathers. Sometimes color is purposefully applied in varying amounts to create a deep rich look.
Because of the unique life of each animal, the natural texture of a leather varies from hide to hide.
Color and surface variation are sometimes subtle enough that they are only visible in certain parts of a hide, or only when
considering the entire hide (or large parts of it). For this reason, the leather samples available at your Smith Brothers dealer
may not paint the whole picture. Each sample is labeled with that leather's color and surface variation rating to help provide
more information about the leather beyond what the sample can show.
A full leather hide
The average hide is between 40-60 square feet, and are all irregularly shaped. Some have holes, scars, and brands to cut
around. Most vary at least a little bit in color and texture.
Smith Brothers samples
It is easy to see why a tiny sample cannot represent all of the characteristics in a hide! They are so small compared to a 40-60 sq.
ft. hide. This is why we carefully label each sample for our dealers. It is important to review this information before selecting a
leather so you are sure that your finished piece will not have any surprises.
Once you have determined the leather type you like, there are still a few other things to consider when matching up a leather with
a piece of furniture.
Except for tufted styles (see below), you are free to choose any of our leathers for any of our leather furniture pieces.
However, this does not mean that every leather will compliment every style of furniture.
The best example of this would be a bustle back style like the 311 Sofa or 705 Recliner.
These styles are best in a soft, supple leather that is usually thinner. If you were to select a thick, stiff leather, it would take a long time for
the leather to "break in." They would not be as soft and the tailoring would not be quite as clean around the pleats. We will still make it, but
please be aware that thick, stiff, and sometimes rustic leathers are best on styles with straighter lines or tight backs unless you don't mind
waiting for the leather to soften.
Along those lines, a thick leather is not necessarily more durable or longer lasting than a thin leather. They each have pros and cons, and
we make sure that all of our leathers pass industry standard testing for durability.
The only styles that we cannot upholster in thick stiff leathers are the button tufted pieces. All of the folds and contouring in
the tufts require soft, supple leathers to create a well-tailored finished product.
We cut leather differently than fabric, so there will be more seams on the leather version of a style than on the fabric version of the
same style. We do this for two reasons:
Every piece of leather furniture will be done with the same seams regardless of the type of leather, so please refer to any product
photography or in-store samples of the leather piece to see how it will be seamed. Do not rely on the fabric version of a piece
as an example of how it will look in leather, because they are actually quite different!
The style #715 recliner in leather—notice the seams in the arms, sides, and back.
The same recliner in fabric.
All Smith Brothers leathers are assigned a grade number, but grade does not equal quality! The grades are merely
a product of the leather's price, which can vary with supply and demand.
In fact, it is usually the more natural leathers that have the higher price, even though they are treated with fewer processes and chemicals
(and are therefore less expensive to produce). These pure anilines, even though they are more susceptible to staining and fading over
time, are considered the most desirable among leather connoisseurs, so they have a higher price. It is actually the more protected and
pigmented leathers that tend to be lower grades, even though they are more durable and cleanable.
It really depends on your expectations of the leather to determine which is right for you.
As a general rule, lighter colored leathers with low surface and color variation tend to be considered more transitional or contemporary.
The darker leathers with more color and surface variations tend to be considered more traditional.
Of course, this rule is not set in stone, so feel free to be creative with your leather to frame application!
Unlike with fabric, it is impossible to make a reversible leather cushion. This is because leather does not breathe, so any air inside
the cushion cannot escape when you sit on it. This would be very uncomfortable, so we use a special breathable fabric on the underside
of our leather cushions (as well as on the backs of our leather back cushions). For that reason, the cushions cannot be flipped around like
they can in fabric.
Depending on the design of the furniture, it may be possible to rearrange the location of the seat cushions (e.g. swap the left and right cushions),
but they cannot be flipped upside down.
In spite of the durability of certain types of leather, it is NOT invincible. It is a natural product, and it can stretch, scar, wrinkle, stain,
and show scratches. The tanning process can only protect hides to a certain extent.
It takes preventative measures to ensure that your furniture will last a lifetime. Use the following cleaning methods to keep your leather furniture
looking its best for many years to come.
A word of caution: the finish on leather furniture can wear off from prolonged contact with chemicals of any
kind—including chemicals found in hair gels, hairsprays, skin lotion, and even certain dyes used in clothing. Be careful about anything that
has regular, repeated contact with your leather furniture.