Leather Upholstery Guide

Leather is a beautiful and luxurious choice to use for upholstered furniture. It creates distinctive and unique showpieces for your home. Leather is not a synthetic material that was created to look perfect and no leather piece will look exactly like another.

When you are choosing the type of leather for your next piece of furniture read our guide below to learn the basics of all things leather.

Full Grain Leather:

Full grain leather hides show their grain, including any natural marks and imperfections. Layers of leather are left underneath the hide, leaving the leather in a state that is as close to its natural form as possible. It can breathe, and it’s very durable. Eventually, it will develop a patina from interacting with the air. Full grain leather is the most expensive to buy, and it’s used to upholster furniture of the highest quality.

Top Grain Leather:

Top grain leather is the most common type used in high-end upholstered furniture. In this type of material, the split layer of the hide is removed, leaving it thinner and more flexible than full grain leather. The resulting hide is then sanded to create an even, smooth texture. If dyes are used, they are added after sanding, and then a finish coat is applied for durability. Not only is top grain leather more affordable than full grain, but it is also more resistant to stains.

Split Leather:

Split leather is made from the layer of hide that is left once the top grain portion has been removed. Hides are shaved horizontally into different layers, so a tannery gets several sheets of leather product from just one hide. The split portion of the hide has an artificial layer applied to it which is then embossed with a grain to simulate the look of top grain leather. It’s still leather, made from a real hide; however, its cost drops even further, so it is often found on very affordably-priced items. Split leather is also used to create suede.

The backing on all real leather material is suede. If you can get a sample of the material and feel the back of it, you will know whether or not it’s genuine.

Bonded Leather:

Bonded leather is neither fish nor fowl, as they say. The manufacturing process starts out with real leather scraps— the leftover pieces that would normally become waste from tanneries. These are sent to a mill that grinds them into very small pieces, and the pieces are then spray-glued onto the back of a man-made material such as polyurethane. This makes the back of the upholstery feel like suede, and this backing can also have an effect on how the material upholsters. When a bonded leather is made with a good polyurethane material, it can be difficult to tell the difference between it and real leather.

Bonded leather is far less expensive than real leather, but because of its real leather content, marketers can use the word leather in their descriptive materials. Some call it recycled leather or eco-friendly leather because the manufacturing process is more environmentally-friendly than leather production, which uses several harsh chemicals.


Polyurethane is used to create imitation leather, sometimes called pleather (plastic leather), synthetic leather or faux leather. It can be embossed with any texture, is water-resistant and is easy to clean and maintain. Good quality polyurethane can feel very soft and look a lot like leather. To tell the difference, look at the back of the material—if you see a woven fabric backing, it’s man-made.


Another man-made material that many of us are familiar with, vinyl is generally very water-resistant and easy to wipe clean, so it’s often used to upholster furniture for break rooms, high-traffic reception or lounge areas and some office seating. It is usually embossed to simulate a leather grain or dyed with a pattern that looks like leather. Like polyurethane, vinyl has a woven backing. In its common form, it is one of the lowest-cost materials to use for upholstery and is often found on budget-priced furniture.

Photo Credits: Home Design Lover, The Inspired Room, Making it Lovely

Barnes Custom Upholstery has over 40 years of experience creating hand-crafted upholstered furniture. We use any type of fabric, leather included, to create the sofa, chair, ottoman of your dreams. Contact us today and plan your next piece with us.

#QualityUpholstery #Fabric

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