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Thread: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

  1. #1
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    Default Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    One of the appeals of leather furniture over fabric is the usable life-span of the cover, which is four times that of most fabrics. One of the most confusing things about leather is which one to pick as a consumer and how it performs once put in use. Let's go over some of the terminology and some of the issues of leather, to try to address concerns now - not after you order a piece!

    Protected vs Unprotected

    The single most asked question in selecting a cover is which do I buy? I have a strong objection over the use of the terms ' protected' and 'unprotected' but one man (that would be me) isn't going to change the definition the entire industry uses, but I'll tell you why I don't like the terms. Consumers think that when they see the word "Protected" they equate that to it being 'armored' and impervious to most things. and nothing could be farther from the truth. All a 'protected' leather means is that its a painted leather - like you have on your tennis shoes, and nothing more. How do those old Nikes look after they've been worn a couple of years? Are they still pristine or has some of the paint come off? And to explore this further, what happens to paint when friction is applied over time? It wears away - does it not? ALL PAINT CAN CRACK / CHIP / WEAR WITH USE. Leather is no exception. What painted surfaces are really good at doing however, is having everything roll off of them, from motor oil to olive oil, it all rolls off. And that's what the industry means by 'protected', that it will resist staining from substances coming in contact with it. Over time you may see friction wear and small paint chips (mostly they will looks like small white dots) as the leather is used.

    Unprotected means its vat-dyed, in aniline dyes and NOT painted. So the color is soaked in and then the hide is finished with a waxy top coat, or a light coating of teflon. They tend to be more costly leathers as the majority of all hides are not good enough to be dyed and must be painted. They can absorb some spills, primarily oily and acid-based ones (bleach, ammonia, motor oil, etc). If you do get a spill, blot it up and then leave it alone. Worst thing you can do is scrub it when wet as you are setting the stain with the water and scrubbing action. Blot it, then resist touching it and it will usually fade out in anywhere from 48 hours to 6 months. Aniline dyes are also more sun-sensitive than paint and can fade quicker. When these leathers wear, they don't chip, but you can get friction wear on them as well - though they won't show 'chips' of paint. All leather can wear but personally I prefer the look of worn Aniline to worn Painted hides.

    Warranty

    Upholstery makers don't warranty the covers, plain and simple. That's in every warranty disclaimer from every maker I've ever seen, yet a number of customers will call up when their leather is showing wear and complain, then demand a fix as the hide is 'defective'. The typical call begins with "For as much as I paid for this sofa, I expected this leather not to do this and what are you going to do about it?" The answer - which no one wants to hear is NOTHING, the covers are not warrantied! For some reason, folks don't think that applies to them are stunned and unhappy at the answer. Leather wears, be it Protected or Unprotected, Finished (Painted) or Aniline. It will still last 4x longer than fabric but it may not look like the day it was new for all those years. Be prepared. On very rare occasions, there is a defective leather and its taken care of as a courtesy. But that is VERY rare, perhaps 1 in 100 complaints (if even that). Most likely what you consider a defect is leather wear. Cleaning and conditioning a hide go a long ways to keeping it looking nice, but that will not prevent wear. If you really want an impervious cover, buy medical grade vinyl as a cover. It won't feel very nice and certainly has no leather aroma or textures, but it will go on and on and on....Some leathers wear quicker that others, but realize no dealer - not even me - can tell you which ones do. Why? Because we have to reply on customer feedback to know and not many folks contact us four to five years after purchase to tell us how their piece is doing.

    Water

    Water saturation is the enemy of leather. If you really want to destroy your leather furniture, have the kids come in from the swimming pool in their wet bathing suits and sit on the leather furniture to watch a movie on TV. That will do the trick and you cannot repair the hide. This is also why you don't see leather in medical buildings and exam room furniture - it can't take moisture saturation.

    Handmade & Tolerances

    We're used to everything being made to fine tolerances on robotic production lines, from the cars we drive to the computers we type on to the phones we talk on. The upholstery industry is positively stone-age in comparison. There are no robots or automated machinery in an upholstery factory. You walk in the door of one and you hear three sounds. 1) Sewing machines 2) Pneumatic staplers 3) Mallets striking wood. There are no lasers cutting material, no motorized carts taking a frame from one area to another, its a handmade business. As such, you're going to see build tolerances vary by as much as 2" from one piece to another. Some pieces will have more padding and some less. There will be hammer strikes and small dents near the legs and bases on many pieces. The finish on the bottom of the legs is likely to be scuffed as the pieces are moved along the concrete floor from one place to another. There will be visible scars on leather that you can see, especially on the better hides (remember the inexpensive hides are painted, and paint covers everything). You may see silver crayon in the seams of the piece from the grease pencil they use when pattern cutting. These are not faults, but nuances of a hand-made product. If you demand perfection, you should buy off the floor at a store where you can examine the piece before purchasing.

    Warranties & Defects

    In the furniture industry, the dealer is the customer of the producer and YOU are the customer of the dealer. The dealer handles all concerns and issues on your behalf, not the manufacturer. A lot of folks struggle with this concept and want to go right to the factory direct is they have an issue, but that should only be done is all avenues through the selling dealer are exhausted. In the event of a warranty or defect issue, the consumer is responsible for returning the piece to the store or to the factory and the costs of doing so as well. This is not insignificant, for if you live in California and the factory is in North Carolina, its going to be $ 400 to ship a sofa back and this is important to remember this if you're considering buying long distance vs your local dealer. To add to that, if the piece arrives back at the factory and is within spec and not defective, the customer pays for return freight as well. In my experience (I've done this a lot) 95 % of all returns are NOT defective and due to something the customer either does not understand or does not wish to tolerate in a build (i.e., comfort level, appearance of leather vs swatch, friction and use wear vs defective hides, amount of padding vs floor model seen, shipping damages from moving, etc.) Now you have 2-way shipping and are REALLY upset! This is why I require a signed sales contract that spells all this out on my orders, as do most dealers. Read it and understand it and realize you will not be the exception to it - its simple contract law. In today's consumer-oriented society upset customers will often threaten to do charge-backs to their credit cards unless they get their way, and that signed contract protects the dealer and spells out the terms of the order. Again, Read your sales order and understand what you are agreeing to BEFORE you order.

    The Nigglies

    90% of all furniture requires some form of minor 'deluxing' or 'touch-up' when it comes out of the box. This is very minor stuff, and it can be a dab of color here or there, or a little steel wooling to even out a blemish, etc. Its not a big deal for the dealer, we expect it. However when a delivery company brings you a piece guess who does the 'deluxing'? YOU DO ! The guys on the truck are not going to do it - and you probably don't want them to even if they offer to do so (I swear they are all color-blind for one thing). Be prepared for these minor marks if you order long distance and once again weigh this against buying locally where the deluxing is already done for you when the piece arrives at the dealer.

    Hope that helps cover a few things that perhaps were not previously discussed!
    Duane Collie
    Straight answers from thirty years in the business.
    My Private Messages are Disabled - Please ask questions here in the forum
    I ask that you do NOT call my store with general furniture questions, that is what the forum is for

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    I read your primer on leather which was very helpful. But it seemed to contradict what I had read on Bradington-Young's website about choosing the right leather. That led me to believe that given my lifestyle (rather careless) and the fact that I have 2 cats, I should settle for a protected leather. Arfer reading your primer, I'm not so sure.

    I will be eating and drinking in my recliner, which means that I am bound to have some spills. I've never been terribly diligent about cleaning them up right away, but then, I have never spent $2500 for a recliner! I expect I will be a lot more careful. Still, there will be spills from time to time.

    The cat issue -- they do not scratch my leather sofa directly. But when they launch themselves from the sofa to anywhere else, their back claws do make scratches. My sofa is navy leather, and each scratch shows up almost white. I hate this, and I want to avoid it in my new recliner.

    Sunlight is not an issue. My living room has only one frosted window pane in the door, and the only other window that gives light to the living room is in the dining room, and the shades are almost always closed -- night and day.

    But given the fact that I will be eating and drinking (and occasionally spilling) in the recliner, and that the cats will have access to the chair any time I am not in it,mw hat do you recommend?

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    If you search the forum, you will see a post I made last Sunday of how all my leather in my house looks over a period of time, and its all aniline. My own personal opinion is you can get too caught up in this whole 'protected' vs 'unprotected' thing and it puts a lot of folks into a tailspin. With the exception of a few specialty leathers such as Lambskin, Deerskin and the Suedes, the reality is that you should get the leather you like, either based on color, the tactile feel, the grain, or that suits your budget. I like the look of more natural anilines. I have only ONE finished leather piece in my house, a Hancock and Moore Woodbridge Recliner which was my first leather purchase in 1986. It's 28 years old now and still in use and quite presentable. I bought that before I knew anything about leather but since then all others have been aniline. Here's a photo of it that I just took in the middle or writing this post, not bad for being almost three decades old, eh? Its still on the original cushions as well.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Fact of the matter is like most things, take reasonable care of it and it will last, neglect it and it won't. There is no cat-resistant leather - furniture grade leather was never made for pet usage in mind so you can give up trying to find one that is, because it doesn't exist. You take your chances depending on the temperament and behavior of your particular pets and roll the dice on it. Painted or Finished leathers (Protected) have the color on top - so if scratched will show through to the base hide like you are seeing on your Navy sofa. Aniline hides are dyed all the way through - so if you get a deep scratch on them they will still have color underneath the mark. Good luck!
    Duane Collie
    Straight answers from thirty years in the business.
    My Private Messages are Disabled - Please ask questions here in the forum
    I ask that you do NOT call my store with general furniture questions, that is what the forum is for

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    My dogs no longer jump up on the furniture but they used to prefer my document tobacco journey sofa and chair. We were starting to get some scratches so we started putting the coffee table right up against the sofa and a throw carelessly thrown on the seat of the chair. Problem solved. A contrasting throw across the chair might help and look good at the same time. Hope it helps =)

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    The cat scratches in my sofa are not deep, but they really show up. So I'm thinking anoline. I like to look and feel of it better, and the only reason I had decided not to consider it was the information on the BY webpage. Regardless of what I buy, I will never love a piece of piece of furniture more than my two worthless ball a of fur! So I realize that some scratches are not just possible, but inevitable. One cat is declawed, and the other is so docile that he lets me to keep his claws trimmed. In fact, all I have to say, is, "Time of a pedicure," and he comes running! This is NOT typical cat behavior, but there is nothing typical about him! I just hope that any scratches that to happen are not as prominent looking as they are on my navy sofa.
    Vbnet -- I'm glad you were able to solve your dog issues. But cats are not dogs, despite my best efforts to convince them otherwise! :-) they would revel in the opportunity to overcome any barriers I might be able to use!

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    And drcollie, the photo of your chair is gorgeous! The leather is lovely, rich lived-in look that appears to have only improved with age.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    l Ahh, so I've been told. I've been thinking of getting a kitten next summer, but I am used to more than a little cooperation. Anoline seems sensible! Think of it as the cats just want you to have the best because you deserve it =)

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    My issue is when manufacturers and then stores blur the lines between vinyl and cheap leather. Many times they'll list cheap leather when its actually vinyl to entice customers to buy an item they otherwise shouldn't. Moral for me is to stick with good quality leather or no leather at all.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    Manufacturers and Stores 'blur that line' because the retail customer is demanding something that is impossible for them to make & sell at what the consumer thinks is a fair price point. They react to the demands of that consumer and if a consumer wants to play in that cheap furniture sandbox, then they should not be too surprised to find there is cat poop buried in the sand. The key is to deal with a better class of store, and realize that a quality product is going to have a cost to it. I often hear "I want a new leather sofa but I'm not paying over a thousand dollars for it". Heck I'd like a steak dinner at the Outback for $ 1.99 as well, but its not going to happen - and if they bring me one out at that price, it probably wouldn't be beef.
    Last edited by drcollie; 06-11-2014 at 09:47 AM.
    Duane Collie
    Straight answers from thirty years in the business.
    My Private Messages are Disabled - Please ask questions here in the forum
    I ask that you do NOT call my store with general furniture questions, that is what the forum is for

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Leather Furniture and what you can - and cannot expect

    Hello Duane,
    Last week I had sent you a PM requesting a price qute for some B&Y sofas/loveseats. I had thought I wanted an "Unprotected" leather but I am confused with the characteristics associated with the terms "Protected" and "Unprotected" in your original post. I thought I had wanted an "unprotected" leather, however when I felt an "Unprotected" leather, I could make marks very easily with a light scratch of my finger nail (I understand it can be rubbed out) and it is also much more elastic than i expected which will lead to that sagging look i do not enjoy. However, when I handled Julian Harbor Elmotique 9085-89 leather it had a protective coating yet states that it is an aniline dye and had all the characteristics that I wanted such as buttery soft, less elasticity and not easly scratched. It seems to me that there is a lot of "grey" rather than a clear definition of protected/unprotected leathers whether they are aniline dyed or not? I went on the H&M website and choose a couple of Sofas for a price quote in lieu of the February sale but they have all their leathers categorized by "protected" and "Unprotected" so I am at a standstill because I want aniline dye and some protection but not sure which leathers to request a sample for.

    Thanks so much for this forum!

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