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.
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 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.
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!
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