Full Grain, Top Grain, Split Grain, Bonded Leather, Vinyl, Microfiber, or Fabric? Just in case you wanted to know our two cents on what kind of upholstery works best for a couch, read this helpful blog!
We have had many customers over the years ask our advice on what is the best material for a couch or sectional. While circumstances can always vary, we found that it was helpful to create this guideline on pricing and what we have found in our experience of selling sofas for close to 50 years. In general, we would always recommend a genuine top grain leather or distressed microfiber for someone trying to get a long lasting product that resists scratches and damage for the best value but there are occasions where a bonded leather or tapestry grade fabric might be the best choice. Here is a brief description along with some general pricing on each (add about $100-$200 per recliner seat to these prices below if a reclining sofa or sectional is needed):
Full Grain Leather
Full grain leather hides are the most rare kind of leather used almost exclusively in high end items. They show their deep grains more so than any other product as well as the natural marks from nature as limited imperfections prevent the need for heavy sanding prior to applying the dyes and finishing. Unlike many other types of leather, full grains usually maintain the thickness of the original hide which adds to the durability. It can breathe well and is 100% waterproof. Full grain leather is the most expensive to buy starting at about $1800 for a sofa or $3000 for a sectional from Omnia, Artsitic Leathers, or Mayo and going up from there.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leathers are much more common in the industry. It has often had the back (split layer) of the hide removed so it is usually thinner and more flexible than full grain leather. The resulting hide is sanded of imperfections to create an even, smooth texture. If dyes are used, they are added after sanding, and then a finish coat is applied that helps the leather resist stains. This material still offers a great feel and comfort along with great breathability. While less expensive than full grain, it is can be more resistant to stains due to a heavy protective finish applied (although some new full grain models feature this same finish-this can also add more shine and fill in more grains which leads to a smoother finish). Top Grain sofas are less expensive than full grain and generally start around $1000 for a sofa or $2000 for a sectional with a split or bonded back and sides from Benchraft or $1600 for a sofa or $3500 for a sectional in complete leather all over with a solid hardwood frame from Mayo or Omnia.
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; but the cost drops even further, so it is often found on more affordable leather items or is most commonly used on sides or backs of leather match couches. Split leather is also used to create suede or a new leather-microfiber combo product from Omnia Leather called "Whisper Leather" which contains about 80% leather and a 20% polyester coating. It costs about the same as their full-grain leather products for the moment but they are hoping that soon with popularity it will drop to a more aggressive price point. Otherwise split grain couches are pretty hard to find on the industry because they require more manual labor than a top grain model needing minimal correcting and ended up costing only a little less overall.
All of these top three real leathers have a suede back.
These last products remaining all cost about the same; plan on around $400-$600 for a non-custom sofa or $1000-1600 for a non-custom sectional. Custom pieces from companies we carry like Intermountain, Mayo, Stanton, and Richardson are generally twice as much.
Good quality vinyl can feel very soft and look a lot like leather but offers more disadvantages. To tell the difference, look at the back of the material (if you see a woven fabric backing, it's man-made). Vinyl is generally very water-resistant and easy to wipe clean so is often used to upholster car and boat seats as well as budget-priced furniture. It is frequently embossed polyurethane to simulate a leather grain or dyed with a pattern that looks like leather coated over a polyester or rayon core. One negative is that with frequent use vinyl tends to crack and peel more than any other material. We don't recommend it for most of our products and don't have any couches on our floor made from vinyl. They are generally priced the same as
Since 2002 some manufacturers have begun making an alternative-vinyl product called "polished microfiber" or "leather-aire". Due to its limited availability we are still waiting to see how couches made from it hold up over the years though many report issues with how easily these scratch. Polished microfibers will often have an embossed surface similar to vinyl but do not have the polyurethane surface so in theory they should resist peeling better than vinyls. One last negative that may affect some people is that in general hear can be cut or torn as easily as a fabric couch if heavy pets with sharp claws or pointy objects come in contact with the surface. We don't have any of these pieces on our floor either.
Bonded leather is starts out with real leather scraps that would normally become waste from tanneries. These are sent to a mill that grinds them into very small pieces. These pieces are then bonded onto the back of a polyurethane coat similar to the split grain process. Because of this leather backing, it is still a very durable material and the newest generations have improved the graining process to a point where it is difficult to tell the difference between it and a top or split grain leather. Unlike top or full grain leathers, once bonded leather is scratched there is almost no way to refinish the scratch. Some people also report issues with cracking and peeling on cheaper grade bonded leathers so we have tried to only use the higher grade options on our website and showroom. We have sold this product for over 10 years and had a lot of success with how it holds up, specifically with Benchraft, Stanton, and Richardson. The obvious advantage is the price, they can cost less than half the price of a similar split, top, or full grain couch.
These materials do not have a smooth surface like any of the above products but instead have a furry feel. They can be made from cotton, rayon, polyester, as well as other products and are usually grouped into "tapestry grade" or "microfiber grade" categories depending on the size of the stitchings. Microfiber had the smallest stitching patterns and seems to be a great product for wearability. Most sofa manufacturers have several lines of microfiber sofas and many have now begin developing "distressed microfiber" variants which more mimic the natural grains of leather products. We recommend these "microfiber" options the most for a fabric couch although we sell a lot of microfiber two toned with accent patterns and prints like our Intermountain collections and have had good luck because the arm areas are made from microfiber. With the pattern or tapestry grade fabric, shadowing can occur from the oils in your hands or hair over time and especially in lighter colors whereas a microfiber can better resist staining.
Intermountain, Mayo, Stanton, and Richardson all feature well-priced custom fabric lines while Benchcraft showcases non-custom models with a few popular configuration and color options on select models.
Hope this helps!
Bradley's Furniture Management