How to choose leather furniture

How do I prevent bum prints on my sofa?

This was the exact question that a neighbour asked me.  You know what we’re talking about right?  You get up and you can see exactly where you sat?  And over time it just gets worse and worse as the leather stretches.  She really needed help in knowing how to choose leather furniture.

I didn’t know the answer to my friend’s question but loving a challenging, I strove to find out.

How to choose leather furniture
Chester Sofa from CR Laine

Quality of the Leather

There are many different qualities of leather but for my friend’s purposes, only two really work:

  1. Full Grain comes from the top layer of the grain and retains the inherent toughness as well as the imperfections but it can absorb body oils and thus develops a patina over time.  It is the most expensive type of leather.  
  2. Top Grain is the second highest grade.  The surface is sanded to get rid of imperfections so if you don’t like seeing the graining of the animal (which can include scars, bite marks and such) this might be the better choice. This type of grain does tend to stretch over time which is the issue that causes the “bum print”.  But it is considered to be the smoothest, supplest, most natural and best kind of furniture leather.  You have to balance comfort and looks.

Chester sofa from CR Laine:

SWATCH#: Leather Handle

Heavy Protection – Corrected Grain Semi-Aniline Leather 

Each manufacturer’s website provides the information differently.  Some use a grading system such as CR Laine above.  Bernhardt’s grading system also included a letter (see below L6).  I had a very difficult time finding anywhere to reference what this grading system related to.  And some sites just list it as “genuine leather”.  Know what you’re paying for as the cost of a leather sofa can be twice that of an upholstered one.  

How to choose leather furniture
Austin Sofa by CR Laine

The dyeing process

In knowing how to choose leather furniture, the second consideration to take into account is the dyeing process.  Again there are numerous options but I’ll just cover the top two for a quality upholstered furniture piece:

    1. Aniline – shows the natural surface of the leather including imperfections.  It doesn’t have any additional pigments or protectants so there will be variations in colour but has the softest feel.  However, it is susceptible to scratching, staining and fading.
    2. Semi-aniline – has a protective topcoat, may have additional pigments to give a more uniform look, more durable than Aniline but not as soft, stain resistant and usually uses the best leather.  Chrome Free leather, made with vegetable or aldehyde tanning is better for the environment than chrome leather.
How to choose leather furniture
Beckett Loveseat by Bernhardt

Leather Shown

(grade L6)
Sinuous Spring
Luxe Down

how the piece of furniture is built

How the piece is built is alwo a very important factor in how to choose leather furniture:

    1. The frame – you want a solid hardwood frame held together with dowelled joints and screw-fixed strengthening corner blocks
    2. The cushions – high density foam with elastabelt webbing or no-sag springs is your best option to maintain the shape of the seat – it’s a balance between comfort and maintaining the look of the sofa longer
The example above from Bernhardt uses a sinuous spring with their cushion but doesn’t stipulate that they use high density foam so worth a phone call if considering buying it.  
Also note, darker clothing (think new blue jeans) could transfer onto lighter coloured leather.  
How to choose leather furniture
Landry Leather 87" sofa by Birch Lane

Maintenance to minimize stretching

Maintenance to minimize stretching:
  • To help prevent the leather stretching, choose a sofa with a number several same size seat cushions, such as the example from Birch Lane above, and switch them around periodically  so that they wear more evenly
  • Before buying, test a store swatch with your finger nail to make see how easily it scratches and if the colour goes all the way through
  • Use a UV protectant
  • Use a leather conditioner every 6 – 12 months


Armed with this information, you can make informed buying decisions.  Ask questions about the leather and understand what part of the animal it came from and how it is dyed. Ask how the frame of the furniture is made and what kind of filling is used in the seat cushions.  Do the scratch test on a swatch and make sure the colour goes all the way through.

Leather furniture is a big investment so know what you’re paying for.  And if a quality piece is beyond your budget, why not purchase an ottoman instead?  I found this great video explaining in detail the whole process.  

Hopefully, this post has been helpful in explaining how to choose leather furniture.  Let me know by commenting below.  

Source list:

Chester Sofa: CR Laine

Austin Sofa: CR Laine

Beckett Loveseat: Bernhardt

Landry 87″ Sofa: Birch Lane

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