In this post, I will review not only how to tell a good leather on a leather couch but also the whole piece from the construction to detailing.
I have this leather couch by Elite Leather above for 15 years. The leather and the shape are still good after two dogs, two kids, and many parties. It is true that it was not cheap, I think I paid close to $3,000 but I will probably use it another 15 years. I just love it. It is so comfortable that I call it “my silent therapist.”
In truth, the overwhelming number of options for a leather couch makes it hard to tell between a good quality one from its look-alike copy. A good leather sofa is like a beautiful woman. It remains stubbornly attractive and even gets more beautiful with age. All these scratches and discolorations are charming and add additional value. That’s assuming as long as the leather is of good quality.
Main Components of a Leather Couch
- Frame Construction
- Cushion Type
- Suspension System- Springs
- Leather Cover
A sofa’s frame is a skeleton, bones that keep the piece and give you the support you need. Therefore, it is crucial that the frame is strong so that your sofa can keep its shape.
A good frame is made with a solid timber — seasoned beech hardwood is the ideal choice because its straight grain contributes to its strength. The frame should have chunky rails that are robust enough to stand up years of use. Doweled joints are screw-fixed corner blocks for added support.
A bad frame is built with mixed timbers, cheap chipboard panels. Rails are not thick enough to keep the sofa together. With this inferior timber strength and skimping on thickness, the frame will not have the same overall strength.
Glue and dowelled, screwed joints
Good frame construction has a very strong glue that holds pieces together, combined with pegs (dowels) and then the corners are screwed to the frame.
A bad frame built with mixed timbers, cheap chipboard panels, rails that are barely keeping the sofa together. With this inferior timber strength and skimping on thickness, the frame will squeak, move and fail much sooner.
Density and firmness
Its a common myth that the higher the density the firmer the cushion. This is not true. You can have high-density cushions of any firmness.
A bad cushioning is made with the bad quality of the material. For example, less foam padding or minimal density foam will compress with time losing its ability to return to its shape, which will affect the comfort level and alter the look of your couch.
Cushion filling determines both the look and the comfort level. Obviously, comfort is a different thing for each person and only you can decide what feels good and comfy. There are many types of cushions and each manufacturer defines their own but I am focussing on the three main types that are commonly used.
- High resiliency foam cushion
- Spring down cushion
- Down plush or blend down cushion
For firmer cushion choose High Resiliency Foam for your leather sofa.
What is High-Resiliency foam?
A good cushion and filling always consist of high resiliency foam where you don’t feel the frame of the sofa under the foam. The foam should be 1.8 pounds or higher. Don’t go for anything lower than that because then you will have a sagging cushion in no time.
For a softer feel choose Spring Down cushions.
Spring Down cushions are soft. It is the second-softest cushion and is made with a core of coiled springs, which is surrounded by a foam box. Then the cushion is fitted into a down-proof cover filled with a blend of down and polyester fiber. The springs provide a resilient feel, and the little bit of down adds a little softness.
For the softest cushion choose Down Plush or Blend Down
If you want that sink-in, soft seat, ask for Down Plush or Blend Down cushions. It’s the most expensive choice but hey, you don’t buy that sofa every day. It is constructed with a thinner foam core that’s wrapped in a thick layer of polyester fiber. Then it is wrapped in a much thicker layer of a down and poly-fiber blend. Because of its relatively thin foam core and a greater proportion of down, it feels very soft.
Tip: resilient foam can be hard or soft. Ask for at least 1.8 density foam for your cushions. If you choose down plush or blend make sure that the cushions are wrapped in special ticking fabric so that down and feathers don’t escape.
3. Suspension Systems
A good suspension system requires an expert craftsperson and materials.
A good 8-way-springs is a suspension system is where the coils are first affixed to the webbing that is attached to the frame and then they are hand-tied to the frame and to each other.
The springs are laid out in rows and then each side of the spring is tied in both the up and down and side to side directions. This gives 4 knots per spring. 8-way tying means hand tying all the springs again but on the diagonals this time so that each spring has 8 equidistant knots around its circumference. Utilizing this system gives each seat great strength as well as the fluidity of movement.
What is Drop-in Coil Springs?
A bad suspension system uses budget materials that are usually mass-produced with fewer springs.
Drop-in Coil Springs consists of coils mounted on a metal frame, which is then added to the furniture as a single piece. This can offer some of the support of true eight-way hand-tied springs while cutting down on labor costs. Many drop-in coil springs are not supported on the bottom by anything but rather just screwed into the sides of the frame so it will start to sag before a true eight-way hand-tied unit will. Secondly, there is a lot of metal to metal contact with this option, which can lead to squeaking at some point.
Ask your salesperson if they are using a drop-in coil springs system. Ask them how the drop in springs unit is attached to the frame. If it is only in the corners – no good, the springs have to be attached to the frame completely.
Sinuous Springs Suspension vs. 8-way-ties
Many people think that sinuous springs suspension is inferior to an 8-way-ties. It is not true. You can buy a leather sofa with a poorly made suspension system in any of these two types.
What is true is that some styles of leather sofas require a sinuous springs suspension rather than an 8-way. For example, a traditional couch with a higher seat is more likely to fit an 8-way-springs. That’s because they are higher. On the contrary, a modern couch might be more suitable for sinuous springs suspension.
Sinuous springs with silent wire
So, what is it? Large zig-zag metal pieces are set in rows several inches apart and running perpendicular to the front of the sofa. I know many people in the industry that say that sinuous springs don’t last as long as eight-way hand-tied. This might or might not be true depending on the quality of workmanship and metal gauge.
How to tell if sinuous springs are good or bad
The wire should be 8-gauge with silent-tie wires running across or at least properly knotted twine. Sinuous springs with many smaller turns are more ideal than those with a larger “S” curve. Because sinuous springs are much quicker to install than eight-way hand-tied, your price should be lower.
4. Leather Sofa Cover
For better quality leather choose premium full hide top grain, and not split or imitation leather for your leather sofa.
What is top-grain leather?
As you can see from the diagram above a cowhide goes through the separation process as it is cut into Top cut- top-grain and Bottom cut-split. You are looking for Top grain for your couch as it is much stronger and looks and feels great.
All of the above leather samples are good quality, aniline-dyed top grain.
A bad imitation or offcut leather is when you see no natural imperfections in the hide or if there is a repeated embossed pattern. Unfortunately, some antiquing effects that manufacturers use will rub off really quickly. There are also poor-quality leather couches that they claim are real leather but in fact, it’s not true. Very often, the leather on the arms, back, and cushions will be real, while the less obvious parts, such as the outback and underarms, are vinyl.
In addition, some cheap sofas can use offcuts from different hides stitched together — known as demic. Please avoid this type because the stitching can come loose and leave holes in your sofa.
Craftmanship and the process of applying leather will determine the look of your sofa.
The leather should be hand-tacked by a skilled craftsperson so that it is secured to the frame evenly and looks smooth.
ask if the leather is top cut or split. Is it bonded leather or imitation? What is the dying process?
Detailing makes a leather couch unique. It doesn’t have to have studs or tufting. Even if you choose an ultra-modern leather couch it will always look different with special welting or stitching.
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