I have this leather couch by Elite Leather is in my house for 15 years. It is not the same color but otherwise, it is what you see above. 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.”
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 can be charming and even add additional value as long as the leather is of good quality. In this post, I will review not only the leather but also the whole piece from A to Z, from the construction to detailing.
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 the desired strength. A 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.
2. Cushion Types
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
Choose High Resiliency foam if you want a firmer cushion.
What is High-Resiliency foam?
A good cushion and filling always consist of high resiliency foam where the frame of the sofa should never be detectable under the foam. Your 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. 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. Your foam cushion is constructed of a high-density foam core covered by a softer layer of convoluted foam, and then a polyester fiber wrap (DACRON) Choose this type of cushion if you want a very firm seat.
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.
Choose Spring Down cushions for a softer feel.
The second cushion choice is usually called spring down. 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. Some upholstery professionals don’t like this cushion type because they believe that putting metal springs directly in your cushion will result in poking through the cushion sooner or later. I personally did not have anyone who uses this type of cushions complain about the springs going loose.
Down Plush or Blend Down for the softest cushion
If you want that sink-in, soft seat, ask for down plush or blend down cushions. Of course, 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- Springs
Does it have to be an 8-ways springs suspension on my leather sofa? No, not always. It depends on the style of your couch.
A good suspension system -regardless if it is a legendary 8-way or sinuous suspension system – is made with high-grade materials and it is chosen to be fit for a specific sofa style. There are different types of sofas, and it requires an expert craftsperson to figure out what type of system will work best. Additionally, a quality sofa will have the right amount of springs for support and longevity.
A bad suspension system is made with budget materials and installed with less expertise. A mass produced piece is likely to have fewer springs.
8-way-springs is a suspension system 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?
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.
Tip: 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
Sinuous springs with silent wire
Some styles of leather sofas require a sinuous springs suspension rather than an 8-way.
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. The wire should be at least 8-gauge and it should 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.
Tip: ask if the metal used in sinuous springs is the heavy gauge. It should be at least 8-gauge. How is it attached to the frame? How are the zig-zag sinuous springs connected? Is there a silent wire connecting them? If not, is there a twine connecting them?
4. Leather Couch Cover
For better quality leather choose premium full hide top grain, and not split or imitation leather.
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.
Check out these leather samples and descriptions:
All of the above leather samples are good quality, aniline dyed top grain.
A bad imitation or offcut leather is usually evident if you see no natural imperfections in the hide or if there is a repeated embossed pattern. Unfortunately, some antiquing effects that are applied to the leather of mass-produced sofas are sprayed on and will rub off really quickly. There are also poor-quality leather couches that are listed as being upholstered with real leather but in fact, only certain parts of the sofa are covered in real leather. 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.
Tip: 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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