Which Kinds of Leather Sofas Last Longer?
Inside of a leather furniture factory
A leather sofa can be a big investment, so when shopping for this type of seating you will want to be sure it is well built and comfortable. Some of the best-quality sofa brands have characteristics that are easy to recognize when you know what to look for.
Couches or Sofas that are built of solid hardwoods will always weigh much more then a sofa built with lesser quality lumber. Frames that have Solid Oak, Maple, or Ash will be the most durable, especially when kiln dried as compared to a plywood or OSB frame.
The Longer Lasting Couches
The quality of the frame, suspension, cushioning and leather are what separates a sofa that will last a few years, to one that lasts 10-20 years. Here are a few things to consider when shopping for leather sofas.
Pick the right sofa for your lifestyle
Shopping online can speed up the process, but search by the style you like and the size needed. A younger couple may have pets or children with different needs then an older couple who does not. Think through the following questions to help determine what best serves your lifestyle.
How will you use the sofa?
Consider which room the sofa will be in. Is it a high traffic room where you spend most of the family time? Then maybe you want something more casual or if you like to read, then maybe a firmer clean tailored look with thin lines is more suitable. If the sofa has double pillows on the seats or backs this will tend to be more of a casual appearance as it breaks in. If the sofa has a tight back and/ or seat it will be firmer and tend to not look not as sat in over time.
How many people will sit on the sofa?
Consider how many people will regularly sit on the sofa, but also how they like to sit. As an example, if one person likes to sit upright but the other likes to lie across with their head on an arm, that's how they should test out a sofa for comfortable width. Larger households that have more guests over will be naturally drawn to sectionals. But to utilize a flexible seating area, consider using two different-size sofas facing each other.
Do you have kids or pets?
Never underestimate a dog's, cat's, or child's ability to destroy your furniture. Leather upholstered sofas are the easiest to clean and maintain. Leather is the most durable upholstery known to man and will on average last 4 times longer then the best fabric. Removable seat and back cushions will make for easier individual cleaning. If your kids jump on the sofa, stick with a frame that has 8-Way hand tied springs for longest durability or at a minimum sinuous springs. If the sofa has a webbed supported frame it will not hold up as long to heavy use. For families with young kids, down filled cushions will show a more puddled look over time, so maybe a high density cushion is better, but will sit firmer.
Do your floors easily scratch?
If you have delicate wood floors, carefully consider the legs of your sofa. Purchase a carpeted disc or rubber disc (from big box store) that can stick to the bottom of the leg before delivery is made. Many sofas come from the factory with a nylon glide hammered into the bottom of the bun foot or leg. Remove this during delivery and use the carpeted discs or rubber discs. From experience, we know those glides can scrape a wood floor. As a last resort, a well-placed area rug can keep sofa feet from damaging it also.
How to check for quality construction
After a mattress, a sofa is likely the most-used piece of furniture in a home. The quality of the frame, suspension, cushions, and upholstery affects how long a sofa will last, something we addressed in depth in our, Definitive Buying Guide for Leather Furniture.
The quality of the frame, suspension (like the 8-way hand tied shown not finished) and the cushions and upholstery all play a part in how long a sofa will last.
Less costly frames are made of a type of engineered wood, but we advise avoiding MDF or particleboard, which do not hold staples, glue, or nails well over time. Higher end sofas are made of furniture-grade plywood, engineered hardwood, or solid wood. The most durable sofas are made from solid hardwoods like Ash, Oak, or Maple are the best, a slightly cheaper hardwood is Poplar. Joints double dowelled, glued and screwed and corner blocked are the best, mortise-and-tenon joints are better if hardwood plywood is used, which make the joints stronger and adds to stronger overall frame. When you are testing out a sofa, the frame should feel solid. Any twisting is a sign that the frame isn't strong.
A more important area of concern is the suspension, say versus cushions. The suspension in a sofa is what makes it comfortable and supportive. The very high end sofas are made with true 8-way hand tied springs. Next in line is a drop in coil spring unit, then sinuous springs (S-shaped springs stretched across the inside of the wood frame). Some sofas are supported by poly-webbing, or Pirelli webbing which is the least durable and cheapest way to build it. But webbing won't give the sofa as much ride. Very high-end sofas are made with eight-way hand-tied springs, which do a better job of eliminating sagging and squeaking. See link above to see how your leather sofa is made.
Eight-way, Hand-tied Springs
Regarded as the top-of-the-line sofa springs, the detailed craftsmanship of hand-tied springs make it a premium choice for sofa construction, according to Jim Winkler of Leather Shoppes. Hand-tied springs are made by securing polypropylene twine from each coil spring to the other springs and to the sofa frame by hand. The springs sit on cross-section of steel bands "L" locked to the frame at bottom. The twine securing goes in 8 different directions diagonally and side to side and front to back, until all coils are firmly attached to each other. Because of the detailed handcraftsmanship, couches constructed with hand-tied springs are typically more expensive than those that contain prefabricated springs. This method offers a more comfortable sit and even ride as compared to sitting on top of a sofa versus into a sofa. A quick way to tell if a sofa is 8-way hand tied is to feel up under the bottom of the sofa frame where the dust cover resides. if it solid under here and you feel steel bands it is a true 8-way hand tied product.
Drop in Coils
Number 2 in line is a "Drop in Coil". This system involves a prewired coil spring unit, done by a machine and half as tall as a 8-way hand tied spring, think of a box spring inside a mattress. To see a version of this. This type of spring system sits on top of the frame rails, instead of down into the frame like the 8 way hand tied version. Gives good support but firmer ride but not as comfortable as the 8 way version.
Number 3 in line and sometimes referred to as "S" springs, "Zig Zag" (brand of "S" springs) springs, or serpentine springs because of their S-shape, sinuous springs are the most commonly used type of couch springs. These steel wire springs snake in a continuous S-pattern from the front of the couch frame to the back and are attached with metal clips to the frame. While most sinuous sofa springs are made of 9-gauge steel wire, some higher-quality couches use 8 gauge for a firmer sit. A 10 gauge may be used for backs. Sinuous springs require less space in the frame of a couch, according to Jim Winkler of Leather Shoppes, making them a basic level for furniture support. The closer the springs are on the framing the better, so companies space them far apart which will cause a bucketing / sagging effect.
Providing the least support is the web suspension couch support system according to Mr. Winkler. It is also the easiest, fastest, and most economical way to build a furniture suspension. Typically, rubber bands of webbing 2- to 3-inches wide are attached to the seat and back of the sofa frame to create a hammocklike platform for the couch cushions, think of a lawn chair look. Some higher quality web suspension sofas may use heavier bands to firm the sit and remain more stable. Eventually this will soften over time from use and weight of the individual. Webbing was initially brought into the market in the 1980's by Natuzzi leather as a cheaper alternative to the industry at the time where mostly spring construction was predominant in the United States. This system is used in imported goods, Italian furniture including Roche Bobois, and many Modern type of seating where look and shape of sofa is more of a driving factor. This allows much more flexibility in design.
Checking Couch Springs
Knowing what type of springs a sofa contains can help to justify the cost and predict potential lifespan. A quality couch should feel stable while sitting on it and the springs shouldn't wiggle. The more springs a couch has, and the closer together they are, the more supportive and firmer the seating, according to "Leather Shoppes" . Feel the seating platform for springs by lifting the couch cushions and running your hand along the couch. A quality sinuous spring couch has at least five serpentine springs per seat cushion. An Coil Spring version will be more circular shaped on top.
Now for the seat cushions, this is very important part after the suspension. Many people want a sofa they can nap on, others want it more structured and not sink into it. Generally, there are 4 types of cushions to choose from, but most companies will not offer choices for you to choose from, unless they are more custom oriented.
- Poly or Dacron-wrapped foam: Made of high-resiliency foam wrapped in polyester, this is the most found cushion style. You won't need to fluff the cushions, and the foam generally provides good support. Qualex foam is a higher density foam wrapped with a layer of Dacron fiber. Here higher density foams of 2.0 and above are better, but the tradeoff is a firmer sit. Higher end cushions will be sewn into a muslin ticking.
- Innerspring core: Like a mattress, this cushion style has individually pocketed coils wrapped in a layer of foam. Better versions will have 40-60 coils individual wrapped and sandwiched inside the foam. The cushions have more bounce than other styles. Upgraded versions of this will have feather down toppers and sewn inside a muslin ticking. Good choice for durability and comfort.
- Cloud or Memory Foam: You'll find memory foam cushions on sleeper sofas or for upgraded seating. The high density of memory foam ensures durability, but not everyone will like its form-fitting properties but superior comfort. Naturally Hypo-allergenic . Better versions will have a high density center core sandwiched in between 2 inches of memory foam then wrapped in a Dacron fiber and sewn into a ticking.
- Lux Down: Premium cushion constructed with a high resiliency foam surrounded with a soft foam core. Wrapped with a down proof ticking of down and feathers combined with fiber for comfort and crown. This cushion has more of a puddled look and would need to be fluffed more.
Since leather is already the most durable upholstery, time should be focused on the type of finish to get. Pigmented or Aniline Plus leathers will afford more protections from UV light, heavy use, food, drink spills, and scratches. If you prefer a more natural appearance, expect a trade off on cleanability as these natural leathers called Aniline will show more scratches and can fade easier, but offer a more supple hand/feel you can buy. Variations in texture and color should be expected on Anilines whereas pigmented or Aniline plus leathers have a more consistent finish with less natural grain showing.
To read more on the signs of real leather and graining.
Leather There's considerable variety when it comes to the type of leather in sofas. As expected, the better the leather, the more expensive the sofa.
Full-grain or Full top grain: The best-quality leather is full-grain leather, which comes from the outermost layer of the hide. It is the uncorrected outside portion of the hide where the hair was, since it's more expensive, and fewer hides qualify for this range, you won't find it as a choice for lower or mid-range sofas very often unless you're shelling out big bucks for a designer or Domestic custom piece. This is usually the softest leather due to less processing.
Top-grain: This comes from the outside layer of hide where the hair was but the original grain has been altered by sanding or plating the surface which is done due to the lower selection of material. It is more common of a choice in mid-range sofas, but also on other higher end sofas but at a lower price point. It is usually soft, just depends on the finish processes done to create the look. Most popular for the masses.
Split leather: Split leather is the cut beneath the top grain. A good example is chamois cloth. Split leather should never be used in a contact or seating area as it does not hold a finish well under everyday use. It will be found on outside of arms, backs, and in between seats of more lower to mid-range priced sofas to reduce the overall cost.
Bi-Cast leather: Bi Cast is made from split leather and has a heavy polyurethane finish (shiny on top). Was a cheaper alternative to top grain leather many years ago and before bonded leather came about? It is rare to see this choice much anymore but can be very durable if a good quality version is purchased. The drawback is it is slick and hard, does not tailor well but wears well.
Genuine leather: The name "genuine leather" is a bit misleading. This is one of the lowest qualities of leather, if this term is used, it is parts of the hide. An example would be belts, handbags, shoes, and other inexpensive items. Basically, it has some real leather in it, but do not expect it to last on a sofa. Much of genuine leather is pieces glued and bonded together.
Bonded leather and Gel: Bonded leather is synthetic, not real leather and the result of combining pieces of ground up leather with other materials, such as polyurethane and fabric fibers. It has anywhere from 10-25% leather used for a backing with a poly and or fabric laminate glued on top. Bonded is a very confusing terms to the industry said " Jim Winkler of Leather Shoppes " basically gave it a black eye when it was introduced in 2007 These sofas are much cheaper than their true leather counterparts, and their quality and durability are noticeably inferior. Stay away from this option at all costs, it will peel in a short amount of time.
Most online companies will offer leather samples to view before purchase, like colors of these full hides
When viewing leather samples, keep in mind there will be more variations of color or shading on Aniline leathers then the pigmented counter parts. So be more open to your furniture being different then the swatch as dye lots vary when received from the tannery.
How much to spend and when to buy
Luxury designer brands like Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn, Roche Bobois aren't necessarily built to a higher standard than most modestly priced equivalents. Anything in fashion can most times be overpriced for the branding aspect. From our experience in the industry for 40 years , a entry level leather smaller sofa in a mid-range quality will cost approximately $2000. To see an in depth ranking chart of the most popular brands of leather furniture. A high end 8-way hand tied sofa of premium quality will cost approximately $3800 and up depending on the size and leather chosen. Many can cost well over $5000 each. Keep in mind Luxury brands will have a high sticker price but will usually be made of less quality components and many made overseas instead of in the USA.
January and later summer months are good times to find sofas at a discount, inventory is usually done at end of the year and the middle of summer is slower traffic. If you visit local stores that have an "As Is" section, there may be some bargains, but many of these were returned for a reason, probably due to quality. Online stores may have cancelled products in a clearance area that can be picked up on the cheap and quicker then ordering custom.
Here are some top picks to consider
The following is a list of some of the popular sofas, vetted brands and widely available to ship nationwide to your home. Many are available only online, especially for people who live outside a bigger city where selection for quality furnishings is absent. We looked for sofas that offer value for the buck and some that are built to last. Designs ranges from a more contemporary look, or appeal to a more traditional client and can fit most thoughtful budgets. American Heritage Leather is featured here as best in breed. (Do not confuse it with American Heritage Sofa Company which is a cheap imported brand from China.) Many local stores have downgraded to imported options and rarely carry any better made USA built leather sofas, so online is a great option for more selection and pricing. Large luxury brands like R.H. and Pottery Barn, West Elm have similar return options when dealing with custom made furniture as the online choices.
WestPoint Recliner Sofa starts at $2100
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Recliner Sofas are some of the most popular sofas today. Palliser is a North American company, based in Canada and offers some great values in a mid-range quality product. Leather Shoppes has been a dealer for Palliser for over 27 years. Standard as a manual recliner, power is available for a small charge and recommended especially if one is smaller or older. Matching pieces are available and a myriad of colors to choose from. Sinuous springs/High Density foam seats. Seats not removable.
American Heritage Lassiter Sofa starts at $3600
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The Lassiter is one of the most sought-after designs, this look first appeared from Restoration Hardware (R.H.) many years ago and turned into one of their best sellers. They choose to go offshore to build it cheaper and many customers went a different direction and pursued American Made. Hence this sofa was born about 10 years ago and was built with higher standards than it's predecessor but keeping the popular sizes and depth options. This same sofa comes in many different versions for length, and depth and can be customized to your personal choices. Comes in a variety of leather colors and types of leathers . Has many matching pieces, like Sectional, Loveseat, Recliner and more ! 8-way hand tied, Solid hardwood frames, Removable spring down seats and backs.
Hooker Savion Sofa starts at $6495
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The Savion is a exclusive design to Hooker Upholstery, it offers a very unique look as a 2 over 2 cushion sofa look or a larger 3 over 3 cushion design. It has a special pop-up articulating power head rest and power footrest. This allows the sofa to appear like a stationary sofa in the room and not block views, but then can recline to get comfy. Upholstered in a grey aniline leather and tufted seats and backs. Be sure and keep the seats clean from dust and food by vacuuming, so the leather will last. Has matching pieces and limited to a few colors of leather. Sinuous springs/high density foam cushions.
Palliser Sherbrook Leather Sofa starts at $2200 in 100% leather or $1700 in leather match.
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The Sherbrook a statement piece for your living space, the Sherbrook collection provides a significant amount of style. Referencing current trends, the loose fiber-filled back cushions are balanced by a refined topstitching detail on the seat and arms. This attention to detail goes beyond the profile of the collection with a sophisticated layered foam seat and spring suspension system that runs the length of the back frame. This structure is balanced with an optional 18" x 18" toss cushion per arm, adding a soft element that allows you to easily adjust and achieve your ideal seating comfort. Attractive leg options of either antique brass or matte black are sturdy and durable. The Sherbrook collection's frame feels light and airy thanks to a high leg that raises the frame off the floor and provides a modern presence. Attached seat cushions feature a high-resiliency, high density foam core with a polyester wrap. Loose back cushions feature a fiber filling, blown into channels to prevent shifting and provide pillow-soft comfort Engineered wood frames, softwood and hardwood combination. Back suspension features sinuous springs to provide premium comfort and support Seat suspension features interwoven 100% premium elastic webbing, engineered to provide consistent comfort and endurance. Has matching sku's.
American Heritage Raymond Power Seat and Head Zero Wall Sofa starts at $5900.
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Raymond Power seat and head Zero wall recliner sofa. This is the latest generation of reclining featuring a "Zero Wall" feature where the sofa can be put flush with any wall or out in the open and recline forward taking up no room behind the sofa. If it floats in the room, it has a stationary sofa appearance except for the higher back. So, a clean look from behind, without the splits horizontally. This item requires a full-size door to fit comfortable through for delivery reasons. Powers off a wall plug or rechargeable battery packs available to operate without cords being seen. Top of the line framing and suspension with spring down seats for a recliner sofa. Comes in a variety of leather colors and types of leathers and matching Loveseat and Chair. Removable seats.
Lacross Sofa -American Heritage leather starts at $3600.
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Lacross Sofa is a great traditional sofa with recessed roll arms. True 8-way hand tied, solid hardwood frames and top of the line cushioning. Matching pieces are available like Loveseat, Chair, Ottoman, Sectional and Recliner. What is nice with this product, you can choose your stitch detail, wood feet and finish, nail trim or not and other options. Comes in a variety of leather colors and types of leathers. 8-way hand tied, Solid hardwood frames, Removable Spring down seats and backs.
Yorba Sofa -Bradington-Young leather starts at $3967.
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Yorba Sofa is a great transitional sofa with tapered arms. Good option if you want a sofa that is smaller in scale, simple lines and not too overwhelming in a room setting. Matching pieces are available like Loveseat, Chair, Ottoman, and Recliner. Comes in a variety of leather colors and types of leathers. 8-way hand tied, Hardwood plywood frames with mortise and tenon joints, Removable spring down seats.
Gunnison Sofa -American Heritage leather starts at $4200.
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Gunnison series. Wide track arms with hand spaced nail trim, blocked feet and loose back/seat cushions encased with spring feather down. Welt trim detail. A updated look to the popular Giselle but with traditional accents with nail trim and welts. Matching pieces are available like Loveseat, Chair, Ottoman, and Sectional. Comes in a variety of leather colors and types of leathers. 8-way hand tied, Solid hardwood frames, Removable Spring down seats and backs.
Barrett Sofa -Palliser leather starts at $2400.
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The Barrett collection is a transitional sofa with elegant design details. Featuring a stylish tufting detail on the seat and the outside arm, accented with top stitching, the frame upholsters beautifully in a variety of covers. The cover choice can transform this sophisticated collection into either a modern or traditional style, depending on your preference. With blown fiber back cushions and layered foam seats, the Barrett is a comfortable collection that exudes flair and makes a statement in any room. This stand-alone piece looks great from every angle and holds its own when floated in the center of a room. Matching pieces are available like Loveseat, Chair, Ottoman, and Sectional. Comes in a variety of leather colors and types of leathers. Engineered wood frames, softwood and hardwood combination. Backs have webbing/Seats heavy gauge sinuous springs, cushions are attached and not removable.
Chatsworth Sofa -American Heritage leather as shown in Maestro T Red hand rubbed color $5800.
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Chatsworth series. A stunning sofa at 100" inches long, So much detail and beauty. Triple shaped camel back, Oxbow shaped front frame, hand tufted back and loose seat cushions with spring down std. Padded tapered arms with hand driven nails trim all around this item. Special carved feet and welted seams. Comes in 5 Hand rubbed colors where the color is put on the leather by hand after the sofa is built in a beautiful full grain aniline leather. Matching pieces are available like Chair 1/2, Chair, and several Ottoman sizes. Comes in a variety of leather colors and types of leathers. 8-way hand tied, Solid hardwood frames, Removable Spring down seats. Truly a one of a kind looks, you will not find this look at your local store.
Well, that was a few styles to consider. Hopefully you find this article useful and if you made it this far, you might be a expert on what to look for. Just remember, purchase the best quality you can afford, and you can expect many years of use. The alternative, you will be back looking again to replace that cheap sofa, if you purchased in haste. When this article was printed, the Pandemic has caused shipping times to lengthen, with shortages of materials, and labor and transportation delays, so expect to wait 5-6 months on high quality goods or 2-3 months for more moderate price goods. Hopefully by the end of 2021 early 2022 this may have abated somewhat.