Choosing the Right Fabric or Leather Type for Your Furniture

Choosing the Right Fabric or Leather Type for Your Furniture

By: Kayla Yaeger

We spend each day surrounded by fabric and leather. These common place materials are in our clothes, our shoes, our cars, restaurants, movie theaters and sporting equipment. We use them to protect us from the elements and make our lives more comfortable. This probably means we know a ton about different types of fabric and leather…right?

There is A LOT to consider when purchasing furniture and, arguably, one of the most overlooked elements is the upholstery (or fabric /leather) that covers your furniture. Whether you realize it or not, the upholstery cover is generally one of the first things that attracts a shopper to a furniture item – but the amount of research put into finding the right upholstery type for one’s lifestyle is often minimal at best.

 Why does it matter?

The upholstery you choose will not only be something you look at and touch every day, but it will also affect the life span (or wear and tear) of your furniture. Knowing what to expect from the fabric or leather that covers your furniture is just as important as knowing what to expect from the frame construction underneath it.

Below are the most common types of fabric and leather found on upholstered furniture items, along with descriptions of what you can expect from each.

Common Fabric Upholstery Types

Fabric Samples from Bassett Furniture
An Assortment of Fabric Swatches from Bassett Furniture

Fabric is the most common type of covering for upholstered furniture. Fabrics not only cover living room items but can also make an appearance in dining rooms (on dining chairs) and in bedrooms (on accent chairs, benches and ottoman). Fabrics are generally made from blends of different natural and synthetic fibers. Sometimes you may find a fabric upholstery that consists of only one fiber type (like 100% cotton), but more often than not, the materials will be blended to increase the advantages of each.

  • Cotton – Cotton is one of the most common natural fibers used in upholstery and clothing. It is breathable (enhancing cushion comfort) and retains its color well. When choosing cotton, 100% is usually best as blending it with other fibers makes it less resistant to wrinkling and soiling.
  • Acrylic – Acrylic is a synthetic fiber that is popular in upholstered furniture due to its low price point and ability to resist stains. It is also known to retain its color well, even when placed in sunlight. Often times, Acrylic fibers will be blended with other fibers to increase its durability.
  • Polyester – This synthetic fiber is extremely common in upholstered furniture. It stands up to daily use and is usually blended with other fiber types to add wrinkle resistance and reduce fading. When blended with wool, polyester can cause a lot of piling on upholstered furniture (especially if it is a piece that will see daily use).

Common Leather Upholstery Types

Leather Samples from Bassett Furniture
An Assortment of Leather Swatches from Bassett Furniture

Leather upholstery is a favorite for shoppers who are purchasing reclining furniture, items for den rooms, cabins, lodges or family entertainment spaces. The most important thing to remember is that not all leather is created equal. Below is a list of common leather types used to cover furniture. Within each type of leather are higher and lower quality options. Be sure to ask questions prior to purchase so you know exactly what you’re buying!

  • 100% Leather – When you purchase furniture with a 100% leather cover you can expect a long-lasting upholstery. The leather will show wear and tear over the years (including scratches and sitting stains from areas of heavy use). This natural type of wear (or antiquing) is considered a desirable quality by most, creating a patina that tells the story of the piece. 100% Leather takes a long time to fully breakdown (or wear out). Though this increases the cost, it can also increase the longevity of both stationary and reclining furniture, sometimes outliving the frame itself. 100% leather is not usually desired in homes where animal claws may cause scratching on the surface of the upholstery.
  • Leather Match – Leather Match generally refers to furniture that has 100% leather in the areas you’re going to touch, with bonded leather or faux leather on all other areas. The areas covered in 100% leather usually include the seat cushion and back cushion, inside arms and footrests on reclining furniture. Leather Match is desired by those who prefer 100% leather but are looking for a slightly lower price point. When looking at Leather Match items, be sure to ask what types of leather are used on the piece. Sometimes, manufacturers will use Bonded Leather (instead of 100% leather), lowering the price but also the durability of the item.
  • Bonded Leather Bonded Leather is a material made from ground leather and synthetic materials. It gives items the look and feel of leather while maintaining a much lower price point. The amount of actual leather content in Bonded Leather may be anywhere from 50% to 10%. Although this type of material is much more price friendly than 100% Leather, it often begins to lose its quality after just a couple years. When Bonded Leather starts to wear, it generally cracks; then the top layer of the material begins to peel away from the bottom layer. This is because it lacks the natural flex and stretchability of 100% leather. This type of leather is ideal for furniture you do not intend to keep a long time. The more it is used, the more quickly it will wear, so it’s not always the best choice for reclining furniture items.
  • Faux or Synthetic Leather – Faux Leathers (often made of vinyl) are materials with no actual leather content in them. They are crafted to look and feel like leather or suede. Faux Leather is usually a durable material (though the durability can vary, so it’s best to ask a salesperson about wearability expectations). Faux Leather usually withstands scratches better than 100% or Bonded Leather and is often created to be stain resistant. Pending how often you’ll be using your furniture, Faux Leather may be a better option than Bonded Leather and some shoppers prefer it over 100% leather for its lower price and less patina look.