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Natural and synthetic leather upholstery materials

In this article you will learn more about one of the most popular materials – leather – the different varieties of it: natural and synthetic. Both offer different things, and both have positives and negatives. We will guide you through the basic types and advise you on which material is right for your upholstery needs!

Let’s talk about what actually goes into your armchair, sofa, or other upholstered furniture. The frames of upholstered products are usually made of solid wood or metal. Tension springs, pre-stressed slats or straps are used as supporting elements. These materials should be moisture and air permeable. The actual shape of the product is determined by the moulding layer, which consists of various types of foam and rubber. The final, softening layer consists of the soft cushioning materials – polymer foams, polyester fleeces, viscoelastic foam or natural feathers and wool. These cushioning materials are coated with an insulating fabric, which is then used to cover the product itself.

When choosing, for example, a sofa set, we should therefore be interested in the shape, size and aesthetic appearance of the outer cover as well as the material composition of the inner filling, because this, of course, also determines the quality of the product.

TIP: You may be familiar with viscoelastic (memory) foam as a material for making quality mattresses. Recently, this material has also made its way into sofas. The foam reacts optimally to the body temperature and thus reduces the back pressure on the sitter.

Natural leather 

Natural leather is considered to be the most luxurious upholstered furniture cover. It is pleasant to the touch, soft, supple and has great variability in colour and finish. However, it is generally more expensive than fabrics or synthetic substitutes. In addition, the quality of natural leather covers can vary considerably, according to how it is treated, and where it comes from. If you’re going to buy leather – buy quality leather that has been tanned well, and produced in a factory that fulfils excellent environmental standards. Cowhide leather is most commonly used for leather production, which is most often a by-product of the meat industry. Super luxury leathers, like calf or lambskin, are in very high demand due to their softness. If you’re concerned about your environmental impact, stay away from these. The demand for the skins is higher than the demand for the meat, so animals are often killed for the leather alone. The same applies to ‘exotic’ leathers such as alligator or lizard – however these are astronomically expensive, so not likely to be on the radar of the average furniture buyer!

The input material is already important. The most expensive and luxurious leathers are from animals raised on special farms. They are properly nourished and protected against stinging insects so that the leather is free of scars. The quality is also determined by the thickness, processing method, finish and the part of the cattle from which the leather was made.

Aniline finish

This is the most natural finish for leather, with the natural surface preserved and a slight colour difference caused by staining. The aniline finish has open pores and is therefore more susceptible to mechanical damage and more difficult to maintain.

Semi-aniline finish

The leather retains its natural properties while being specially treated for greater resistance to external influences, it has semi-open pores. The surface with semi-aniline finish is usually more homogeneous than that of aniline leather.

Pigmented leather

Has a protective covering and closed pores. It is more resistant to sunlight and abrasion. It retains its natural appearance even in harsh conditions.


It is a velvety leather sanded from the cheek and its surface resembles peach. The coarseness of the grinding roller then determines the coarseness of the material. The surface is not chemically protected and is therefore less resistant to light and abrasion, so it wears over time.

Suede or velour

Leather with a sanding on the reverse side of the leather which gives it a rougher appearance. This finish is susceptible to damage and requires special care. It is mainly used in shoemaking and haberdashery.

TIP: If you have children or pets and want a sofa in natural leather, we recommend using the so-called varnished leather. It is highly durable, easy to maintain and retains the good properties of leather.

Synthetic leather

Synthetic leather is made by applying a plastic (most commonly polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride) to a base fabric. In addition to upholstered furniture made purely from synthetic material, it is often used in natural leather furniture for the less visible side and back surfaces.

Previously, the little-loved “leatherette” was used for upholstery in synthetic leather. Its surface consists of a vinyl chloride layer which makes it easy to maintain. It resists water well, but not salty liquids such as sweat. Its effect is cracking and short-lived. It is therefore not suitable for highly exposed surfaces such as seats or armrests. In addition, its surface is not pleasant to the touch and the material is not breathable. However, plastic technology in the furniture industry has advanced considerably since its manufacture and is now fully replaced by higher quality synthetic leathers.

Vegan leather

A term easily mistaken for more eco-friendly leather by the layman thanks to clever marketing. However, this is not the case, as although it doesn’t contain animal products, it is essentially only synthetic leather with a different name! Good ones can be very similar in appearance to real leather, however there is still a vast amount of plastic in the production process. The backing is made of cotton knit and the top layer is most often made of polyurethane. It is, however, very easy to maintain and suitable for allergy sufferers. In addition, unlike traditional leather, the material breathes, hardly cracks and has a higher durability.

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