You can't judge a sofa by its cover.

How to Select Quality Leather Furniture

by Linda Erlam

While your significant other may balk at the price tag of leather furniture, high-quality leather pieces can last 15 to 20 years, and save you money in the long run. As some of the most expensive furnishings in your home decor, choosing quality leather furnishings is an undertaking you need to go into armed with knowledge. A good choice for family, leather stands up to children and pets better than most fabric-covered pieces. Before you go shopping, know how you plan to use the piece, what you expect from it and what goes into its manufacture.

1. The Leather

Impervious to scratches or pulls, high-quality leather furniture typically has a sample of the leather attached to the sofa. Test the sample by scratching it with your fingernail, and attempt to damage it by pulling and stretching. Top-grain leather -- one of the best -- has an uncut hide that is not treated with chemicals. Other grades include corrected leather, which has chemicals and paint applied to correct flaws, and the common split leather with one hide split into two across its thickness resulting in a weaker leather. The lower layer is then corrected to appear as top-layer leather. Aniline in the leather name refers to the dying process. Pure aniline leather contains only dyes; full aniline leather has dye and a clear top coat, while aniline plus has a base coat, dye and a top coat. The top coats can add to the durability of the leather by increasing its scratch resistance.

2. The Frame

Examine the frame to ensure it is a dried hardwood frame. Hardwood choices include beech, birch, white ash and mahogany, but you might also see white and red oak and American elm. Kiln-dried hardwoods aren't as moisture-free as naturally dried hardwoods used in high-quality furniture frames. While kiln-drying kills insects and eggs harmful to wood, it doesn't remove all the moisture that promotes mildew and mold. Joints in high-quality frame construction are screwed together -- not nailed or stapled -- with multiple corner supports and braces throughout the frame. If it is difficult to pick the corner of a sofa up with one hand, it is probably made of hardwood. If in doubt, ask the retailer for the type of wood used in the frame.

3. Springs and Support

Coil springs tied in place -- known as eight-way hand tied in the industry -- offer the most reliable spring system in quality leather furniture. Individual coils are tied to their neighbors in eight places and are completed by hand by an experienced upholsterer. The eight-way spring system lasts longer than flat springs or webbing and is better suited to furniture that also contains a longer-lasting covering, such as leather.

4. Foam and Filler

Many leather sofa and chair styles involve segmented sections attached by hook-and-loop tape or zippers, or have cushions with zipper access to its contents. Zippers allow repairs or replacement as needed. Should an individual cushion or other zippered piece be damaged or wears unevenly, it can be repaired or replaced without major reupholstering. This also allows you to upgrade or change the cushion filler when necessary.

5. Style and Color

Because your leather furnishings may last 15 or more years, take the time to contemplate the style and color carefully when making your decision. A sofa often becomes the center of your living room design scheme and dictates the room's overall color and decor. You may love aubergine now -- the color associated with eggplants -- but unless you have confidence that you will never want to change your color scheme over the life of the sofa, it might be better to pick a sofa in white, tan, beige, brown or black and accent with aubergine instead. Styles of furniture change with the seasons and the times just as fashion styles do. The flat-sectioned oversized leather recliner of the early '90s has been replaced with a more traditionally styled piece upholstered in leather.

6. Retailers

Keep in mind the customer service of the retailer when buying a leather sofa. Reputable dealers follow up after your purchase to ensure you are satisfied with your leather furniture. If there is a problem, a reputable dealer makes it right. Look for retailers with long service records and multiple years in business by checking with the Better Business Bureau in your area, or asking your friends and family for recommendations.

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