It seems that of all the pieces of furniture in the house, fabric or leather recliners take the hardest beating. Kids plop down on them and push them back to recline without any thought to how the mechanism works. They flop over the arms of the chair (both when it is upright and reclined), or they lean on the back of the chair and tip it backwards (this maneuver is also done with the chair in any position). Kids eat, drink and play with all sorts of things in a recliner. It is no wonder, as parents, that we want something that is durable! When it comes to upholstery, you cannot beat the toughness of leather. Leather recliners last. You may initially put out a bit more for the purchase, but the chair will outlast a fabric upholstery chair by as much as 4 to 1. However, you must remember that not all leather is created equally. Lets take a look at the three main types of leather (remembering that there are dozens of subcategories), and what to look for to make sure that you get what you pay for.
First, the highest quality leather is full-grain or top-grain leather. It is made from the top layer of the skin, the part where the hair has to be removed from the hide. What you see is what you get, this type of leather has real character because nothing is done to conceal any blemishes in the leather. You have to remember that the leather used to adorn a living, breathing animal. That animal may have suffered from insect bites, scratches or scars from run ins with barbed wire, "burns" from over scratching their neck on fence rails or manure that sticks to their hide for very long without being removed.
The grain can vary on full-grain leather, depending upon any healed scars, or any wrinkling, veining or stretch marks (yes, who knew it, stretch marks can be attractive if you are a cow!). But being natural, it offers great breathability. It adapts to both environmental and body temperatures. It ages very nicely, developing its own unique patina. Leather recliners made out of top-grain leather has either an aniline or semi-aniline finish. This creates a soft and supple leather, it is left with a natural finish - not dyed.
The next type of leather is commonly called a corrected-grain leather, though it may also be referred to as plated, embossed or buffed. This type of leather is made from top-grain leather, but has been sanded or buffed down because it did not meet the standards necessary to be a full-grain leather. This leather came from cattle that led a rough life, their hides have a lot of problems. The buffing hides most of these imperfections, then an artificial grain is applied. Often this type of leather is dyed with pigment to further conceal any imperfections. You will find many leather recliners in various colors with a nice smooth grain made from corrected-grain leather.
The third, and poorest quality leather that you have to watch out for, is split-grain leather. A cows hide is quite thick, so the hide will be split, often more than once. The high quality top-grain is the top layer, and what is left is split-grain leather. This type of leather has no natural grain, it is from the fibrous part of the hide, and this tissue structure just isn't very strong. Split leather is great for a lot of things (such as suede) but it is not good for furniture.
So, the next time you go shopping for a couple of leather recliners (his and hers), make sure that you are getting high quality leather so that the chair will last for many years to come. A top-grain leather may be best, but if it is out of your price range, a nice corrected-grain leather also make for very nice and good quality leather recliners.